politics in Harris County and Texas

Harris County DA race: Jolly talks to Johnny

Johnny Holmes Photo: LARRY REESE, CHRONICLE / HC

That would be John B. Holmes, Jr. and he was a delight to chat with. We talked for about a half hour and the reports about him are true – you ask him a question, he gives you an answer. And I have to say this for the record: it was great talking to someone that actually supports Mike Anderson because most of the people I talk to about this race never mention him, they only mention that they hate Pat Lykos because she is mean.

The reason I talked to Mr. Holmes was because I published two of Chip Lewis’ emails. On the second one, I contacted Mr. Lewis to tell him that I was going to publish another one and did he want to make a statement. He didn’t but did encourage me to publish because “It was meant to illustrate just how much damage she has done to such an important institution.”  Later he sent me an email asking me to contact Mr. Holmes and another person because “the public would be well served to hear their thoughts on the right choice for Harris County DA”.  With that invitation, I was free to call Mr. Holmes. Hey, I’m not a reporter and I usually wouldn’t bug someone over the phone but with an invite from a friend….

The basic reason that Mr. Holmes is supporting Mike is that he has a lot of respect for his abilities and he thinks that Mike would do a better job at running the office because Mike was a prosecutor. It was the same argument that Mike made when I talked to him. He stressed several times that it wasn’t anything personal at all against DA Lykos. In the history of the office, he couldn’t recall anyone that had been elected to the job that hadn’t been a prosecutor. He gave me several examples:

  • Someone told him that she had been a judge – his response was that you don’t let a guy that referees the Super Bowl quarterback your team. It is a different job.
  • Have you ever seen a newspaper editor that wasn’t a reporter first?
  • Have you seen a police chief that wasn’t a police officer first?

He stressed that he didn’t think it should be a legal requirement because it is an elected position but it certainly should be a consideration of the voters. And in his case, because it is his right to have an opinion, he thinks it is the primary factor in the race and trumps all others.

And again, he stressed, it is nothing personal, he has no animosity towards DA Lykos, and that he is not part of any conspiracy to get her hung. He just likes Mike.

Obviously we talked about the grand jury investigation, not the conspiracy part, just the way that the DA’s office handled it when the grand jury kicked their prosecutors out of the room. He used this as an example of what happens when you lack experience. He said he would have done nothing at all, not ask Judge Brown for a hearing, not appeal her ruling, nothing, period. And his argument is much the same as the DA’s is for why they kept trying – because there must be either an ADA or an Attorney Pro Tem in the grand jury room to give the grand jury legal advice. He would have ignored it because even if they came back with an indictment, it would be worthless – no legal advisor in the room. In Pasadena terms, let ‘em indict because it is meaningless.

We talked about some other stuff unrelated, particularly his love for being a prosecutor. He told me that his wife once said that he loved the office more than he did her and that, even though he assured her that wasn’t true, he had to admit that there was a lot of truth in her statement. He said it felt good to be on the right side of the law every day and he enjoyed working with the mostly young people in the office. The defense must put up their best effort even if they know or suspect that their client is lying to them. He told me about a time he was trying a case against Mike Ramsey and that during opening statements, while the judge was instructing the jury and had their attention, Mike Ramsey leaned over to the prosecutors table and asked them not to laugh when they hear him “tell the jury this shit”. Heh.

I guess the best way to end this is with his parting words. He noted that he was a 5 time Republican officeholder and as hard as it was to go against Republicans, he would vote for Democrat Zack Fertitta over DA Lykos for the sole reason that Zack had been a prosecutor. It means that much to him.

Harris County DA Pat Lykos and that cursory internet search

Politics. Sweet politics. Fun stuff when things are going your way, not so much when they aren’t. And this morning at 5 am as I viewed Ted Oberg’s latest missive against Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, I wasn’t having fun. In fact, in that moment, I was pretty certain that I’d screwed up and had egg (or something much worse) on my face for daring to go against the conventional wisdom and trying to understand her side of the story. Fortunately days are made up of many moments and that moment has passed.  Not only do I not have egg (or something much worse) on my face, I’m more certain than ever that the entire 185th Grand Jury investigation was politically motivated and pushed by forces that want a new DA simply because they don’t like the current one.

Let’s state the obvious first: DA Lykos royally screwed up politically when she insisted at a press conference that (a) she didn’t know about any investigation of said grand jury and (b) if there was one, she certainly didn’t authorize it.

Both of her contentions are, on the face of it, false. Lies. Misstatements. Untruths. Use whatever word you wish because I assure you that the Mike Anderson campaign will use all of them and more. When DA Lykos made that statement, she handed political consultants and her enemies a golden egg.

