By Josh Inocéncio
Equipped with a vision for leadership rooted in her years prosecuting child-abusers and rapists, local Democratic attorney Kim Ogg is running to unseat the incumbent Republican district attorney, Devon Anderson, and become Harris County’s top criminal-justice official. Like some of the other progressive politicians in Houston, Ogg is not only openly gay, but an equal-rights advocate who has for years fought on behalf of Harris County residents—including a racial-discrimination case involving the Houston Police Department that she won after taking the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Public safety is the number-one function of government,” says Ogg. “In short, the DA’s policies can affect the daily lives of people by making them safer in the way we spend their tax dollars and prioritize what we ask the police to investigate and bring before the courts.”
Meanwhile, Devon Anderson has mired herself in scandals such as the illegal detention of a sexual-violence victim and witness in the Harris County jail in order to force their testimony. Ogg’s record stands in stark contrast to her opponent’s poor leadership choices, and her campaign is sticking to the issues. Recently endorsed by the Houston Chronicle, Ogg is taking no vote for granted.
To change the priorities at the DA’s office, Ogg is proposing a myriad of policies that her administration would focus on, should she win in November. Three of her key issues are bail reform, marijuana cases, and modernizing the technology needed for caseload processing.
Ogg points out that in many low-level cases involving non-violent drug offences, low-income individuals must stay in jail awaiting trial simply because they cannot afford the bond a judge sets—which is sometimes costlier than the bonds for murder, depending on the drug’s street value. “They are in jail awaiting trial because they’ve contested their guilt. But if they had a small amount of cash, they could get out,” says Ogg.
“We need to divert low-level offenders to other programs that don’t always require a conviction,” says Ogg. “We’re over-convicting and over-incarcerating. It’s hurting our labor force, which in turn hurts our economy. The DA can have a long-term impact on the economy by keeping more people in the workforce.”
Ogg also recognizes the economic costs of taking on marijuana cases, and how they are prosecuted in a racially discriminatory way that leads to overcrowding at the Harris County jail. By reclassifying at least 10,000 non-violent cases each year, the DA could save taxpayers about $10 million annually.
Ogg also promises a massive technological update in the DA’s office. “The office has no automated case-management system,” says Ogg. “This is painfully ignorant in the 21st century. We’re going to transform the DA’s office into a more service-oriented government body.”
In addition to re-prioritizing policies, Ogg wants to change the culture of leadership at the DA’s office and better prepare the prosecutors under her to handle sensitive cases. In the recent scandal where Anderson’s office jailed a witness, the prosecutor in charge of the case wasn’t prepared to obtain a sound testimony from her.
“[Knowing the witness] had a mental-health issue, the prosecutor questioned her for over five hours the day before she was supposed to get on the stand and face her accuser,” says Ogg. “The prosecutor should have been trained to know that last-minute preparations add stress to an already-stressful situation.
“I want prosecutors’ help in building a trustworthy system,” Ogg adds. “But that has to be based on internal trust as well. I want to give prosecutors their discretion back. Right now, they have to run basic decisions through an entire chain of command, which debilitates morale and hurts the quality of lawyers.”
As both a public prosecutor and private defender, Ogg is uniquely prepared to execute these changes. Years ago, she was a DA prosecutor who focused on rape and child-abuse cases.
“I’m very proud of my track record on rape cases—many of them prosecuted before the existence of DNA [evidence],” says Ogg. “I wasn’t on the traditional promotion track, but that experience gave me an early profile that I’m proud to have.” She plans to continue charging rape cases at the DA’s office, which Anderson’s administration largely avoids. “I’ll work with the DA’s office to eliminate the backlog of all the DNA [evidence processing], starting with rape.”
While at her family-owned law firm, Ogg argued and won the Supreme Court’s United States v. Zamora racial discrimination case involving a Latino policeman who had been passed over for promotion at the Houston Police Department.
Given her success at convicting rapists and fighting racial discrimination, Ogg has a proven track record of fighting for marginalized Houstonians—including those in the LGBT community. In contrast to her opponent, Ogg plans to use federal and state hate-crime statutes to prosecute LGBT cases, among others, when the evidence supports it.
“Hate crimes are more dangerous, because when a person is harmed just because of their status and for no other reason, it’s making a statement against everyone like them,” says Ogg. “The motive is not opportunistic. It’s designed to incite fear. The punishment must be harsher. We have to handle those cases in a symbolically more aggressive way. And that comes through use of the hate-crime statutes.”
Ogg has a partner of 31 years who she met in law school, and with whom she has raised a son. She also loves the outdoors, which is where she is best able to meditate about her role as a lawyer and her quest to serve others as a high-profile public official.
“I love to hike and be in nature. I have two horses, so I enjoy spending time with them. It’s great thinking time,” muses Ogg. “My mother was victimized, and I don’t want that to happen to other people’s families. I have the skills and qualifications to surround myself with a team of really smart people who can bring changes to Houston that would make us all very excited about living here. But we’ve got to try bold new policies. It’s time for political courage.”
Josh Inocéncio is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine, a playwright, and a freelance writer. Read all of his OutSmart articles at outsmartmagazine.com/author/josh-inocencio.