February 22, 2008

Super-Diversity At The Harris County DA?

I think we are seeing the redefinition of diversity here.

Although Chuck Rosenthal is gone, allegations of racism in the Harris County District Attorney's Office on his watch have those in charge of hiring about 50 new prosecutors in the next two years paying closer attention to diversity.

"I think we're below where I would like to see us as far as African-Americans and Hispanics I would like to see more," said Marie Munier, a 29-year veteran of the DA's office who has headed up recruiting for the past two years. "With all the stuff in the media lately, it's been like someone dumped a bucket of cold water on my head and made me say, 'We do need to look at this.' "

Rosenthal was attacked after office e-mails were made public that contained racist jokes and images, along with sexually explicit images.

Several groups, including county Republican Party officials and black community groups, called for Rosenthal's resignation. He stepped down Friday, saying his judgment had been clouded by prescription drugs. Rosenthal's departure won't slow hiring, Munier said.

Munier, who is white, said she is working more with the three black attorneys on the 12-person hiring committee to address problems she had not considered.

"They pointed out some things that I hadn't thought about before, on how we're interviewing and about what strikes us as a good candidate," she said.

Munier also is adding three new seats on the committee, to include more diversity and youth. Munier said the committee will see several black and Hispanic candidates out of the 15 people they plan to interview this week. She also is focusing more closely on retaining black prosecutors, who account for 15 of the 262 positions or about

5 percent of the staff. Eighteen prosecutors are Hispanic.

Now that is all well and good, and I certainly have no objection to hiring the best prosecutors out there, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other irrelevant criteria. But what I want is the best.

Still, I wonder if discrimination has really been a problem. Look at the Chronicle's own numbers -- a graphic available on the website, but lacking in the newspaper.


See, the number of minority attorneys in the Harris County DA's office is roughly equal to the percentages of minority lawyers in Texas. Now I've not been able to track down the figures for Houston, but since recruitment covers a wider area than just Harris County, the Texas numbers are a good measure to use for the pool of available lawyers.

Now that leads me to ask a question. Does this emphasis on increasing diversity in the office mean that we are not interested not in proportional representation of minorities, but in SUPER-proportional representation of those minorities? Will the policy of the office be to pass over well-qualified white lawyers in the interest of achieving this super-diversity? And how does this fit with civil rights law?

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