Praise Where Due


If you come here for the snark, please avert your eyes. I’m about to be nice. The blogosphere thrives on conflict, rather than niceness, so this post is not going to win me any readers. But I spend a bit of space here critical of public servants’ failure to serve the public. Rest assured that I will continue to do so. It’s fair, though, that I should occasionally shine some light on people who are trying to make life fairer and more pleasant for those involved in the criminal litigation system.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has started providing defense lawyers with copies of offense reports, as Pat Lykos promised in her campaign. Kudos to Pat, as well as to her First Assistant, Jim Leitner and the rest of their management staff, for taking this step toward ensuring more open, transparent, and equal protection of the laws. (To satisfy concerns about witnesses’ private information winding up in the hands of those who would do them harm, the Office wrote this letter and agreement.)

Meanwhile, in the Harris County District Clerk’s office, District Clerk Loren Jackson has (along with his Chief Deputy Clerk, Ken Olive, and their team of geeks) accomplished in three months what his predecessor didn’t do in a year and her predecessor couldn’t accomplish in 15 years: create a system by which criminal-defense lawyers and the public could view and download documents in criminal cases online. I saw the demo last week; it’ll be in Beta next month. Loren is a former small-firm lawyer who recognized the inefficiencies in the Clerk’s Office, and got himself elected to fix them.

Meanwhile, back at the DA’s Office, I’ve had a couple of pleasant encounters with a prosecutor whom I won’t name here (because I’m not sure she would appreciate it), but will instead call “Antira Jones.” Antira is a misdemeanor prosecutor who is always unfailingly cordial. She learns people’s names quickly (a talent that I envy) and addresses them by name. On cases, she’s reasonable and intelligent; she listens to and considers defense arguments. She doesn’t always agree, but she’s always calm, patient, and attentive; I believe her to be incapable of rudeness, even to people who are rude to her.

This is, of course, not the norm either in The World, or in the misdemeanor courts, where people who were law students last week suddenly find people’s futures in their hand, and where (I have it on good authority) female prosecutors have been told by their mentors to act “more like men”, which results in a caricature of male conduct — male conduct from a female point of view: coarse, bullying, and rude.

But trial lawyers, students of human nature, know that rudeness is the weak person’s imitation of strength; the lawyer who is rude in court is seen as easier pickings than the lawyer with the self-assurance to treat others courteously. If a lawyer’s object is to settle reasonably those cases that can be settled, and try the rest, she’s much more likely to succeed with courtesy than with rudeness.  I’ll gladly try a case against Antira Jones — I don’t expect it to be unpleasant — but I’m not looking for chances to do so.


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