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Commissioners Court rejects Ogg’s request for more prosecutors

I fully expected that Commissioners Court going from 4-1 Republican to 3-2 Democratic after the last election would signal big changes in how business was done in Harris County, but I didn’t expect this to be the first milestone on the new path.

Kim Ogg

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday rejected Kim Ogg’s request for 102 new prosecutors, a stinging public defeat for the first-term Democratic district attorney by members of her own party.

The rejection came less than 24 hours after a former assistant district attorney filed paperwork to challenge Ogg in next year’s primary, a sign criminal justice reformers may have lost patience with the self-described progressive after helping elect her in 2016.

The three Democratic members of Commissioners Court — commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia and County Judge Lina Hidalgo —supported increasing the district attorney’s budget by 7 percent, in line with increases for other county departments. Ogg had asked for a 31 percent increase, which would grow her prosecutor corps by a third and include 42 additional support staff.

“This is not the only way, and certainly not the most cost-effective way to decrease prosecutor caseloads,” Hidalgo said.

[…]

Ogg, who did not attend the court meeting, issued a statement after the vote.

“We will continue to fight every day to ensure that justice is done in every case for every crime victim, every defendant and the community,” she said. “Harris County must have a district attorney’s office with sufficient resources to ensure that all cases are resolved fairly and in a timely manner.”

See here for the background and here for an earlier Chron story that previewed the Tuesday Commissioners Court meeting. Ogg had addressed the criticism of her proposal, and also answered the question about maybe hiring prosecutors on a shorter-term basis, but it wasn’t enough to get any of her fellow Dems in line. I would say her best bet right now is to take what the ACLU of Texas said in a press release following the Commissioners’ vote to heart:

“Adding more prosecutors in Harris County is not the ultimate solution for reducing mass incarceration and fighting racism in the criminal system. While the Harris County Commissioners Court has taken a more measured approach than the initial proposal, the addition of new prosecutors must come with clearly defined standards for reducing incarceration — such as expanding pretrial diversion, reducing case disposition time, and reducing existing caseloads — instead of prosecuting more cases. The commissioners were right to call for studies into how best to improve the district attorney’s office, and District Attorney Ogg should commit to specific plans for how any newly hired prosecutors will be used. That’s accountability.”

“There is no question that Harris County prosecutors have high caseloads, but the solution is not to add more prosecutors in a cycle that endlessly ratchets up the size of the criminal system. The smartest way to reduce caseloads is to dismiss more cases, identify more cases for diversion, and invest significantly in substance use disorder and mental health treatment that help people who need it and prevent them from ending up awaiting prosecution in the first place.”

Seems to me this conversation will need to include HPD, the Sheriff’s office, and all of the other law enforcement organizations in Harris County as well. If the DA needs to prioritize what cases get prosecuted, they will need to prioritize what arrests they make. Commissioners Court needs to do its part, too, by working to expand mental health offerings. The Lege could also pitch in here, though for obvious reasons I’ll keep my expectations low. Everyone has a part to play – Kim Ogg’s part is bigger than the rest, but it’s not just her. Maybe by the time next year’s budget is being discussed, we’ll have less to argue about.

And speaking of next year:

Audia Jones, the former prosecutor who on Monday filed paperwork to challenge Ogg, spoke against the proposal. Jones said she left the district attorney’s office in December in part because she said Ogg’s administration has been too reluctant to offer jail diversion to defendants of color, in contrast with their white counterparts.

She said temporary court closures caused by Hurricane Harvey are not a driver of increasing caseloads, as Ogg contends, but rather are a result of her administration’s policies.

Murray Newman, who had some earlier thoughts about the Ogg proposal, notes that Audia Jones is married to Criminal Court Judge DaSean Jones. I’m not sure how that conflict gets sorted out if she wins (one obvious remedy would be for Judge Jones to step down), but that’s a concern for another day. I would have picked County Attorney Vince Ryan as the first member of the class of 2020 to get a potential primary opponent – designating a treasurer is a necessary step to running for office, but it doesn’t commit one to running – but here we are.

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13 Comments

  1. Manny says:

    My two cents without really knowing what is happening, study the issue, find out what kind of cases are being accepted that could maybe not be accepted.

    HPD makes arrests the DA determines if they will accept charges.

    I imagine that the old mentality of all prior DAs has not changed much, if they accept charges they must get a conviction in the books. I could be wrong but someone has to say more than just blame Harvey for the back log.

  2. Terrance Jewett says:

    As someone who is there everyday I can attest to protectors having a large work load. The problem is some prosecutors prosecute for the sake of prosecuting, and the Da’s rules prevent smart ending to case. We still put to many people who have drug issues and mental health issues in jail. I thought Kim Ogg would do more to make changes, but she hasn’t. I also agree it’s time to stop blaming Harvey. Some judges give you trial dates in a month or two of requesting some don’t. If we had someone with some good ideas to run against Ogg, they may get my vote.

