Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ask not for whom the whistle blows

For the past two decades the breath alcohol testing program in Harris County was run by Lone Star College (formerly North Harris Montgomery College). But no longer.

Yesterday Harris County commissioners voted to award the contract to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos has been accused of pressuring commissioners to make the change in retaliation to Lone Star's hiring of Amanda Culbertson as a technical supervisor.

Ms. Culbertson, as you may remember, testified this summer about problems with the Houston Police Department's breath testing vans. She testified after being subpoenaed by a local defense attorney (and served by my brother). In her testimony she alleged that the higher-ups in the HPD crime lab had turned the lab into a hostile work environment because she dared to speak up about the problems.

County commissioners did Ms. Lykos no favors by deferring responsibility for the change to Ms. Lykos. She might want to get the license plate number of the bus she was thrown under.

Knowing what I know about Ms. Lykos, I don't find it a stretch to believe that she was behind the move. It would appear to be par for the course (for more on Ms. Lykos and her gang that can't shoot straight, check out Murray Newman's Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center blog).

The other day I wrote that I had a few problems with local criminal defense attorneys coming to Ms. Culbertson's defense. I still find it disturbing and short-sighted. Ms. Culbertson was a true-believer until she ran across problems with the batmobiles that she couldn't defend.

But, Ms. Culbertson was not a whistleblower. She never went to the media to let them know about problems with the breath test machines in the vans. She never volunteered that information at trial. The only reason she testified about those problems in open court was because Dane Johnson had made an open records request and had obtained e-mails documenting the problems. She had no choice but to testify that the machines were unreliable in that environment.

If Ms. Culbertson left HPD because she felt intimidated for raising questions about the batmobiles, then it's shame on HPD for allowing it to happen. But if we're supposed to be up in arms because the county decided not to renew the contract with Lone Star, let me off the train. It would seem that we're forgetting that what the government giveth, the government taketh away.

When your job depends on government largesse, you must understand that what's here today may be long gone tomorrow. So maybe it was retaliation and maybe it wasn't. That's just politics.

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