Saturday, December 29, 2007
The holidays are always a slow time for news, so when a couple prosecutors find themselves in a little hot water it draws more than the usual amount of media attention. Harris County DA Chuck Rosenthal's office turned over a slug of e-mails as part of the discovery in a civil rights case against the sheriffs office, and among there were some rather personal ones Rosenthal sent to his executive assistant. Statements like "I love you" and "I want to kiss you behind your right ear" were in there, according to an AP story (here). The e-mails were inadvertently released by the federal court, and although they've been resealed, even a short time being available on the internet allowed the media to pounce on them, and that toothpaste won't fit back into the tube now. DA Rosenthal has apologized for the missives, stating that the disclosure is a "wake-up call to me to get my house in order, both literally and figuratively." This is our regular reminder that just because you hit the "Send" button doesn't mean the e-mail disappears into the ether, never to be heard from again. Especially for a chief prosecutor -- send that stuff on your own time.
Meanwhile, in a much less salacious situation up the pike in Dallas County, DA Craig Watkins had his law license suspended on December 14 for failing to pay his state bar dues. He has since paid them, and it might be an otherwise minor embarrassment except that the DA's name is on all indictments and plea bargains as the county's chief legal officer. Are the documents valid, or will new indictments be needed for the two weeks he was not licensed? In the federal system, the United States Attorney's name similarly appears on all filings, but I'm not aware that the person holding the position has to be a member of the district's state bar. I believe the only requirement is admission to that federal court and the circuit. While there are internal Department of Justice requiring attorneys to be a member of a state bar, and almost all USAOs that I'm aware of similarly require Assistant U.S. Attorneys to be members in the state bar where the lawyer practices. I don't think the U.S. Attorney's bar status would affect any filings, and the same may well be the case in Dallas County. I suspect DA Watkins' will send his check in right away when he receives the first dues notice next year. A Dallas Morning News story (here) discusses the dues flap. (ph -- with thanks to a Texas reader)