  3. Steve Houston says:

    “The smartest way to reduce caseloads is to dismiss more cases, identify more cases for diversion, and invest significantly in substance use disorder and mental health treatment that help people who need it and prevent them from ending up awaiting prosecution in the first place.”

    This sounds like a chicken V. egg dilemma because many of the new ADA’s just don’t have the experience to properly identify cases well suited for diversion or treatment and their supervisors are too busy putting out smaller fires to train them. So add more training to the mix but that and any major increases in mental health or diversion are going to have to come from Commissioner’s Court. As the sheriff points out every chance he gets, the Harris County jail is one of the largest mental health facilities in the country.

    And the state has helped fund diversion and mental health programs in the jail since 2013, expanding said programs which are also helped by large grants, a massive increase in funding was approved just before Kim took office. Between those programs, the drug program for small amounts, the increase in DWI diversion SOBER program, and the two largest police agencies following suit by greatly reducing arresting intoxicated people with their sobering center, you’d think the low lying fruit was picked clean.

  4. Paul Kubosh says:

    The answer is clear. Let them all go.

  5. Jules says:

    Yes, Paul, that will solve the real problem, people taking joy in other people being locked up.

  6. Paul Kubosh says:

    Didn’t say that.

    Jules = fake news

  7. Andrew Lynch says:

    Adding more people is the government’s blunt force approach.
    Reducing the number of government employees is always more difficult than increasing employees.

    Props to the Commissioners Court for pausing Ogg’s plan and making the DA elaborate on why more people is the answer.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    We seem to have a problem with too many people breaking the law in Houston, and we know that many of those folks are frequent fliers in the justice system. Would this be a bad time to mention that we could physically remove criminals from Houston permanently by having them deported?

    You want diversion for petty drugs, shoplifting, driving with no license and insurance, DWI, and other ‘minor’ charges, why can’t we divert illegal aliens to ICE, so they won’t keep clogging up our justice system and keep overworking Harris County prosecutors? I know we are 287g participants, but I’m talking about calling ICE every time we pick up an illegal, for ANYTHING. Peeing in public? ICE. Shoplifted a pack of smokes from the corner store? ICE. Driving with no license or insurance? ICE.

    Obviously we don’t have that option with citizen offenders, although I’d be glad to see a program where we put indigent offenders on buses out of town with a few hundred bucks and tell them not to come back or we will go for the maximum sentence on any crime they commit here in the future. Send them to San Francisco. They love the criminal-American community there, and I’m sure they would be welcomed.

  9. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, ICE doesn’t want them, won’t take them, has no facilities to hold them all, and has zero interest in any illegals they have not already flagged. The majority of first time offenders are not charged again (according to TDCJ) so maybe if we focus efforts on the chronic offenders instead of criminalizing everything under the sun, we will have better rates of success. The various diversion programs have seen some solid results per their individual yearly reports but in a county with as many people as Harris County has, of course there will be a lot in any given year…you can’t control that number, only how you deal with them short and long term.

  10. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, ICE doesn’t want them, won’t take them, has no facilities to hold them all, and has zero interest in any illegals they have not already flagged. The majority of first time offenders are not charged again (according to TDCJ) so maybe if we focus efforts on the chronic offenders instead of criminalizing everything under the sun, we will have better rates of success. The various diversion programs have seen some solid results per their individual yearly reports but in a county with as many people as Harris County has, of course there will be a lot in any given year…you can’t control that number, only how you deal with them short and long term.

  11. Bill Daniels says:

    Steve,

    I could solve the problem of both lack of bed space AND lack of money to incarcerate illegals while we wait for them to go through the legal process of being deported……set up presidios or carcels in Mexico, on the border, and pay the Mexicans to house them. Give them the opportunity to get out of jail if they sign away their claim to be here and promise never to return, otherwise, they can sit it out in spartan, low cost Mexican jails. This gets them out of our country, helps Mexico as a jobs program, and saves the US boatloads of money compared to housing them stateside.

    If we catch repeat trespassers, they can serve out their illegal entry/reentry sentences in the Mexican carcels. That ought to cut recidivism down significantly.

  12. Manny says:

    I vote that we trade one of those hard working undocumented folks for one lazy American, like Bill.

    Bill why do you hate Brown folks so much? Below something you wrote;

    ..If it turns out this was botched as bad as it seems, there should be a lot more punishment than just Avocado being terminated. Two citizens with no criminal records (save for a dismissed bad check charge from years ago) are dead. Their dog is dead. All we have to show for it is a few long guns that you would find in any house on my block and a small amount of pot and coke, ..

    Why you giving them white folks a bye on drugs, Bill?

  13. Bill_Daniels says:

    Manny,

    Gee, your post didn’t age well now, did it? LOL

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