An open letter to the new District Attorney

Dear Ms. Ogg,

You will be getting a great deal of advice in this month and the next. Some of it you will welcome. Some you will wish had not been offered. The following is a request, from someone who has labored in our local factory of injustice for over twenty years. Read it, ignore it, use it to line the bottom of the bird cage, do as you will with it, but please remember that this open letter is from someone who has never asked you for a favor nor said a damn thing against you. Take it as you wish.

1. It is time to leave behind the legacy of Johnny Holmes.
Johnny Holmes left his mark on the Harris County District Attorney’s office as an elected DA who ruled with an iron fist. That legacy was a ruthless, “win at all costs” mentality that has recently resulted in seeing a series of grants and recommendations of relief for prosecutorial misconduct, most of them against senior prosecutors who grew up under Holmes. Now, he may not have been a bigoted buffoon or a pill addict like the fellow he hand-picked to succeed him, but that fellow sure was, so what does that say about his judgment? It is time to sweep out the old notion that convictions at any cost are somehow justice, and get some fresh air in your office.

2. Neither the mentally ill nor addicts benefit from prison.
Your opponent, whatever you may feel about her, believed deeply in treatment courts and diverting the mentally ill and the addicted from prison. This reduces jail over-crowding and recidivism. It is a smart and practical use of scarce county resources to see to it that treatment for the users and the addled is a far more useful boon to society than locking them up and forcing them to take pleas in our current grain mill of a courthouse. Resources you pour into such programs and courts are resources that pay dividends to the taxpayer, to the accused, and to us all.

3. Your assistants will benefit from training far more than more needless, ill-chosen trials.
In every organization, from the armed forces to the police to the county, training is always the easiest thing to cut while being the worst thing to ever skimp on. Docket management is not your job; producing qualified, ethical prosecutors whose only desire is to make certain that the system works fairly is. Training includes making prosecutors familiar with mental illness and the latest in true forensics, not the “junk science” that has been used to convict the innocent so frequently lately. Training includes ethics training from points of view different from one’s own. Invite other groups, citizens, judges, and defense and civic groups in to your training. Make training participation and credits part of your evaluation of your hires. Please, make training a priority.

4. Invest in conviction integrity.
After many years of assuming that what police, forensic lab technicians, and prosecutors did was somehow above reproach, we now know differently. I knew you to be a fair and honest prosecutor, so I hope you will continue to staff and fund the division of conviction integrity in your office. Since their inception they have done yeoman’s work in helping review and correct wrongfully obtained convictions of our fellow citizens on everything from drugs to murder. Let them continue and help you and your office live up to the prosecutor’s obligation to seek justice, not convictions.

5. There are a relative handful of violent offenders who do damage far out of proportion to their numbers. Focus on them.
Many people make mistakes and cause us harm without meaning to injure. They regret their actions and would atone for them if they could. There are others who simply want to watch the world burn. Focusing the efforts of your office on those latte-r individuals in a coordinated, thoughtful way would do a great deal to restore all of our faith in the system in which we work. Expand the divisions for Special crimes and violent offenders. Please encourage your staff to actually work carefully with other agencies to target those who prey on the fringes of society, those who maim and hurt the homeless, the poor, the weak, and the old. When they are safe, so are we.

Ms. Ogg, you do not owe me a response. You do not owe me anything. I am simply someone who has seen enough abuses of power over the years to make any citizen weary of the game. Yet I continue to hope that someone will listen if I tell them the truth. Your old office lost its way over this past decade. That is the truth. You have a chance to truly make positive change in this place, that same place that some of us work within, and all of us depend upon.

Good luck.

Very respectfully, Pat McCann