Monday, March 17, 2008

Opponents Lykos and Siegler waste no time letting barbs fly

Third-place finisher Leitner to vote for Lykos

After finishing third in the Republican primary for Harris County district attorney, defense lawyer and former prosecutor Jim Leitner said Wednesday he will vote for former judge Pat Lykos in the runoff against prosecutor Kelly Siegler.

Also, Siegler and Lykos denounced each other Wednesday, signaling that their campaign for the April 8 runoff will be as embraceable as a razor saw.

Leitner, who placed third in the primary for DA eight years ago as well, said in this year's campaign that the agency needed reform by an outsider in the wake of disgraced District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal's resignation. He said backing Siegler, a prosecutor for the last 21 years, would conflict with his reform goals.

"It's going to be the same old, same old" with Siegler as the GOP nominee, Leitner said. "I don't think that will be good enough to beat (C.O.) Bradford."

The Republican runoff winner will face Democrat Bradford, the former Houston police chief, in the Nov. 4 general election.

Leitner said going public with his vote for Lykos was not the same as an endorsement, because "I'm not going to tell anyone how to vote."

Siegler got 41 percent of the vote and Lykos got 31 percent in Tuesday's primary, forcing a runoff because no one got a majority. Leitner and police Capt. Doug Perry trailed. Perry could not be reached for comment.

"She is a one-act play," Lykos said Wednesday of Siegler's famously sensational techniques in criminal trials. "For all of her career, she has engaged in theatrics and gotten away with fudging facts, in court and now as a cynical politician."

Many voters skipped DA

Siegler said Lykos "has a record and a history of being difficult to deal with and of no one wanting to work with her."

"Her record as a judge is that she was not always tough on criminals," Siegler added. "Mine is the opposite."

They spoke in separate telephone interviews and took contrasting views of Tuesday's results, which drew 140,695 votes. An additional 30,136 people voted in other GOP contests without casting a ballot for district attorney, according to the county clerk's office.

Lykos said it showed that the solid majority of voters in the primary want an outsider to improve the district attorney's office. Siegler said it shows that the biggest share of support went to the candidate who knows how to prosecute cases and run the agency. She heads the Special Crimes Bureau of the district attorney's office.

Lykos' charge that Siegler has obscured facts in court follows the disclosure several weeks ago of the prosecutor's remarks about a black potential juror in a 2007 death penalty trial. Challenged on whether she blocked the man because of his race, Siegler instead cited her suspicion about his membership in non-denominational Lakewood Church.

Siegler has pointed to her supervisory experience and backing from law enforcement agencies, police officers and crime victims as proof that her abilities stretch beyond her courtroom record.

Employee assessment

Her allegation that Lykos has been excessively thorny follows the Houston Chronicle's disclosure of Lykos' 2005 employee assessment in which her supervisor on the county judge's staff recommended she seek training in listening and team building.

Lykos said the praise she received for developing anti-crime programs for the county shows her effectiveness with coalitions.

As for the "soft on crime" allegation, Siegler has cited records of Lykos, as a judge, granting probation to several child molesters. Lykos said prosecutors failed to prosecute molestation cases effectively, forcing her to approve plea bargains for probation, thus keeping molesters under court supervision rather than having them found not guilty.

She cited a 2000 essay by Justice For Children founder Randy Burton that said "the district attorney's office has a blind spot when it comes to the prosecution of offenses against children."

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