Another Dispatch From Mr. X

From my source in the Harris County DA’s Office, Mr. X:

From: “Jordan, John” <JORDAN_JOHN@dao.hctx.net>
Date: February 15, 2011 11:19:24 AM CST
To: “Misdemeanor Division” <MisdemeanorDivision@dao.hctx.net>
Cc: “Bridgwater, Roger” <BRIDGWATER_ROGER@dao.hctx.net>, “Evans, Catherine” <EVANS_CATHERINE@dao.hctx.net>
Subject: Trial Competitions

We are now six weeks into the new year and I wanted to announce some Trial Competitions.

Vehicular Crimes Section Award
The first ADA to try 10 DWI jury trials in 2011 will win this award.  The prize….you will get to sit second chair on an Intoxication Manslaughter or Felony Murder case with a prosecutor in the Vehicular Crimes Section.  You will be involved in trial preparation, take witnesses, and participate in the trial.

Trial Dawg Award
The first ADA to try 12 jury trials in 2011 will win this award.  The prize… you will get to sit second chair on a murder case with a felony chief level prosecutor from either the Trial Bureau or one of the specialized divisions, such as Major Offenders.  The trial record does not matter, except you have to be above 50 %.

Trial Court Award
If a court tries and completes THREE jury trials in a single week, the prosecutors in that court can comp. out by lunch time the following Friday.  It is encouraged that the members of the court do something together….lunch, movie, bowling.  Who will cover their court in their absence…keep reading.  The court (that has a 2 and a 3) that does not try any cases the same week the winning court(s) tries three cases, will have to cover the duties for the winning court.  If all courts , that have a 2 and a 3, try cases it will be up to Justin, Rachel, and I to cover.  We have excluded five courts from this competition for equity purposes.

The purpose of these competitions is to reward folks who go to trial and achieve justice.  In addition, hopefully it will be fun for all.  Those who have already tried multiple cases already this year have a head start on others.  Let the friendly competition begin….

And it goes without saying, what we do is always about justice.  Hopefully this will allow us to have some fun while we strive to achieve it…..

JJ

I love that right at the end John stuck in that nod toward justice, which “goes without saying.” It’s almost like he knew I’d be giving him hell for turning what should be very serious matter of freedom, future, and reputation into a fratboy game for 25-year-olds to play to get Friday afternoons off. (At least he didn’t specify that the tried cases should be whales, though the winner of the Trial Dawg Award does have to win at least six of her twelve cases, which may amount to incentive to try more whales.)

Morale in the DA’s Office must be in the basement for the Office’s management (the word “leadership” no longer makes sense in this context) to have to resort to summer-camp contests to get its prosecutors to try cases. Trying cases is work, but it is enjoyable, educational, and otherwise rewarding work. It is why many criminal lawyers on both sides of the bar went to law school, and—I suspect—why many prosecutors joined the DA’s Office in the first place.

19 Comments

  1. Interesting policy: I’m not sure what to think about it. One thing is sure, if there is going to be justice then cases are going to have to be moved. I’ve seen too many defense lawyers who habitually delay and delay and delay in order to get favorable treatment because of their self-created backlog.

    Regarding the Whale cases, they say that the prosecution should win 100% of trials because they get to pick which cases to try.

    1. You know, I used to say the prosecution should win all of its trials because it gets to pick which ones get tried.

      Now I don’t think that’s true.

      The prosecution could win all of its trials, but shouldn’t: just like us, if they aren’t losing some, they aren’t trying enough. Sometimes tough cases need to be tried.

  2. The creator of this program and whoever authorized it should be fired. Freedom, justice, truth, fairness are not competitive sports.

    We should bring these emails with us to court and file them along with some kind of discovery motion arguing due process…

    Screw them.

  3. John Jordan mentioned in his email that some courts are excluded from the contest. Does a defendant have a right to move his case to a Court where there isn’t any motivation other than justice behind the recommendation on his file?

  4. Mr. Bennett:
    It’s 2012 and all the same 2008 players are running for Harris County DA…….is Leitner still your boy?

  5. What happens if I, as a juror, ask the prosecutor if he’s motivated to try the case to get one of these perks? Can I kill an entire panel by asking pointed questions about prizes for trying cases? Would the judge be mad at me?

  6. ” The Road to Hell is Paved with good Intentions” – believe me – I have several pair of old burnt out shoes to prove it. I’m not saying this e-mail has anything to do with “Hell” – what I AM saying is that having originally interviewed John at S.T.C.L. in 1998 and personally referring him to the initial phase of the hiring committee process – he IS a GOOD man, his heart truly is in the right place and he means well.

    It is my understanding that those courts that are NOT included “for parity reason” are those that for whatever reason only have 2 prosecutors to begin with. Please note – for whatever purpose – I am NOT weighing in here on the primary topic at hand – only the man. Respectfully – Larry

  7. I don’t think the critisism we are seeing is an indictment of John Jordan. He is well liked by many of us. The policy has the appearance of prosecuting for sport. The job is much too serious and freedom too paramount in this country for such contests to ever be well received by the public. Start a football pool in the office to lighten the mood and let justice be its own reward with regard to the job.

  8. Ms. Tonry,

    in general I agree with what you say. However, “SUNSHINE’S” post – listed above – “casts too long a shadow” on the jist of what you say – of which I DO respect……..what YOU say.

    Respectfully,

    Larry

    1. Mr. “Stand”ley,

      It is refreshing to see that you do not take what you perceive to be an attack on a good public servant “sitting down”. Your point is well taken.

      Sincerely,

      Ms. Tonry

  9. I agree entirely with Judge Standley. Even though the smart money says that John Jordan was just following orders, it is not inconceivable that Pat Lykos would respond to this episode by firing him (and publicly calling him nasty names). That would be bad news for the DA’s Office, for the criminal-defense bar, and for Harris County’s criminal-justice system generally. I have known John since he was a parole hearing officer, and I’ve always found him to be a thoughtful, fair, and upstanding lawyer.

  10. Wait…Mark – YOU… actually AGREED with me…..OK, NOW I’m having a Sally Field Academy Awards moment :-)! Thanks for the professional forum to have intelligent “speak”….”me thinks”.

    Larry

  11. “The purpose of these competitions is to reward folks who go to trial and achieve justice”

    No, Actually the purpose of those competitions are to land some lucky ADA in the second seat at a Murder Trial. It says so right in the awards sections.

    How does Achieving Justice go along in anyway with a competition to get as many convictions as you can? Also, is there any provision for when one of the ‘guilty’ appeals the decision? Does the now ‘losing’ ADA have a sign put up on their door that spells out LOSER?

    This isn’t your church’s family day, this is someone’s life you are playing with! And I emphasize PLAYING!

    I should call my state legislative rep today and request that This particular DA receive a gold plated “Defender of the Faith” seal affixed to his door. (yeah, that’s a WHOLE lotta sarcasm)

  12. I wonder what your local ethics committee will think of this? Giving people an incentive for personal gain instead of justice.

  13. It’s not just DAs, unfortunately: at least one Bay Area public defender demands its attorneys try a certain number of cases every year, and bases its promotion decisions in large part on that number.
    So –
    Get a dismissal at arraignment: 0
    Do a good investigation, get a dismissal at the pre-trial conference: 0
    Negotiate an extremely favorable plea: 0
    Beat the case with pretrial motions work: 0
    Try a case, win or lose: 1

    It’s literally true that you can do great work for your clients, but still get dinged by management for not “meeting your goals.” (As if getting excellent results for clients were merely a secondary goal.)

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