CAMPAIGN '8011 COUNTY
What the county does the city is going to have to live with.
Most people in the city of Houston think
only idly and with come derision about
the state government, of Texas. Yes,
everyone likes the smug little Shangri-la
called Austin, where the leggies meet.
Everyone, nearly, has strolled through
that gangster's wedding-cake Capitol and
tried to decipher some of those blackened
old canvases hanging on the walls. We
know where the laws get passed, and if
we think about it a little, who passes
them, and who is behind most of them.
But after our governor signs legislative
emissions into law, a vast host of state
officials, connected to Austin by WATS,
the U.S. Mail, Federal Express, and big
ole cars doing 80 on Highway 290, puts
them into action. From day to day, most
taxpayers forget about this army of enforcement and administration.
Locally, the state mandates are entrusted to the County Commissioner's
Court—three men and a judge, advised
and served legally by a county attorney.
They administer prisons, roads, land use,
mosquito and flood control, county hospitals and county police. The state's other
representative, the district attorney, represents Texas whenever Texas wants to
put some citizen into the standing-room-
only jailhouse. Even though nearly everyone has had some dealing with the court
house, if not the district attorney, we
tend to overlook the DA and the CA in
their humdrum daily activities, and the
Commissioner's Court we notice not at
The shadows created by the flickering
light of public regard are kind to old
bureaucracies. If we don't have the ole
boys sitting on benches outside the courthouse, whittling in the sun and spitting,
it's because the benches are inside, in the
offices. No one should be surprised, thus,
when a man charged with murder is running for county ■ commissioner against
Tom Bass; no one should exclaim over
the election victory of a county commissioner continuously touched by scandal;
-BY MORRIS EDELSON-
no one should raise an eyebrow about 40-
year tenures of public office and inheritance of positions supposedly won by
Minimum John and Can-do Dailey
John Holmes is angry. He is the first
person in more than 20 years to have to
face an opponent, Fred Dailey, in a general election for District Attorney. Of
course, even Jack Heard has to go
through the procedure before resuming
his career as sherriff—times are tough all
over. Holmes is tough on criminals, he
says, and plans to be tough with his opponent. Holmes, appointed to his office
by the governor in July, is reported to
have spent $200,000 on the billboards
and television ads which show his crimi-
nophobia, his broad-legged stance protecting personally the well-manicured
lawns of Southwest Houston from a gibbering swarm of red-eyed addicts with a
taste for tots.
In the District Attorney's race, to be
sure, crime is the issue, the only issue.
How to define a criminal, how to prosecute, how and how long to punish. "The
position," Holmes explains, "calls for
cooperation with the city police, who
take in many of the suspects to trial. The
district attorney's office has to know and
be cooperative with police, and it has to
be efficient in handling these suspects. We
have been cooperative and efficient."
Other issues are not nearly as important as helping the police keep the majority of citizens safe, Holmes believes.
Asked about affirmative action, for
example, by a Houston Post reporter, he
reportedly replied "I am not going to get
off on some minority kick. I am sticking
to the issues, the function of this office."
Holmes' cooperativeness with the
police and his single-mindedness are seen
as strengths by some, weaknesses by
others. His opponent Fred Dailey says
that the present office-holder, whose only
job has been with county prosecution,
has become arrogant, hardened, and blind
to the real duties of the district attorney.
"People are disturbed in Houston,"
says Dailey, "about whether the system
of justice works or not. There is division
in the community, mainly because of
police shootings of suspects. People are
alienated from the police."
Holmes identifies so strongly with the
police that he is in effect part of the
police department, claims Dailey. Many
of his staff carry guns. He adds that the
general citizen who sees the police as
being arrogant and reckless, certainly isn't
going to cooperate with them in any way.
Fear cannot make citizens obey the law
as well as their voluntary cooperation.
"Police abuse is on the rise," says Dailey.
"The police are given cover and allowed
to do things that people know are illegal.
"The communities' opinions have
changed," adds Dailey. "In the better-off
communities, support for police is diminishing because they have seen the television videotapes of people being beaten by
police. They still want law and order but
don't trust police to give it to them. The
poor communities suffer more directly
from people getting hassled, from police
violating civil rights or the law, interfering
with daily life and not really catching
important criminals loose in the community."
