Friday, December 9, 2011

Now, about that separation of powers thing...

I have spent thirty years in law enforcement in Harris County as a prosecutor and District Court judge.
So begins the campaign rhetoric on Harris County District Attorney-wannabe Mike Anderson's website. I find it interesting that he lumps working as a prosecutor and a judge into law enforcement.

Especially since they're not the same.

Law enforcement is part of the executive branch - the police enforce the laws. The District Attorney's Office is part of the executive branch. The DA's job is to enforce the laws by prosecuting those accused of breaking the law.

But judges aren't supposed to be part of law enforcement. Judges are part of the judicial branch. The job of a judge isn't to enforce the law, the job of a judge is to interpret the law and to preside as a neutral and detached referee at trial. The judiciary is supposed to act as a check on the power of both the executive and legislative branches.

Mike Anderson, like too many men and women sitting on the bench today, confused his role. He thought himself a prosecutor in a black robe (or, as Mark Bennett would say "dress"). He refers to himself as a "strong law and order judge." That, of course, means that he came down on the side of law enforcement, ignoring the "testilying" that takes place on witness stands throughout the Harris County Criminal (In)justice Center on a daily basis. That means he ignored allegations of police brutality and racial profiling.

If you're a prosecutor there's nothing wrong with that. Prosecutors are advocates. But, if you're a judge, that attitude indicates an abdication of power.

Mike Anderson never left the Harris County District Attorney's Office - he just transferred to a different division.

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