Not Everyone Is Cheering DA Pat Lykos's Latest Move
If you look up "throwing someone under the bus" in the dictionary of clichés, you might just find the following example from Pat Lykos's braver, newer Harris County District Attorneys Office used as illustration.
Not content to keep her ire in-house about a recent jury selection gone awry, Lykos lambasted two of her prosecutors in the pages of the Chronicle.
During the jury selection of the murder trial of Ricky Whitfield last Tuesday, prosecutors Mark Donnelly and Rifian Newaz used seven of their ten "strikes" against all of the African Americans in the jury pool of 65, resulting in the black defendant facing a jury of ten Anglo whites and two Hispanics. (Plus a white alternate.)
Admittedly that looks alot like the bad old days, when prosecutors ran amok and the skids of Harris County justice were greased against poor and minority defendants.
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Understandably, Whitfield's attorneys Jacquelyn Carpenter and Eric Davis filed a Batson motion -- which demands that prosecutors give race-neutral reasons for striking jurors. (While jurors can be struck by either the prosecution or the defense for just about any reason, a special exception is made for race.)
Donnelly and Newaz told presiding Judge Jeannine Barr that they did not believe that any of the seven black panelists could decisively answer whether the justice system should punish or rehabilitate convicted defendants Carpenter and Davis countered that some of the white panelists had shown the same indecision and were not stricken. Barr sided with the defense and sustained the Batson motion. The jury was disbanded and Whitfield's trial was reset for June.
So, all in all, a bad day for the prosecution, but that this Batson motion was upheld showed the system still worked. And you'd expect that Newaz and Donnelly would have some 'splainin' to do, but for them, there was much worse in store.
In fact, what happened next has the entire DA's office -- outside of Lykos's inner circle -- in a state of something approaching mutiny, if anonymous blog postings from disgruntled lawyers are to be believed.
Not content to discipline Newaz and Donnelly in-house, Lykos instead took her ire to the Chronicle, letting her two employees have it with both barrels.
"I assume full responsibility for the incompetence of these two prosecutors," Lykos told the newspaper. "There is not invidious racism involved here, but negligence or incompetence, if you will. If I thought for a moment that there were racial motives, they would have been fired."
As an anonymous commenter pointed out on former prosecutor Murray Newman's blog Life at the Harris County Courthouse, there appears to be a flaw in Lykos's logic.
"Either they engaged in invidious discrimination or they didn't. If their race-neutral reasons weren't credible, then she's saying they were not only racist, they were liars as well. But she's saying they weren't racist or they'd be fired. That just doesn't make sense."
Many prosecutors see that Ly
ckos [Thanks Kevin!!], and Barr, the judge, operated more out of how a lack of black jurors might be perceived rather than the strict application of the law. "The bottom line is if you are gonna start making what you do in the legal field based on perception rather than facts and the law, then you might as well go back to the lynch-mob mentality," says Newman in an interview with Hair Balls.
Newaz, who is South Asian, denied making any decisions based on race. Donnelly, who refused comment when contacted by the Chronicle, is of Latin American descent, despite his Irish name. In any event, both were removed from trial work and had their pay docked.
To say that former prosecutor Newman takes umbrage with Lykos's actions and dislikes her in general, are to put it mildly, understatements. Of her first 90 days in office, he had this to say: "I never thought I would have been able to say this, but she's actually worse than I could have imagined. And I hate the woman."
"Both those guys have sterling reputations," says Newman, who is now a defense attorney.
On his blog, Newman called them both "examples of what every prosecutor should be" and that Lykos "is too stupid and too much of a political grandstander" to realize that.
"She did this rush to just blast them in the media for her own gain," Newman told Hair Balls.
It seems to have worked. The Chronicle's coverage was slanted in her direction, closing as it did with a Lycos-lauding rhetorical flourish from defense attorney Mark Bennett, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association: "It's an encouraging sign that (Lykos) is interested in trying to make things right and trying to make the system work fairly for all of the citizens of Harris County, not just the rich, white ones."
Interestingly, on his own blog, Bennett also slammed Lykos's public tongue-lashing of Newaz and Donnelly:
"'Negligent' is fair, as the lowest mental state that ought to support discipline, but publicly calling lawyers who work for you 'incompetent' is beyond the pale. To call a lawyer 'incompetent' in any circumstances is harsh. It might make good press (lead story! front page! woohoo!), but it's ruinous to a good lawyer's reputation, and potentially libelous to boot. If you work somewhere, and the boss might call you 'incompetent' on the front page of the ninth-largest daily newspaper in the United States, let's face it: it's a shitty place to work."
For his part, Newman says the favorable Chron coverage should come as no surprise. "After the Chronicle endorses her, especially with as much as they have been blasting the DA's office prior to her arrival, they've basically built her up to being the Second Coming and they are not gonna back off of that," he says. "They're gonna overlook her flaws as long as they possibly can."