Harris County DA Devon Anderson was elected barely three months ago to fill out the remaining two years of the current term. On Sunday, she started the 2016 campaign with an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle titled “Let’s rethink how grand juries are selected“.
I support the efforts in the Texas Legislature to abolish the jury commissioner system. Whatever concerns the remaining district court judges have about using jury pools should have been assuaged long ago – other district courts have been using the jury pool system successfully for long enough that its viability cannot be questioned.
The same can no longer be said about the jury commissioner system. It is time to retire this historical anachronism and see where the jury pool system takes us. I am confident that it will result in decisions that are not only correct, but that will also have the confidence of the community as a whole.
Glad to have you on the bandwagon, Ms. Anderson. Chronicle reporter Brian Rogers did a followup article titled “Harris County DA calls for grand jury reform“.
Anderson, who called the current system “a historical anachronism,” joins a chorus of calls for reform in the midst of fierce national debate over the diversity of the people picked to be grand jurors, an issue that has been spotlighted by several high-profile cases across the country.
In November, riots broke out in Ferguson, Mo., after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer in the shooting of an unarmed black teenager. A month later, protesters took to the streets in New York City when a grand jury decided not enough evidence existed to go forward with charges against a white police officer whose chokehold, which was captured on video, led to the death of an unarmed black man.
A Houston Chronicle analysis in 2013 showed that Houston police officers shot 121 civilians – 25 percent of them unarmed – between 2008 and 2012 without a single officer being indicted.
This is a good start by Anderson to try and hold onto the job for Republicans next year. She’s also started cleaning up the house a bit, as noted by Murray Newman over at Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center and Mark Bennett at Defending People. Read the comments on those posts, they are funny and interesting.
Anderson needs to do more though. Her attempts at drug policy changes have been sloppy and unworkable. In the 2014 campaign, she was always a step behind her Democratic opponent. I doubt that will work during the 2016 campaign with the Presidency at the top of the ticket: Democrats are going to turn out strong and Anderson can’t afford to be a follower if she wants to move them to crossover and vote for a Republican.
One of the things she can start with is by supporting HB507 in the Texas Legislature. You can click on the link to read the text of the bill but a quick synopsis is that it changes 0-1 ounce marijuana possession from a class B misdemeanor (arrest, <180 days in jail, <$2,000 fine) to a civil penalty (fine up to $100 or community service or a treatment class). Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) are heading up to the capital next week to lobby for passage of HB507. It would be great if Ms. Anderson took the time to go with them and understand why they are supporting the bill.
One of the rumors you’ll see in the comments on Murray’s piece about Ms. Anderson’s housecleaning (When the Ax Falls) is speculation and hope that former candidate for DA Kelly Siegler will challenge Ms. Anderson in the primary next year. I don’t see Siegler having a prayer in that primary if Ms. Anderson continues to move the office towards common sense changes. Besides that, Ms. Anderson’s consultant, Allen Blakemore, would have a field day with Siegler’s comments under oath in the David Temple hearing in December 2014. She comes across as a bit of a conspiracy kook, saying, among other things, that Dick DeGuerin was directing special prosecutor Brad Beers. Here, read it for yourself:
TEMPLE-1008763-A-RR-122314 (pay special attention to pages 216-220 in this one)
No, I think we can safely say that Siegler is going to remain in Hollywood for the time being. The more interesting question about Siegler is this: Could it be that David Temple is an innocent man and he was convicted on the basis of her courtroom theatrics?