Thing is, sometimes, on the face of it, things aren’t what they seem. And sometimes, things really are the way they are. You are going to have to decide what is what in this case. Most of you probably already have because in our fast paced society, when we see someone contradict themselves and we aren’t an interested party, we assume the worst and the worst in this case is that DA Lykos is lying and thus, most of us accept that. That’s just the way it is.

But I’m an interested party. Either because I like politics and politicians or because in this specific case, I said that the grand jury was headed up by a Wyatt Earp wannabe and thus want to defend that position. So, after that brief moment this morning, I started asking around, talking to people about it, and thinking about it. And what I have learned makes DA Lykos’ insistence that she did not order an investigation entirely plausible, even likely. I’ll try to keep it short because blog posts generally should be short and you’ve probably made up your mind anyway.

First, you have to decide whether or not to believe that DA Lykos has a different definition of “investigate” than the general public does. I admit that what I think she did when she asked Jim Leitner to ask Don McWilliams to look into Trisha Pollard, is that she started an investigation. And I bet most people not in her position would think the same. That said, she insists, and I’ve come to believe her, that her definition of what “investigate” means is entirely different than mine. Hers is a formal, working definition that would include the full weight of the HCDA’s office, including the use of investigators, law enforcement databases, background interviews with neighbors, employers, etc. After a long career as a police officer, a judge, and now as a district attorney, that is what the term means to her.

According to a high placed source in the DA’s office, no LEO databases were accessed and McWilliams did nothing more than search public domain internet sites on his own time. Everyone that I talked to on both sides of this political race agree that Mr. McWilliams is a man of integrity and when he says that is all he did, they believe it. In fact, he was the source mentioned in the grand jury report. Ask yourself why he would tell Jim Mount that he was asked to look into the grand jury if he had been asked to perform an investigation? Investigation as in the way DA Lykos thinks of an investigation? He wouldn’t.

What happened is that on 10/18, Ms. Pollard kicked the prosecutors out of the grand jury room. Both sides tell me this is not typical, that routinely prosecutors are given notice that the grand jury will be hearing from someone that might be a conflict of interest and know not to come that day or to be late, the judge routinely appoints a pro tem because grand juries need legal guidance when questioning witnesses, and all is well. None of that happened in this case, causing confusion in the HCDAO. When it hadn’t been resolved by the weekend, they decided to find out who the grand jury foreperson was and why they were being attacked.

On 10/24, Mr. Leitner was told by Judge Susan Brown that she was going to appoint a pro tem for the grand jury, who had been without one since the 18th. She assured him that she would not appoint someone political or from the previous administration. On 10/26, she appointed two men that fit both of those descriptions. Frustrated, the team at the HCDAO used the same public information databases to determine if any political links existed between the wider group of people involved.

So back to the original question, do you believe that DA Lykos ordered an “investigation” (remember her definition) or do you believe that the team at the HCDAO felt that they were under a political attack and did a Google search to find out who was attacking them? Using her definition, it is easy to see why she would have answered that question at the news conference the way she did. In other words, I believe her. As they say, your mileage may vary but before you quickly jump to a conclusion, at least do yourself a favor and consider what you would have said in her shoes with her background. Also consider that if they had performed a full investigation, public information requests would prove that. Alas, there are none.

And that last one is critical. Notice that near the end of Mr. Oberg’s report, he states  that “county paid for, password protected internet databases” would have to be used to find out this information. Nonsense. Lots of people did the same searches on the same people because that grand jury leaked like a sieve. I assure you that I don’t have access to “county paid for, password protected internet databases”  and I found everything they did and more. As did Mark Bennett, whom Mr. McWilliams references in his statement about the issue. Once Ms. Pollard put her name in the press, it was easy. If Mr. Oberg has something that proves his assertion, he needs to show us.

So believe what you want but also consider this. Check out Doug Miller’s report on KHOU.com from the day that the 185th Grand Jury released this “report” (letter). First, notice that Chip Lewis, the attorney for the Amanda Culberson is there to give reporters a nice little anti-DA soundbite. Interesting how that guy keeps getting a heads up on this grand jury’s activities – remember his phone call warning Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack that he was being subpoenaed?

Next, notice that DA Lykos’ opponent Mike Anderson is filmed ambling up the sidewalk (at the 1:46 mark), just minding his own business. Right? Well, that’s certainly the way it looks, doesn’t it? Minding his own business, then he’s yanked out of his little walk by the press and asked to comment on the “scolding” that the grand jury gave DA Lykos. Another soundbite for the press. But was he really just walking by, minding his own business at the courthouse?

Turns out that, no, he wasn’t. In fact, and I confirmed this with three different people, his political consultant had invited reporters to be at the “impromptu” press conference. So now we are right back to the start of this entire sham: was it all politically motivated in order to elect a new DA?

You decide.