A Bad TX Prosecutor Fights For His Job

There are many good reasons to believe that Chuck Rosenthal should not be the district attorney in Harris County, Texas ... or anywhere else. He leads the nation in his aggressive use of the death penalty and refused to change that stance in the face of evidence that the Houston crime lab was falsifying data. When a grand jury asked Rosenthal to recuse himself from the investigation of that scandal on the ground that he was up to his neck in it, he declined. He defended his office's reliance on false testimony to support a conviction although he had the good grace to apologize for one of the many wrongful convictions for which his office is responsible.

Voters like Rosenthal because of his image as a "tough prosecutor" -- they apparently think it's more important to look tough than to be right, or fair. It may not be Rosenthal's official actions, but his racist emails, that finally bring him down.


One of the messages was a racial joke about President Bill Clinton, attributed to a Canadian TV show, forwarded by Chuck Rosenthal to his friend Dr. Sam Siegler.

"The closest thing we ever had to having a black man as president," the e-mail read. "Number 1 - He played the sax. Number 2 - He smoked weed. Number 3 - He had his way with ugly white women. Even now? Look at him… his wife works, and he doesn't! And, he gets a check from the government each month."

Here's another:

In addition to a racial joke about President Clinton that characterizes African-Americans as unemployed drug users, Rosenthal also e-mailed a picture showing a black man on the ground surrounded by fried chicken and watermelon. The caption read "fatal overdose."

There is also evidence that Rosenthal illegally used government computers to promote his election campaign. When asked why he won't resign:

"Well, 'cause I haven't done anything wrong," Rosenthal said.

It's good to know that the nation's leading prosecutorial proponent of the death penalty has such a keen sense of right and wrong. Rosenthal's latest defense is that he isn't a racist but thought that his friend might enjoy the humor.

"In retrospect, I wish I had not done it," Rosenthal said. "But he and I (the person the e-mail was sent to) are very close friends and I thought he would enjoy seeing it, actually."

So in Rosenthal's mind, it's fine to email racist humor to people who might enjoy it, but that doesn't make the emailer a racist. Not much of a defense. Will voters buy it? Community leaders in Houston are planning a protest rally on January 31 to raise awareness of Rosenthal's insensitivity.

The racial problems in Rosenthal's office go deeper than offensive email forwarding:

Brian Wice, Wooten's attorney, said the racial content in Rosenthal's e-mails highlights a systemwide problem. "Whether it means sending out racist e-mails or permitting your trial prosecutors to exclude blacks and Hispanics from trial juries merely because of their color -- it certainly underscores a systemic problem in this institution that nobody wanted to talk about," said Wice.

January 31 would be a good time to start talking about those problems, and for the media to start taking them seriously.

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    given all this history, (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Tue Jan 15, 2008 at 05:02:21 PM EST
    i am forced to conclude that the good citizens of harris county, tx like it this way. DA rosenthal will not be going quietly into that good night.

    What most people in Harris County prefer in a DA (none / 0) (#2)
    by Yes2Truth on Tue Jan 15, 2008 at 07:39:34 PM EST

    Most Harris County residents prefer nonsense to sense.  If Rosenthal lasts much longer, you'll have proof that I'm right.

    Before you judge us Houstonians (none / 0) (#3)
    by helverings nag on Tue Jan 15, 2008 at 09:34:11 PM EST
    too harshly you need to know this whole thing is bare-knuckle, political soap opera with no real good-guys. Most of Harris County Texas' reputation is our legacy from our prior DA, Johnny Holmes. Rosenthal is just carrying on the tradition. The e-mails that are shaking it up were leaked after they turned up in discovery in a civil rights lawsuit against the DA. The suit was filed by two prisoners who alleged they were beaten while in custody and the DA didn't investigate. One of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, Lloyd Kelley, is a Democratic former city councilman and city controller. He is a law partner of C.O. Bradford, the former city police chief who is the Democratic candidate for DA this fall. There are plenty of reasons why even the most liberal Houstonians still refer to Kelley as "Weasel Boy" twelve years after his own embarrassing exit from office. (Disclaimer - I am not personally comparing Kelley to a weasel or asserting that he leaked the e-mails. Kelley is too quick with libel/slander suits.) The first of the leaked e-mails revealed that Rosenthal was having an affair with his also very married executive assistant. (The diary doesn't mention it, but thousands of other e-mails were deleted.) Following disclosure of the adulterous e-mails, Rosenthal waffled over whether to pull his name from the Republican primary or not. During one of the off-again times, assistant DA Kelly Siegler threw her hat in the ring for DA. Siegler is the wife of Dr. Siegler, one of the "friends" who carried on the exchange of pornographic and racist e-mails with Rosenthal referred to in the diary above. Assistant DA Siegler is the theatrical face of Harris County's most recent death penalty cases. From all appearances, she is a true capital punishment believer. And she has her own demons. In a recent capital case she sought to strike a prospective juror on the grounds that the 40,000 or so members of  his church, Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, are a "bunch of screwballs and nuts." If that weren't enough, it's starting to look like the "screwball" comment was cover for an illegal strike because of the prospective juror's race. And just yesterday she was the target of a prosecutorial misconduct hearing in another murder case. There's more to the story, but those are the low-lights. My point is that an opportunity to examine the whole Harris County capital punishment issue is more than likely going to be lost in the wash of dirty laundry.