The GOP primary is nigh upon Kaufman county. Voters have three Republican candidates to consider for District Attorney. With no Democrat or Libertarian candidates the primary is the defacto election. Let’s look at the two candidates I feel qualified to discuss.
Rick Harrison (incumbent)
When Rick won the GOP primary four years ago things were much different in K-town. The atmosphere at the courthouse was one of distrust and hostility. There was conflict for the sake of conflict; defendants and taxpayers suffered as a result. Court appointed fees for lawyers were setting records, the county jail was full, and a backlog tsunami of criminal cases was building. I don’t want to spend a lot of time rehashing the past; it’s fair to say that the courthouse square was ready for some hope and change.
At the time of his election all I knew about Rick was that he was a bad ass trial lawyer from Dallas who had a prior DWI conviction. Reforming a flawed bureaucracy is no easy task. Much like steering the Titanic after you hit the iceberg. How would Rick’s skills translate into turning around the Kaufman DA? I’m happy to report that out of the chaos Mr. Harrison has created a professional and efficient office.. What’s so different? Where to start?
Rick was the first DA to allow email between prosecutors and defense lawyers. Believe it or not as recently as 2006 defense lawyers could not communicate with prosecutors via email. When I was a Kaufman ADA every communication with the defense required a personal meeting, fax, phone call, or letter. The policy created an artificial bottleneck on cases with no benefit. Defendants sat in jail unnecessarily while the lawyers played phone tag.
Mr. Harrison also implemented a real open file policy in which defense lawyers are given police reports/videos simply by asking. As a defense lawyer I can’t overstate how vital a robust open file policy is.
Transparency prevents injustice and helps exonerate the wrongfully arrested, while also concinving the reluctant to consider pleading guilty. It’s a win/win. That policy, and the strength of his ADAs has led to a 100% felony conviction rate since Mr. Harrison took office.
The pre trial diversion program is another success story. PTD allows the youthful offender a chance to avoid a permanent record after a period of supervision. Most defendants (and unfortunately some defense lawyers) don’t realize that even deferred probation leaves a permanent criminal record. PTD gives deserving defendants a second chance while allowing prosecutors to focus on more important cases.
The question of this race is not job performance, but if the Kaufman electorate will forgive Mr. Harrison for his recent arrest. I have not blogged much about Rick’s DWI 2nd arrest and I won’t speculate on the merits of the case. Instead let’s look at some broader issues.
Mr. Harrison has not been convicted of DWI 2nd, only arrested (case is still pending in Dallas county). My first thought is- will voters appreciate that distinction? I’m sure some do, but the comments on other websites lead me to believe many voters have already convicted Mr. Harrison.
What does exactly does DWI, or DWI 2nd say about a person? Does drinking and driving make one untrustworthy, or less qualified for office? Before you answer consider that Dick Cheney had two DWIs, his boss W had one.
DWI is a crime that most people have committed, will commit, or are going to commit in the future. I’m never surprised when a Kaufman resident gets arrested for DWI. The exurban sprawl development, lack of public transportation, and inability to walk anywhere create a situation where Kaufman residents who drink have little choice but to drink and drive. You could hardly design a better system to maximize DWI.
Of all my clients DWI (and cannabis) defendants are the least “criminal” and most “normal” people I represent. DWI arrestees come from all walks of life. These aren’t bad people, they just won the unlucky DWI enforcement lottery. I’ve never seen a DWI arrest as a moral failing. It’s a dangerous choice to drink and drive, not something I would consider malum in se.
I recognize that as a Libertarian criminal defense lawyer I probably have a different moral compass than the traditional Kaufman county GOP primary voter. I’m sure those who enjoy simple dichotomies in life (arrest= BAD MAN!, no arrest= GOOD!) will hold this arrest against Mr. Harrison. Rick may have made a mistake but his integrity, honesty, and ability to run the Kaufman DAs office should not be in question.
Full disclosure requires that I consider Mr. Jordan a friend as well as a trusted colleague. While we both graduated Texas Tech law school the same year I didn’t really know Andrew until I started prosecuting in Kaufman. I’ve worked with, and against Andrew on cases and he is an excellent attorney.
Much has been made of Andrew’s trial experience. I’ve been on the working end of an Andrew Jordan defense in a criminal case. He may not be the most experienced trial lawyer in the DA’s race, but make no mistake, Andrew can try a case. He’s good with the jury, handles pressure very well, and does some good legal research.
Mr. Jordan is currently the Chief Public Defender for Kaufman county. Whereas Mr. Harrison took over a bad situation, Andrew took over nothing. Out of this vacuum Andrew invented the Kaufman Public Defender’s office. Through Mr. Jordan’s leadership and hard work this has become one of the best PDs ofice in the state.
I know how tough it can be to run a PD office. I was a public defender (Wichita County) for about ten minutes out of law school and can’t say I miss the atmosphere. Being a public defender is a thankless job with difficult clients who are often plagued by mental illness, disease, and/or addiction. Defendants can be outright hostile when they find out the “public pretender” (as I was often called) is on the case.
There are political pressures as well. The powers that be often look at one number to determine how successful a PD office is- indigent defense expenditures. Efficiency demands can create moral hazard for a PD’s office. It’s always cheaper to plead everyone guilty and move on.
I’m proud to report that I’ve never seen anything less than zealous representation from the Kaufman PD. These guys are good, they get good results, and they work hard for their clients. I credit Andrew for striking that delicate balance and managing not only his office and his clients, but the political pressures PDs face. Kudos.
Andrew bested this logistical Everest and has created a model office Kaufman voters should be proud of. I have no doubt that if elected, this experience will be invaluable as District Attorney.