Now here‘s an interesting twist to the story.
Former family court Judge Denise Pratt’s resignation in late March was part of a deal to avoid indictment, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Wednesday, asserting that the document tampering case would have been difficult to prosecute and that the agreement was the best and quickest way to get the rookie jurist off the bench and bring the “ongoing damage to a stop.”
In a shorter statement issued the day before, Anderson described Pratt’s actions as “reprehensible” but made no mention of the deal, saying only that prosecutors concluded after investigating the judge that “while there may have been probable cause, her actions did not rise to the level of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed.”
Anderson issued that statement on Tuesday in response to criticisms from Democrat Kim Ogg, her opponent in the November general election. Ogg lambasted the incumbent district attorney this week for not prosecuting Pratt, saying the “weight of the evidence” brought against the Baytown native was more than sufficient to bring charges and that the absence appeared suspicious because Pratt and Anderson – both Republicans – had shared a political consultant when the allegations were brought.
Asked on Wednesday to clarify the statement, Anderson issued a lengthier one saying that her office “made a hard decision – not to prosecute a difficult case against Judge Pratt in exchange for her voluntary and permanent resignation from the judiciary – and we believe that it was consistent with our primary responsibility to see that justice is done.”
“The agreement we reached brought the ongoing damage to a stop and allowed the system to begin the process of repairing the harm already done,” the statement said. “Obviously, Ms. Ogg did not participate in the two-month investigation of Judge Pratt by four experienced and apolitical Public Integrity Division prosecutors and she does not have the benefit of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence against Judge Pratt. This office does have the benefit of that knowledge, and made the professional assessment that the process of getting Judge Pratt before a jury for trial would take years and that the likelihood of success would be uncertain at best.”
She was under investigation again this year after dismissing more than 630 cases without warning to lawyers or litigants on the final two days of 2013 – the subject of Enos’ second criminal complaint, filed in January – and resigned on March 28, pegging her departure to “relentless political attacks.”
The statement announcing her immediate resignation and the suspension of her re-election campaign made no mention of a deal with the district attorney.
After Pratt’s departure, Enos and other lawyers said they believed it was tied to a deal.
Ogg on Tuesday had called on Anderson to request an independent, special prosecutor be appointed to investigate Enos’ complaints. Ogg said the county’s top prosecutor should have done that in the first place to avoid the appearance of impropriety as she and Pratt shared the same political consultant, Allen Blakemore, at the time Enos’ complaints were filed.
On Wednesday, Ogg said it was “unethical” for Anderson to use evidence that she suggested was insufficient to charge Pratt as leverage to force her resignation, describing it as a “secret plea bargain.”
“An ordinary citizen is rarely, if ever, offered an opportunity to resign from their job in exchange for dismissal of a criminal complaint and this confirmation by the district attorney of a secret plea deal reveals this district attorney’s double standard: One standard for fellow Republican judges and a different standard for ordinary citizens,” said the former prosecutor and head of Crime Stoppers.
It’s certainly the case that at the time of Pratt’s resignation, there was no mention of a deal. Does this mean that the complaints filed in Feburary have now been dropped? Here are the two statements made by DA Devon Anderson. My reading of them suggests that indeed Pratt is no longer under investigation of any kind. From the first statement on Tuesday:
In early January of this year, The Harris County District Attorney’s Office received additional complaints against Judge Pratt and a new investigation began. Prosecutors in the Public Integrity Division investigated every single allegation. The District Attorney’s Office came to the conclusion that Judge Pratt’s conduct was reprehensible, and while there may have been probable cause, her actions did not rise to the level of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed.
Sure sounds like the investigations are finished to me. Now let’s look at this bit from the second statement:
This office made a hard decision – not to prosecute a difficult case against Judge Pratt in exchange for her voluntary and permanent resignation from the judiciary – and we believe that it was consistent with our primary responsibility to see that justice is done.
Emphasis mine. With all due respect, what enforcement mechanism is in place for this? What is to stop Denise Pratt from moving to, say, Polk County and running for judge there? What’s to stop her from becoming a visiting judge? There’s no official mark on her record, after all. As I understand it, the latter complaints were both misdemeanors, so the statute of limitations will run out on them before too long. What would stop her from running for judge, or maybe Justice of the Peace in a Republican-friendly precinct, at that time? And why is this a better outcome than presenting the evidence to another grand jury and letting them decide for themselves? Maybe with an actual indictment in hand you could have gotten an enforceable deal.
I have to think that at some level, Devon Anderson gets this. If this deal had truly been the best possible outcome, and if it had been something she’d been proud of, or at least satisfied with, why wouldn’t she have announced it at the time? Don’t you tell people when you’ve done something good? Politicians running for office generally do. And when they do something they’re not all that keen about, they don’t. Anderson’s actions here are speaking pretty loudly. She could have said her piece when Pratt resigned, but instead she kept her mouth shut while Pratt blathered on about how she was run out of town by her political opponents. Maybe Devon Anderson could make a case for the deal, but I don’t see any merit to allowing the misinformation to stand. Am I the only one who thinks there’s still more to this story?