Commissioners court rejects Ogg pitch for more prosecutors

February 12, 2019

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday rejected Kim Ogg’s request for 102 new prosecutors, a stinging public defeat for the first-term Democratic district attorney by members of her own party.

The rejection came less than 24 hours after a former assistant district attorney filed paperwork to challenge Ogg in next year’s primary, a sign criminal justice reformers may have lost patience with the self-described progressive after helping elect her in 2016.

The three Democratic members of Commissioners Court — commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia and County Judge Lina Hidalgo —supported increasing the district attorney’s budget by 7 percent, in line with increases for other county departments. Ogg had asked for a 31 percent increase, which would grow her prosecutor corps by a third and include 42 additional support staff.

“This is not the only way, and certainly not the most cost-effective way to decrease prosecutor caseloads,” Hidalgo said.

The Republican commissioners, Steve Radack and Jack Cagle, said last week they were swayed by Ogg’s pitch and agreed more prosecutors are needed to reduce workloads and process cases more quickly. The pair were unusually taciturn during the two-hour discussion, an acknowledgement they lacked support.

In an effort to compromise, Cagle proposed providing funding for 25 prosecutors. The three Democrats said no. The final vote was 4-1 — Cagle was a ‘yes’ only because he said Ogg needs a budget — also directed the county to hire consultants to study how to make the criminal justice system more efficient.

A parade of prosecutors spoke of unrealistic caseloads that leave them overextended, unable to properly serve defendants, find witnesses and protect victims. Heather Marshall, a junior felony prosecutor, described working 70 hours weekly and said her caseload has more than doubled since moving to Houston from the district attorney’s office in Queens County, N.Y.

Nathan Beedle, who leads the misdemeanor division, invited court members to shadow his prosecutors in court to gain a better understanding of their reality.

“If they were to work seven days straight, working 24 hours a day, they could not get all their tasks done,” Beedle said.

Ogg, who did not attend the court meeting, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Audia Jones, the former prosecutor who on Monday filed paperwork to challenge Ogg, spoke against the proposal. Jones said she left the district attorney’s office in December in part because she said Ogg’s administration has been too reluctant to offer jail diversion to defendants of color, in contrast with their white counterparts.

She said temporary court closures caused by Hurricane Harvey are not a driver of increasing caseloads, as Ogg contends, but rather are a result of her administration’s policies.

Zach Despart covers Harris County for the Chronicle. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zach.despart@chron.com .

Update hourly