The Hired-Gun Prosecutor

Kelly Siegler, having left the Harris County DA’s Office, will be working as a special prosecutor on a capital murder case in Wharton County.

My admittedly cursory legal research on the question hasn’t revealed legal authority for anyone other than an assistant attorney general to assist in the prosecution of criminal cases, unless the district attorney is unable to perform his duties.

I suppose the supporting theory would be that the elected DA can hire whomever he wants to prosecute criminal cases, on whatever terms they agree to. So if Wharton County D.A. Josh McCown feels that he is outclassed by the defense team of Houston criminal-defense lawyer (and former HCCLA president) Stanley Schneider and Richmond criminal-defense lawyer Lee Cox, he can hire Kelly Siegler just to try the case on which they oppose him.

I don’t think this is really a “special prosecutor” position — my reading of the law is that only a judge can appoint a special prosecutor, and only when the district attorney is unable to act — but it raises an interesting question about prosecution in the 21st century:

Could Kelly Siegler make a business of traveling from county to county prosecuting alleged evildoers?

Being a criminal-defense lawyer is in part being a businessman; I’m looking at this question not in terms of ethics or law, but only of business: could Kelly create a viable business plan based on private provision of prosecutorial services?

I anticipate two likely hurdles that will have to be overcome: ego and money.

The ego that will have to be overcome is not Kelly’s, but that of the prosecutor in each case in which Kelly A would hope to be employed. District attorneys are not generally known for their humility. Indeed, humility would make it difficult for them to function. Most Texas prosecutors probably think that they could do as good a job prosecuting cases as Kelly Siegler. By all accounts, most of them would probably be wrong. It is unlikely, however, that they could easily be convinced of this. So they would have to be persuaded that having Kelly prosecute a case on their behalf was somehow in their best interest.

The money hurdle would arise only if Kelly wanted to get paid for her work. Married to a successful physician, Kelly might not be interested in this. If she doesn’t, the needlessness of paying her may assuage the egos of the prosecutors whom she would be supplanting, overcoming both hurdles at once — they can persuade both their voters and themselves that hiring Kelly to try a difficult case is a wise fiscal decision.

Even if Kelly needs to get paid to prosecute, there might be a way for her to find work: patronage.

If a private citizen or group of private citizens found it important enough for a person to be well and thoroughly prosecuted, they might decide to hire Kelly to do the job. For example, the wealthy family of a murder victim might hire Kelly to seek vengeance on their behalf (except that she would be asking the jury for it on behalf of “the State”) or police officers might take up a collection to hire tally to prosecute the person whom they believed to have killed one of their own.

With private backing, Kelly might overcome a small-county prosecutor’s ego by explaining how, with her experienced help on that one big case, he can spend his time on his other cases; the DA can present the decision to his constituents not as an admission that he’s not up to the job, but as a way to save them money.

Only the small details remain:

How to get the business? Word of mouth and the internet, of course. Put up a website and the press will do all of your advertising for you. Or cherry-pick your cases, finding newspaper accounts of crimes for which someone might be both able to and inclined to hire you, and sending business cards, Paladin style, to the likely customers.

How much to charge? Whatever the market will bear. Remember that this is a luxury product, not a necessity. How much is vengeance worth?

What if I lose? When you’re selling vengeance, you’d better deliver. You’re only as good as your last verdict, and if that last verdict had the accused smiling on the steps of the courthouse, then you’re out of the vengeance business. For the hired-gun prosecutor, losing is not an option.

The idea of Kelly Siegler riding around Texas on a pale horse is an entertaining one. I’ve even thought of a slogan for her:

I get paid to make people afraid.

0 responses to “The Hired-Gun Prosecutor”

  1. I don’t know if I would read too much into Kelly assisting on this particular case. I’m sure that she was glad to help out in Wharton County, but I can’t really see a situation like this arising too often. Although I’m sure Kelly would love the gig as being the legal equivalent of Paladin, I don’t see this happening too often.

    I just kind of look at the Wharton County job as being a type of methadone to help ease out of the prosecution addiction.

  2. The caselaw makes clear that a DA can ask any attorney to assist him as a “special prosecutor” so long as the DA retains control and management of the case, and he need not get judicial approval to do so. So the Wharton Co. DA is completely within the law in requesting Kelly Siegler to assist him as a special prosecutor.

    Regarding your question of whether she will now go county to county to prosecute alleged evildoers, doubtful. The problem for anyone who attempts to make private special prosecution a full time gig is money, especially if that person is expecting to handle major crimes. Let’s face it, if a small county has a death penalty case, the county coffers are often drained by the expense of multiple court appointed defense attorneys and experts, along with the cost of the trial. Not many of those counties can then afford to pay a special prosecutor too.
    It is even more difficult for a private special prosecutor to get the job, when you consider that the AG’s Office has some pretty good attorneys, along with their investigators and staff who go assist small counties in capital cases and other major crimes. But the kicker is, that they do it free of charge to the county.

  3. AHCL, maybe you’re right, but if prosecution is as important to the survivors as y’all seem to think it is, they’ll be clamoring to pay Kelly to do the job (Anon — making it unnecessary for the county to pay her).

  4. Let’s be real. Wharton is merely a transition gig for Ms. Siegler. Kelly Siegler is a “Brand Name”. She will be a hot commodity in the civil market and have the luxury of handpicking the offers thrust on her without having to actively market herself. Ironically, the “win at all costs” condemnation she was unfairly labeled with is exactly what plaintiffs and big business alike yearn for.

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