The overall attitude of the DA's office
now, its critics charge, is "move the
docket." "The judges and the district
attorney," says Dailey, a judge himself,
have come up with a system that works
the way they want it to. It moves cases
rapidly through the courts, no matter
what the public thinks or wants to know.
In 1979, for example, there were 51,000
serious criminal charges brought by the
DA. Only 1400 of these ever went to
Seventy percent of felony charges
against suspected rapists, murderers,
or arsonists were dropped, carried over
on the docket, or plea bargained away,
Holmes says, "simply because we couldn't
handle any more cases." Dailey disagrees:
"He has 18 district courts, nine criminal
courts, 145 assistants and can only try
1400 cases. That means each lawyer in
the District Attorney's office had less
than one case a month to try!"
Holmes says that is the fault of the
federal court orders governing the county
jail, designed to prevent its overcrowding.
Dailey admits that the federal government intervention makes the problem
complex, but not impossible. "Justice
doesn't always demand a full jailhouse.
Other penalties can be assessed, too.
Holmes' contention that he is just trying
to help the judges, by keeping their backlog low backfires, just like unleashing the
police. The judges are now being thought
of as too lenient, since the public sees
people getting off without even a trial, or
with a bargained sentence."
Dailey explains that the bargains are
devised by the district attorney. "Any
defense lawyer is going to try to make a
deal for his client. It is up to the DA to
set up the deal, and present it to the
judge. The DA assesses the penalties in 90
percent of the cases that come up. The
judge will nearly always let the DA devise
what is fair and proper for the aggrieved
party." Dailey promises less plea bargaining, and with plea bargaining that goes
on, he promises community input, not
just deals between the district attorney
and the judge for their convenience.
Dailey says that if elected he will make
immediate concrete changes, designed to
allow more public input into the trials
and the office itself. "If I am elected," he
says, "I would call a meeting with the
staff and point out to them that we are
not law enforcement officers and that
they should start behaving like lawyers.
People in that room with guns are going
to stop carrying them.
"We are going to make it easier to
make complaints about treatment—complaints will no longer be entered at the
police station, often in front of the very
officers accused or others who might intimidate the complainant.
"I personally will go out and recruit
more women and minority people to
work with the district attorney, qualified
people. I personnally will go to court and
try cases, as will the rest of the staff, if I
The district attorney will no longer
play master of ceremonies in the justice
circus, Dailey promised: "Grand juries
should be changed, their membership
picked at random, when the DA thinks a
topic or illegal activity merits investigating. Right now the DA runs the show,
picks a jury, has the jury members indoctrinated by his staff, tells them where to
eat, supplies them with a secretary, in
other words manipulates them toward a
result he has decided upon far in advance
of their choosing."
Holmes thinks the system is working
and has worked for the last 11 years he
has influenced it. Dailey says, "You have
to ask yourself, is this the only way we
attempt to protect ourselves from criminal activity? There has to be a better way,
and community input is it."
Dailey sports most of the endorsements usually sought by candidates—
AFL-CIO, Harris County Democrats,
PASO, GPC, Harris County Women's
Political Caucus—and Holmes has the
endorsement of the Houston Police
Officers' Association. The first race for
the office in a couple of decades, it has
been a lively one. "People aren't apathetic," says Dailey, "they are plain disgusted. I think that will make them get out
and help us change things."
Who Speaks for Harris?
The County Attorney
Even in the dull offices, given enough
time, something wild will happen. Who
would have thought that Joe Resweber
would have stepped down from being the
county attorney in his sixth and not
seventh decade? That is the most excitement since they removed the spittoons
from his rooms. Then surprises started
coming in battalions. The incumbent's
aide, Anthony Sheppard, started a Carrie
Nation on the county's porn shops.
Federal Judge Carl O. Bue said the
county jail wasn't fit for a pigsty and put
its operation under federal orders to raise
daniel boone cycle
HOUSTON, TEXAS 77004
HOUSTON B ITS A KT+4 ROUGH