Justice for Some

Just who is a victim? After flexing its muscles to reform the justice system, the victims’ rights movement suffers growing pains over divisive issues.

Ray Hill, an ex-convict, inmate rights advocate and host of KPFT's The Prison Show is blunt: "Andy is the man behind the curtain. He runs Justice For All for free from a city-paid office…Andy keeps them in fresh victims."

Hill says he has known Kahan since the late '80s, when Kahan was a parole officer and sometime contributor to Hill's radio show. Hill and Jack Beal, a parole officer who worked with Kahan, say that Kahan was involved in a dispute over his expense reporting before he left his job in 1990.

After a stint with the county's probation department, Kahan became the city's first victims' advocate in 1992. A member of mayor Bob Lanier's staff, who praised Kahan for his passionate advocacy for victims, said the new administration ordered a review of the earlier allegations regarding Kahan's parole office expense reports. They were determined not to be a detriment to hiring him as the city's advocate, the former staffer said.

Clements has helped to reform the justice system as a JFA leader.
AP/Pat Sullivan
Clements has helped to reform the justice system as a JFA leader.
Cushing: A double standard exists over who's considered a victim.
Cushing: A double standard exists over who's considered a victim.

Problems later surfaced for Kahan in 1996, when a crime victim who had been a victims' group volunteer came forward to complain about his conduct. In a sworn affidavit, the woman said that in 1994, Kahan met her in his official capacity, recruited her into JFA and told her she should speak publicly about her experience as a sexual assault victim. Her statement says he invited her to a victims' conference in Austin, but told her when they arrived that the city would pay for only one hotel room for both of them. She didn't have the money for a separate room. During the night, she submitted to his sexual advances, her affidavit said.

The city refused an open records request from the Press on the investigation, but a letter from the city attorney's office asked for a state attorney general's opinion on the release of documents. The letter stated in part that "subsequent allegations of sexual assault surfaced," but there were no charges filed.

When the incident became public in 1998, a mayoral spokesman said an investigation concluded that no crimes had been committed, although there was misconduct and Lanier had "dealt with it sternly."

One of those leaping to Kahan's defense was JFA's Clements, who was reported in the media to be dismissing the victim advocate's actions with a crime victim as nothing more than "consensual sex."

Kahan's former boss says that a number of other crime victims complained about Kahan for the way he operated his city office, and for an alleged attitude about victims who indicated they were not interested in becoming members of Clements's Justice For All.

From 1998 until his retirement last June, Don Hollingsworth served as Mayor Lee Brown's director of public safety and drug policy, and was responsible for overseeing the city's victim advocate's office.

Hollingsworth and Brown were just assuming their positions when the scandal broke about Kahan's sex with the woman. Hollingsworth indicated that Brown considered replacing Kahan but knew JFA was influential. "Justice For All is a strong political endorsement -- I didn't really care because I'm not really political -- but there was the wind in the wave that said, you know, 'You can't treat this guy like this.' I felt that there were people protecting him."

Hollingsworth says Kahan was upset that the public safety director closely supervised him. Kahan also was ordered to get prior approval for any public statements.

"We opposed him going down to Huntsville to do the executions -- not to accompany the victim's family and support them, but getting in front of the cameras there. Sometimes he wouldn't even identify himself as the mayor's advocate, but just as 'victim advocate Andy Kahan.' There's some taxpayers who don't agree with his position on the death penalty, and we didn't want him taking a stand publicly."

Hollingsworth says he found out that Kahan focused on high-profile cases and devoted less attention to victims of crimes that didn't attract publicity. Material supplied by Kahan lists his accomplishments on behalf of victims and says his office has "received national recognition on television and news shows" such as CNN, 48 Hours, The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour, Court TV and 20/20. "He's self-promoting. He saw himself as a national figure," Hollingsworth says. "He was more about Andy than the mayor or Houston."

And some minority victims complained that Kahan didn't much care about their problems, his former boss says. "The sense that I got was that he was only advocating for those people who were in line with the Justice For All philosophy." Hollingsworth says he counseled Kahan on several occasions and formally reprimanded him once.

As part of his job, Kahan also appears before the parole board to protest the release of some criminals. Bill Habern, an attorney who specializes in parole matters, says Kahan will "stir up a cloud of dust." However, he believes Kahan is largely ineffective in parole matters because he'll use unverified hearsay reports and rumors. "He'll cause more harm than good because it makes him look ridiculous," Habern says. "He's one of those guys that's got a big hat and no cows."

Oliver Spellman, who took Hollingsworth's position as Kahan's acting supervisor a few months ago, says his oversight of Kahan is no different from that with any other city employee. "Andy gets rave reviews from a lot of people," and he has a tough job dealing with a sensitive group of people, Spellman says.

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