Harris Co. DA's office to get new positions

May 6, 2008 5:24:52 PM PDT
Harris County commissioners gave approval today for the acting district attorney to spend nearly $300,000 of your tax money. That money will be used to hire three people who will control the information being released to the public. The money will be used to hire a public information attorney, a public information officer and an administrative assistant. Ultimately, they will be responsible for the information released to you.

"I'm not telling them to do anything different than they've ever done, other than follow their duty to be professional and ethical," said Harris County District Attorney Ken Magidson.

Magidson says those working there will no longer be allowed to comment on pending cases, that they will no longer confirm or deny that an investigation is underway, that they can only discuss matters that occur on the record in open court.

Magidson was appointed by the governor to succeed Chuck Rosenthal as DA following Rosenthal's email scandal. He says this won't mean the PIO issues a blanket "no comment," but he does say many questions now won't be answered before, during and sometimes even after a case is prosecuted.

So we asked the current DA for his opinion. Why does he feel it's necessary to spend nearly $300,000 on staff whose job it will be, in many cases, to say they can't comment?

"In order for us to do a job to ensure the right people get prosecuted for the right reasons, it's imperative upon us, when we talk to the media, when we talk to the press, that we're doing it appropriately, professionally and ethically," said Magidson. "And in this case, that's what we're going to do."

Magidson says he realized shortly after taking the job here that there needed to be better controls on the way inquiries come in and information goes out of the office, though he doesn't see this as a policy change.

Those running for the position of DA support the idea of having a central point of contact fo public information, though they say that position should be used To make the office more transparent, not less.

"If it doesn't restrict information, the purpose of a public information office shouldn't be to restrict information, but to allow more information to flow more freely to the public domain," said candidate C.O. Bradford.

"If you're going to spend money on anything, it should be on communication," said candidate Pat Lykos. "It should have transparently. People should have confidence in that office."

Currently, the DA's general counsel handles the thousands of inquiries that inundate this office. But come June, the public information department will take over.

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