by Patrick F. McCann
I confess I enjoy the holidays. It is the one time of year when people try to treat each other the way we should treat each other all year. One wishes the best for one’s fellow men and women, and hope can actually be felt. Selfishness is just a little less palpable in the air. So, here, in the spirit of the holidays, is a gentle wishlist for our colleagues across the aisle in the courthouse, and for their boss, the elected District Attorney. The office has faced, as all the county has, some unique challenges across this past year in the aftermath of one of the greatest storms in the history of Texas. Under the District Attorney’s guidance it has also overcome many of these challenges. So now that there is a new “quasi-normalcy” to the proceedings in our courthouses, here is my wishlist, for both the office, the DA herself, and the friends and colleagues who inhabit the same court space with our part of the bar.
I wish for the time for her senior staff to finally implement the policies I believe they believe in. By that I mean working out thoughtful, measured and new ways to deal with drug and mental health diversions from prosecution, ensuring that juveniles do not get arbitrarily sentenced to life in prison, and the truly thoughtful use of severe charges against people who are minor participants in crimes. I mean a reduction in numbers and severity of sentences, and a true embrace of community supervision. I wish for a recognition that while prisons exist, they do little to help people re-gain their lives or re-enter our society. I believe that Harvey has kept this office from truly getting to implement these programs, and I wish the DA and her staff the time and inspiration to do what they came here to do, i.e. reverse the decades of cowboy culture and ill-informed “tough on crime” stance that was felt largely by the poor, the mentally ill, and those who were not white. It is time for meaningful policies to be announced and implemented, and I wish them well in tackling these issues.
I wish that the Assistant District Attorneys who have stayed with the office during this period are rewarded with the kind of positive training and in-depth legal education that they deserve. When one is trying to stay afloat in dangerous waters, training does often go over the side of the boat. Training, the kind of national training available through non-profit organizations and the department of justice, is an investment in the young lawyers and assistants who are the future chief prosecutors in our state – it is an investment that returns ten fold as it helps good lawyers spot bad cases and dispose of them. I wish that training once again resumes its priority now that the basics of office space and organization have been met.
I wish that for all our young colleagues in the Harris County office that attention to their desire to have and raise families be finally given more than lip service. In a time of modern technology there is no reason flex time and remote work cannot be done and implemented in many parts of the District Attorney’s office. While dockets must be met, there is no real reason to run a modern office as if it were still the 1950s. Networks exist for collaboration across distance, and there is no reason not to permit, for instance, those with child or parent care issues not to work remotely for periods of time or to have flex hours that allow them to tend to family while serving the public. The loyalty shown by the staff of this office has been great; they are owed modern flexible work environments in return. It will increase retention and produce a more productive work force.
I wish them a better budget, both for technology improvements and for support staff. It serves no public interest to have an online portal for uploading evidence that does not work reliably nor is capable of holding all the evidence in a complex case. Nor does it serve anyone to have insufficient staff to upload and distribute this evidence onto such a portal even if it worked properly. It helps no one, from law enforcement to crime victims, to not have sufficient interoperability between systems, or old or antiquated technology that does not work together. I wish true improvements in their budgets for those things this year.
Last, I wish for all the staff at the DAO to have a chance to relax and reflect on their accomplishments this year. They have survived and managed in a time of chaos. We all have been perhaps a little kinder with the shared burden to each other. Let us not lose that spirit this coming year.
Happy holidays to all of our friends at the Harris County DAO.
Patrick F. McCann
Law Offices of Patrick F. McCann
700 Louisiana St. Ste 3950
Houston, Texas 77002