Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc?


We lawyers are supposed to be reasonable, logical folk. We’re supposed to resist logical fallacies like post hoc ergo propter hoc. But sometimes it’s just too hard.

For example:

  • 1987 – 2007 Prosecutor Kelly Siegler spends 21 years in Harris County DA’s office;
  • December 27, 2007 Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal is brought down by disclosure of emails;
  • January 2, 2008 Siegler decides to run for Harris County DA;
  • January 17, 2008 Siegler announces that changes need to be made in Harris County DA’s office.

It’s hard to resist concluding that the announcement that changes need to be made was a result of the decision to run for DA.

Here’s another one:

  • December 27, 2007 Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal is brought down by disclosure of emails;
  • January 8, 2008 the emails are widely disseminated.
  • January 9, 2008 Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas changes email retention policy so that all emails are deleted within two weeks;
  • January 10, 2008 Channel 13 News reporter Wayne Dolcefino reports his investigation into the fact that Leroy Hermes the architect with the contract to build a new jail (which Thomas signed off on) also helped with the design of Thomas’s million-dolllar (being a cop is good business!) ranch house.

It’s hard not to conclude that the change in Harris County’s top cop’s email policy was a result of the wide dissemination of Harris County’s top prosecutor’s politically-devastating emails, possibly combined with the then-pending news investigation of the interesting relationship between Leroy Hermes and Tommy Thomas (and, incidentally, other county officials with input into the jail contract).

This one mystifies me, though:

  • December 27, 2007 Harris County Republican DA Chuck Rosenthal is brought down by disclosure of emails;
  • January 10, 2008 Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announces a criminal investigation of Rosenthal;
  • January 17, 2008 Republican Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina is indicted, despite the best efforts of Assistant DA Vic Wisner, for tampering with evidence by a Harris County grand jury; his wife is indicted for arson;
  • January 18, 2008 Rosenthal dismisses all charges against Medina and his wife.

This from the office that blames the grand jury for no-bills in killer-cop cases, and hides behind the jury in other indicted cases. Don’t get me wrong: I think the DA’s office should absolutely dismiss cases in which further investigation reveals that the grand jury likely got it wrong, or that there may be probable cause (the grand jury’s standard) but not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

But here the dismissal was immediate — it was announced the day the indictment was handed down. If Rosenthal hadn’t been disowned by the Republican leadership, the political motivation for the dismissal would be more clear. On the other hand, if Rosenthal hadn’t been disowned by the Republican leadership, the dismissal would have been a politically-dangerous move in an election year. Maybe someone else can shed some light on how Rosenthal might benefit from dismissing Medina’s case. Or maybe he doesn’t, and he dismissed it because it was just the right thing to do — part of “literally and figuratively” getting his house in order?


0 responses to “Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc?”

  1. The District Attorney’s Office takes numerous cases into Grand Jury without seeking indictments in an effort to let “the community speak” regarding a charge. For example, almost any case that resulted in a fatality will be taken before the grand jury as a matter of policy, regardless of whether the case be a clear-cut case of self-defense, or a complete accident. These are often referred without charges. Apparently, the same thing happens with public officials.
    What appears to have happened in this case was that a charge that the D.A.’s office new it could not prove was run by the grand jury as a matter of policy, with the expectation that the grand jurors would also see that the case could not be proven. Unfortunately, the grand jurors thought other wise.
    It’s an extremely awkward position for the D.A.’s office to be in, but to let the case continue to exist when they knew that they could never prove it would be unethical. I think you would even agree with that, Mark.
    Even though they are getting slammed in the media, the D.A.’s office did the right thing on this one.

  2. Thanks, anon. One vote for “just the right thing to do”, then. I absolutely agree that the state should always dismiss when the grand jury indicts on something that can’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    This case kinda puts the lie to the grand jury’s independence, though, doesn’t it?

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