Monday, December 08, 2008

DA Watch: Investigation Into Former Houston District Attorney Rosenthal Is Finished Without Criminal Prosecution

Another Texas District Attorney has escaped prosecution.

Over in Houston, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal resigned last February because of allegations that he had done bad things - read that, Rosenthal allegedly committed crimes while in office as the top prosecutor for the county.

Serious stuff.

However, after 8 months of snooping around, any possible indictment of Rosenthal was nixed by his successor in office (who acts as D.A. until January, when newly-elected Pat Lycos will take over as the first female district attorney in Houston's history). The scandal itself has been going on in the media for a year now, so it's a nice gift for Rosenthal here on the holidays.

What was Rosenthal alleged to have done?

He sent lots of e-mails from his official work e-mail address, and lots of people read them after they got subpoenaed in a federal civil rights case. Sure, he tried to delete them -- in fact, Rosenthal is known to have deleted 1000s of e-mails ... and that was part of the problem.

Seems the deleted e-mails were covered by that federal subpoena. It's a big no-no to delete or destroy documentation that is subject to a subpoena. Rosenthal knew that, right?

Additionally, some of these e-mails had bad, bad content. They had messages to staff members asking for help with his political campaign. Others had personal, romantic messages to Rosenthal's executive assistant. Still others were pornographic in content, and some e-mails are said to have had racist "jokes and pictures."

None of this stuff is appropriate for a county employee's work correspondence, much less that of the county district attorney. There are laws about this stuff.

Did anything happen to Rosenthal? Sure.

The federal judge found him in contempt of court for deleting e-mail messages, and he had to pay a fine of $18,000.00. And, he had to resign his office as part of a deal with the Texas Attorney General -- who agreed to drop the state's investigation if Rosenthal would just leave the building.

So, he lost his job and had to pay a fine.

Is it serious or a slap on the wrist? Slap, slap.

Rosenthal probably doesn't have any future in public office. He still has a law license and lots of experience, so he's got a future in private practice somewhere. That's good for him.

He doesn't have to face a trial or months of media play during the litigation process, it's a clean slate for him now. That's good for him, too.

Interesting, isn't it, that no grand jury was involved here when this case was dismissed for "insufficient evidence"?

That's right: the decision to close the book on the Rosenthal case was made by Ken Magidson, who's been setting at Rosenthal's old desk until Pat Lycos takes over. Just Magidson.

What did he tell the media? Here's what the Houston paper reported as a direct quote:

"After a careful and independent review of this matter, I have determined that there is insufficient evidence for prosecution," Interim District Attorney Ken Magidson said.

No grand jury. "Insufficient evidence for prosecution." You've got the e-mails. You got the evidence of the deletions. Insufficient evidence?

Hmmmm. Just something to ponder ....



Houston Chronicle

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