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?