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The fallout from Rosenthal

Two items from today’s story about political fallout for the local GOP from the Rosenthal mess:

Two GOP candidates for district attorney said Wednesday the disclosures of racist, sexist and sexually explicit items on Rosenthal’s government computer, along with correspondence about his now-defunct Republican re-election campaign, strengthens the argument that the next district attorney should come from outside his staff.

The remarks came from former state District Judge Pat Lykos and defense attorney and former prosecutor Jim Leitner, whose other opponents include star prosecutor Kelly Siegler. Her husband, physician Sam Siegler, sent Rosenthal several e-mails, including a video showing an unidentified man publicly pulling away clothing from the bodies of unwitting women.

“The voters are going to want to know if the next district attorney obviously is the kind of person who would have put up with that,” Leitner said,

Lykos said the video was degrading to women, “and to humiliate them and use it for vile humor is disgusting.”

Kelly Siegler said she is being blamed unfairly for the video and e-mails on Rosenthal’s work computer, and that in fact she suggested several months ago that technicians on Rosenthal’s staff randomly check computers for such abuses by any employee.

Sorry, Kelly. Your response to this has been sadly inadequate. You made the office’s reputation a point in your favor, and now it’s clear that it isn’t. Nobody cares where the potties are. What everybody cares about now is who’s going to fix the mess, and as someone who’s been surrounded by it (I’ll be charitable and not say “someone who’s been a part of it”), you own it whether you like it or not.

Siegler isn’t the only one with ownership issues:

In the March 4 GOP primary for county judge, challenger and former District Clerk Charles Bacarisse called Wednesday for Rosenthal to resign and, when asked repeatedly by reporters, said there should be an independent investigation of his actions. A campaign aide said calling for Rosenthal’s resignation was more significant because an investigation was inevitable.

In contrast, incumbent County Judge Ed Emmett announced the county’s request for an independent investigation by the state attorney general and, when asked repeatedly, said Rosenthal should resign.

“That’s fairly stout. That says, look, this is more than just calling and saying, ‘Gee, why don’t you resign,’ ” Emmett said. “This is saying, ‘We are starting a process that, if the facts turn out … we will remove you from office.’ ”

Both strove to be portrayed as distant from longtime county government practices.

“The voters in general are sick of politics as usual,” Bacarisse said.

And Emmett said: “I had no connection to county government before I became county judge (in 2007). I clearly am the outsider and the newcomer to all of this.”

Sucks to be a part of the status quo when there’s a change election coming, doesn’t it? I’ll say it again, the rest of the Republicans here have done a decent job so far of not making this any worse, but this is going to stick to them, and I’m not sorry for that. If this crystallizes in voters’ minds the need for a wholesale changing of the guard in Harris County, that’s a good thing. Muse, Stace, Isiah Carey, Greg, and Gary have more on this.

Meanwhile, here’s some more on those calls for an investigation and the allegations that Rosenthal may have broken election laws with his cavalier use of county equipment and employees for political purposes.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office confirmed it is reviewing Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford’s call for an investigation into Rosenthal’s use of a county computer for re-election campaign activities.

The e-mails also contained some racist jokes and sexually explicit videos, fueling more outrage from public officials.

“Recent events regarding e-mails in the office of the district attorney have left all of us disgusted and puzzled,” said County Judge Ed Emmett, who called on the district attorney to resign immediately. “We are clearly in a situation where Rosenthal has become a distraction.”

Emmett said Rosenthal, who last week ended his re-election campaign after the disclosure of amorous e-mails to his executive secretary, acknowledged “great errors in judgment” and “stupidity” — but not illegality.

[…]

Answering questions from the plaintiffs’ attorney, Lloyd Kelley, Rosenthal waved off concerns about using his e-mail account, county equipment or personnel for campaigning.

Kelley asked if it is legal to use county facilities and resources, including General Counsel Scott Durfee’s time, to campaign.

“It is legal,” Rosenthal repeatedly said.

“Okay,” Kelley asked. “And you sending out e-mails asking people to give you money, for instance, T-shirts for your fundraising, you find that to be legal?”

Rosenthal replied, “I find it legal to send e-mails to people using County computers from my web site, my campaign web site, advertising that we have T-shirts to sell.”

“Okay,” Kelley said. “And receiving information from your political consultant to do fundraising from activities during this time period, you find to be legal as well?”

“Yes,” Rosenthal answered.

Austin-based lawyer Buck Wood, a former state elections administrator who has represented public officials charged for similar activity, said prosecutors decide whether to pursue such cases based on degree.

“Using your equipment, your office and your employees — a captive audience there in an office — to raise funds is not good,” Wood said. “Whether a prosecutor would prosecute would depend on all the facts. But, technically, it’s a violation.”

Again we see the irony of Rosenthal’s blithe dismissal that what he was doing might possibly be wrong. If it were anybody but Rosenthal – especially a Demecrat – Rosenthal would be all over it. He should be held as accountable as he’d have held anybody else.

In a hearing ordered by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt for later this month, Rosenthal is expected to be questioned about the deletion of 2,541 e-mails from his county e-mail account.

In the deposition, Rosenthal dismissed Kelley’s questions about the deleted e-mails, saying he mistakenly believed they had been backed up on a server.

“Those must be dynamite,” Kelley said Wednesday.

You do have to wonder about those emails now. What else might there be? We’ll see what Chuck has to say for himself on the 31st.

Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia called the use of county computers for political activity “highly inappropriate.”

“The e-mails in question erode any sense of fairness and justice demanded by this office of public trust,” the Democrat said in a written statement. “I believe Mr. Rosenthal should do what is in the best interest of Harris County and resign from office immediately.”

If the district attorney were to resign, he would stay in the office until Gov. Rick Perry appoints an interim replacement. Perry spokesman Robert Black said he isn’t aware of anyone discussing possible Rosenthal replacements.

If Rosenthal were to stay in office, he could be removed under a provision in the Local Government Code, which allows the ouster of a district attorney for “official misconduct,” including unlawful activity. Abbott’s office hadn’t yet determined whether to begin such a review.

“No decision has been made. And no further comment,” said Abbott spokesman Tom Kelly.

Just curious, is “official misconduct” easier to prove than criminal activity? What’s the standard of proof? The presumption of innocence of course still applies, but how does this differ from a trial? Any comments on this would be appreciated.

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3 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    So, I’m wondering if Chuck (or his predecessors) have prosecuted anyone in Harris County for sending campaign emails from work computers…

  2. Charles Hixon says:

    I’d be more interested in the AG’s priority on this matter because the election cycle could be over by then and citizens might be more focused on the future. I could imagine some in the AG thinking: “if the citizens are going to clean house on their own, why hurry? Why not just tie up the loose ends afterwards”. There is some logic to this since it is all happening so fast and it is possible, even likely that all of the issues have yet to be discovered. I know I hate starting on a job before the scope is defined.

  3. Jeff N. says:

    This Rosenthal affair has helped me identify the problem I have had with Harris County government for these many years. It’s still run by rednecks. I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me this many years to find the label for it. We are governed by rednecks.

    The Harris County GOP is dominated by partisan rednecks, who send racist, homophobic, and sexist e-mails to each other. Their problem with Rosenthal is not that he’s stupid and has horrible judgment (those are Rosenthal’s words) but that he got caught. That is painfully obvious to me now that it’s out for all to see. I guess I should thank Rosenthal for making all this clear to me.

    The only progress we can make is if we elect some progressive county officials this year. Hope people will understand that and vote for progress.