Are You Man or Mutton?

Hearing about Harris County District Attorney-Elect Pat Lykos’s command that all Assistant District Attorneys appear dressed in court clothes on a national holiday for her coronation, Miami criminal-defense lawyer Brian Tannebaum raised a good question:

You all gonna take a stand and not show up, or be sheep?

(I think “you all” is Floridian for “all y’all”. My question was, “what did you expect, working for The Machine? Compassion?”; I like Brian’s better.)

Wrong is wrong. Taking you away, on short notice, from your family plans on New Year’s Day is wrong. You can whine about it all day long, but you are the only ones who can do anything about it.

You can do something about it by saying “no.”

No, you won’t change the plans you’ve had for months on the momentary whim of an elected official.

You’re real lawyers, trial lawyers, and no, you’re not going to bounce like puppets for someone whose only prosecutorial experience is . . . (what did she say her prosecutorial experience was, again?)

You give enough of your lives — nights, weekends, and holidays — to prosecuting people, and no, you’re not going to give up another holiday to stroke the boss’s ego.

Thursday, January 1, 2009 will be the day that you will set the tone for the next four years of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Either you and your families will be treated the way that Pat Lykos plans, or you will be treated in The Office with the respect that you have earned there. If you allow the new administration to treat you with disrespect on day one, there is no limit to the disrespect that you will suffer in the following four years.

Part of my job as a criminal-defense lawyer is to teach people to fight. I’ll get a young potential client who has never been in trouble before, charged with POM or evading or one of the other nonsense petty offenses with which so many NCIC reports commence, and I’ll take his case for free just so he doesn’t hire someone who I know will take the first nonsense class B deferred that’s offered to him. I want him to feel what it’s like to fight, and to see the good things that happen when you stand up to capricious governmental power. I know that if we don’t beat his first case and get it expunged, every time the cops encounter him they’re going to think he’s a crook, and as a result his trouble is likely to get worse. And worse. And worse.

If nobody shows up at her crowning, what is Pat Lykos going to do? She can’t fire all of you. She can’t fire half of you. The system would implode if she fired a fourth of you. In fact, if nobody turns up for her lovefest, she can’t fire a single person for it without getting herself and her First Assistant eaten alive by public opinion (and losing The Office for the Republican Party in 2012).

We all know that some prosecutors, not wanting to take any chance that they won’t have a job on January 2nd, will be there on January 1st at all costs. Some people have things that are more important to them than right and wrong: mortgages, like attention, must be paid. There is ample historical precedent; here’s Sam Adams’s response:

If you love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.

Remember the names of those who won’t take a stand — they’re the ones who will rat you out to maintain the tranquility of their servitude — but you don’t need them all to join you. An absence in force, even if it is not unanimous, even if it is attributable, with a nod and a wink, to the flu that’s going around, will set a much different tone than everyone turning up dressed sheepishly in their voir dire best.

You have six days to talk amongst yourselves and decide how the office for which you’ve sweated, most of you for your entire careers, will be for the next four years. Will it once again be a respected professional prosecutorial office, or will it be a baaaaad national joke?

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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14 Responses to Are You Man or Mutton?

  1. Gideon says:

    Is there a reason why her swearing in is on Jan 1? Can’t it be on Jan 2nd? Is this purely her choosing or is it statutorily mandated?

  2. Mark Bennett says:

    Not going to look it up, but I think she needs to be sworn in before she can act on behalf of the State, as does any ADA. Harris County can’t be without a district attorney for a couple of days, or the Bad People would run rampant in the streets, murdering and raping the Good People.

    The number of ADAs who need to do something on behalf of the state before 1/5/2009 is small — maybe 20?

  3. Sure. But while I don’t know it for a fact, I strongly doubt that even in Texas, she’d be subject to the death penalty if she took the oath in a more-or-less private ceremony at, say, 12:01 on Jan 1, and repeated it, publicly, in a more formal ceremony some days later.

  4. I raised this question because I am reading a lot of whining about the swearing in, and I don’t like seeing lawyers, especially criminal lawyers (prosecutors included), whine. You see an injustice, take a stand. That’s the basis of our system. Whine and show up, and you are nothing. Pat Lykos works for the people of Harris County, which includes her assistants. She is there to serve the people, not the other way around. Make sure she knows that.

    And yes, if I was an assistant in Harris County, I’d be absent from this joke of a mandatory event. Good lawyers can always build good careers, rather than work at the behest of the “man.”

  5. johnny833 says:

    I love your sentiment Mark. Having been a cop for 15 years, then seeing the opposite point of view from young men making small mistakes which compound to larger ones I applaud your sense of fair play and go get’em attitude.

    Ms. Lykos has seemed to me to be someone that I really did not care to vote for, thus she was one of the few Republicans that did not get my vote. Guess I am too Libertarian in my old age.

    Keep fighting the good fight. And let’s hope a few ADA’s decide to skip this little party. Love to see the fall out if she get’s her pantsuit in an uproar.

  6. Chuck says:

    Mark,

    Another great article, you’ve been on a roll lately (thanks no part to the troll). I think a lot of ADAs are paralyzed by the fear of the troll and how she has already demonstrated she will fire those that don’t bow to her.

    And on another note about how well the new admin is running – remember the flow chart you posted….well, no one knows when the hell that is supposed to take affect; Jan 2 or Jan 5th. Awesome. At least the ADAs know their assignments, too bad they don’t know when they are supposed to go to them………

  7. Many years ago, I had a job I hated (it was the reason I went to law school; I felt a need to make a change.) I was told by a very good friend that if I had no respect for myself, there was no reason for my employers to have any respect for me, and that if I did have any respect for myself I would quit that job.

    The ADA’s in Houston that have respect for themselves will start to leave the office; next year this time, most will probably be gone. As for those that stay, well, there will be no reason for the rest of us to have respect for them, as they’ve so little respect for themselves that they’ll stay working for someone who thinks so little of their time.

    This isn’t all good news for defense lawyers, though. As more and more time gets taken away from the job by ADA’s (who will be more interested in either resume-shopping or butt-kissing), it is undoubted that we’ll see more and more of them taking shortcuts, like violating Brady, suborning perjury, or the like. My guess is that things will get worse before they get better.

  8. Rage Judicata says:

    “supposed to take affect”

    Come on now. Here too?

  9. Ghostrider says:

    If the ADA’s are required to attend, don’t they get overtime for working on a county holiday?

  10. Why would a salaried employee get overtime?

  11. That’s a good question, Ghost Rider. My gut reaction is that they would just put it on their time sheets as Comp Time, since all the prosecutors are salaried employees. I can guarantee you that nobody will be getting a larger paycheck because of it.
    The entire Compensation System for Harris County has always been a bit shady, in my opinion. I was planning on doing a post on it in the near future.

  12. on 12/31/08 i was told by a reliable source that ada’s would get comp time for the swearing in.

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