I’m still shaking my head about this.
The Harris County district attorney still could investigate and charge former family court Judge Denise Pratt, despite striking a deal with the freshman jurist to resign to avoid prosecution on charges of tampering with government records.
Asked to elaborate on the terms of the agreement that led to Pratt’s March 28 resignation, a spokesman for District Attorney Devon Anderson said Thursday, “If new evidence is discovered, we can investigate and move forward with charges if warranted.”
Whether the deal Anderson struck with Pratt made the former judge immune from future charges was one of many questions raised by her critics on Thursday, the day after the county’s top prosecutor revealed the agreement in a statement that said pursuing a conviction would have been difficult.
The agreement, Anderson’s statement said, was the best and quickest way to get Pratt off the bench and bring the “ongoing damage to a stop.”
The district attorney issued the statement in response to criticism from her opponent in the November general election, Democrat Kim Ogg, who said earlier this week that the evidence brought against Pratt was more than sufficient to bring charges. Ogg said the lack of charges was suspicious because Pratt and Anderson – both Republicans – used the same political consultant.
See here for the background. I keep coming back to the question that if this was such a good move by DA Devon Anderson, if this really was the only way to get Denise Pratt off the bench, then why didn’t Anderson say so at the time? Why are we just hearing about it now that Anderson’s political opponent Kim Ogg dug it up started making a fuss about it? The fact that Anderson didn’t say a word about it when Pratt resigned and claimed it was because her opponents were out to get her, the fact that we might not know any of this now if Anderson weren’t on the ballot in November, strongly suggests that maybe this deal wasn’t something to be proud of but rather something to be hushed up.
Webster family lawyer Greg Enos, whose criminal complaints against Pratt prompted at least two district attorney investigations that resulted in no charges, took issue with Anderson’s contention that the resignation was the quickest way to get the judge off the bench.
He said the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the state agency charged with policing Texas judges, typically suspends judges who have been indicted, and that “Any brand new attorney fresh out of law school could have gotten an indictment of Pratt.”
Commission Executive Director Seana Willing confirmed that the commission typically votes to suspend indicted judges.
[South Texas College of Law associate professor Amanda Peters, a former Harris County prosecutor,] and other experts say Pratt’s alleged actions definitely would qualify as tampering with a government record under state law. Section 37 of the penal code says court records qualify as governmental records and that tampering includes “knowingly entering a false record.”
“My read of the statute is that, if it is true that she backdated court orders, knowing that she was making false entries, this should be a violation of the law,” said Sandra Guerra Thompson, director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center.
Anderson’s statements this week, however, suggested there was not sufficient evidence to prove Pratt guilty.
“The process of getting Judge Pratt before a jury for trial would take years,” her Wednesday statement said. “The likelihood of success would be uncertain at best.”
That’s talking about a conviction, not an indictment, which would have been enough to get Pratt suspended. That’s not a “permanent resignation”, but it is at least enforceable. Looking back through my archives, here’s a copy of the first complaint that the grand jury declined to indict on, and here’s a copy of the third complaint. Maybe getting an indictment wasn’t a slam dunk, but then neither does it take years to make that determination. There is an argument to be made here for prosecutorial discretion on Anderson’s part. I’d be more willing to accept it if she’d have been willing to make it in a timely and forthright manner, instead of employing it as defense after being called out for exercising that discretion on the sly.
UPDATE: Texpatriate has more.