Criminal Lawyers: Ex-Partisan Judges and Ex-Partisan Prosecutors


Houston criminal lawyer Murray Newman, to his credit, comes to the defense of his friend Judge Hanger. Good for him. Somehow he finds a tenuous connection between my views on Ms. Hanger, who hasn’t (officially) been a prosecutor in years, with collegiality or the lack thereof between defense and prosecutorial bars, but he misses the point — or, sorry, he writes as though he misses the point.

It’s not that a judge can’t make an excellent criminal-defense lawyer. I know of several who have, and several more whom I expect to. It is, rather, that a judge who has, while in a supposedly impartial job, revealed herself as a partisan for the State cannot be reasonably expected to switch her sentiments as easily as switching offices.

Imagine Sharon Keller, who ran for judge on an explicit pro-State platform (and how the criminal defense bar let her get away with that without a grievance, I’ll never know) hanging up a shingle.

In that sense, I mean to distinguish the pro-State judge as defense lawyer from the ex-prosecutor as defense lawyer. The prosecutor is an advocate with a client to represent; he is expected to be partisan; it’s no surprise to anyone when he switches clients and remains an effective advocate. It will come as no surprise to anyone I know in the defense bar, for example, if Murray defends his own clients well and zealously.

It’s true that (as Murray says) Harris County prosecutors are, as advocates, the best in the nation. I’ve never denied it. Steel sharpens steel, and Houston has the best criminal defense bar anywhere. But it’s also true that Harris County judiciary leaves much to be desired.

Should the things we do in one job follow us into another? Absolutely. If I ran for judge or D.A., would my opponents point out my anti-State views? You betcha. They’d consider it a public service.

As to the question of who appointed me the Yoda of the Houston criminal defense bar: nobody (well, nobody but Remy Orozco). A year before I was HCCLA president, I started writing the truth as I saw it, and a few people started reading it. I was advised when I became president to be more diplomatic; I ignored the injunction. I wrote more truth, and more people read. And so on and so forth. Some agreed with me, some disagreed. I pruned the comments section carefully, keeping out the YANACLs and anonymous car-keyers (I don’t even read the venom spewn by the anonymous cowards at Murray’s blog anymore), and, after about 350,000 words and more than a thousand posts, Defending People is what it is and will remain. It’ll never be as big as Simple Justice, but as long as I keep writing the truth, I expect that a couple of people will read it every day.

I’m happy with it.


0 responses to “Criminal Lawyers: Ex-Partisan Judges and Ex-Partisan Prosecutors”

  1. Aw heck, other Mark, sometimes when I read your blog, I feel the urge to drive to Houston and commit a few violent felonies, just so I can hire you for my defense and see you in action.

    Murray seems to want the criminal legal community to be more collegial. I have no way of knowing if that’s realistic. Perhaps the legal community could be very collegial. But the blogosphere is not. Things around here can get a little rough-and-tumble. I’m a fairly mild-mannered guy, but I find myself going off on other bloggers when I disagree with what they have to say.

    (Except for Scott, because he’s sensitive.)

    Bloggers like me can do that because our blogging has few real-world consequences. If I badmouth somebody, I’m unlikely to find myself a month later sitting in a meeting with them.

    Guys like you and Murray, on the other hand, are blogging about your jobs. That makes it rougher to find the right balance. Criticise other people on your blog, and you might piss off people you need to get along with. Refraing from criticising the people you work with, and the blog is boring.

    You have to walk a fine line. Or stop caring what other people think.

  2. All criminal court judges should have to have a minimum of five years as defense attorney before being appointed or elected. The practice of routinely appointing an ADA as a judge should be stopped.

    • I’m not entirely sold on that rule. There are judges who do great despite never having been defense lawyers, and there are judges who do a lousy job despite having been defense lawyers.

  3. I remember when one Harris County judge campaigned bragging, back in ’98, that a higher proportion of defendants in HER court went to prison than any other Harris County judge. DAMN! Is that something to be bragging about: that a judge wastes precious State resources in order to maximize her body count?

    For politican gain?

    I was new in Houston back then… now I realize that’s how they roll here. Life is cheap; defendants have no rights the powerful have to respect, and it is more important to preserve a prosecutor’s prestige than it is to keep a client out of prison – even when the prosecutor has been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, way up past the elbow.

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