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Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson dies amid battle with cancer

Saturday, August 31, 2013
File photo: Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson being sworn into office in January 2013 Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson
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We learned Saturday that Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson died after a fight with cancer. Politicians, public figures and friends are remembering him and those he helped.

As district attorney, Anderson commanded a great deal of respect. Other attorneys who worked closely with him over his years as a judge and prosecutor say his reputation preceded him and that he was a tough -- but fair -- lawman who gave a lot to Harris County.

In 17 years as a Harris County prosecutor and 12 years as district court judge, Anderson came to know the law inside and out.

"I knew him for 33, 34 years," Attorney Dan Cogdell told us. "He was straightforward; he was honest; he was dedicated; and he was firm."

Anderson publicly announced he was battling cancer in May. At the time, he vowed to beat the disease.

"The courage Mike showed of public service while he was going through what he was going through speaks to his character," Attorney Chip Lewis said.

As a prosecutor, Anderson tried the high-profile case of Channelview mom Wanda Holloway, accused of hiring a hit man to kill her daughter's cheerleading rival. As a judge, he presided over the 2008 arrest of Green Bay Packers player Johnny Jolly.

Anderson was elected district attorney in November 2012, running on a promise to clean up the office. He was sworn in January 1, succeeding former DA Pat Lykos, who only served one term.

"Mike inherited the office under very difficult circumstances, and he rallied the troops around him," Cogdell said.

"He had retirement in his hands, and he ran for DA for the right reasons," Attorney Paul Doyle said.

Doyle, a friend and colleague, remembers the last time he spoke to Anderson.

"He was upbeat," he said. "You would have never guessed this was coming. He's a fighter, and he fought until the last day."

Anderson leaves a void that will be hard to fill for many.

"I don't think you can replace him," Cogdell said. "I think it's a tragic loss for Harris County. I think he was built to be district attorney."

The attorneys we spoke to all say Anderson changed the culture of the Harris County District Attorney's Office during his brief tenure, overwhelmingly for the better. They are hoping the momentum he created will carry the office into the future.

But who decides who will be the next leader of the office, and how soon will that decision come?

"When we lose a public figure like this, we oftentimes lose the fact that there is a human being who was also lost and a family that is grieving for him as well," former prosecutor Jason Luong said. "I think that's really been a touchstone of what we've seen in the response. Not nearly the loss of a legal giant for our community, but the outpouring of support for his wife, Deb, and his kids."

The focus Saturday was grief, but a replacement will have to be named in the coming days.

Anderson was a Republican, and Harris County Republican Chairman Jared Woodfill says his party will work to keep the DA's office

"We will start talking about moving forward and what we do to make sure we continue his legacy," Woodfill said.

Woodfill described the process, stating that first, Governor Rick Perry will collect applications and appoint an interim district attorney. Then, there will be a special election next November 2014 in which voters will elect a new DA.

"The voters will decide who ultimately takes office in 2015," Woodfill said.

Those close to the DA's office say a logical choice is already there. First Assistant District Attorney Belinda Hill has been taking over many of Anderson's duties as he battled illness.

"She was essentially Mike Anderson's right-hand person. She was managing all the day-to-day operations in the office," Criminal Defense Attorney Robert Ray said.

But the governor can appoint whomever he sees fit.

"The district attorney's position in Harris County is one of the most important positions, particularly when it comes to law enforcement," Ray said. "It creates a vacuum where it will be wide open for a Democrat or a Republican or perhaps an Independent to step in and fill that void."

We contacted the governor's office several times Saturday to get a timeline on the appointment, but we have not heard back.

Other public officials reacted to his death Saturday by releasing statements and expressing condolences.

"We all have suffered a terrible loss today of a devoted public servant, husband, and father. His sense of justice, his wisdom and support, his easy laugh, and, most of all, his friendship were his gifts to us. He loved this office and the people here serving the citizens of Harris County," The Harris County DA's Office said in a statement.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker also released a statement, saying, "My prayers are with the family of Mike Anderson today. He was a well-respected public servant. His death is a loss to Harris County."

And Sheriff Adrian Garcia said of Anderson: "We are all grateful for his years of integrity-driven and dedicated public service, and he and his leadership will be missed."

The Texas District and County Attorneys Association sent out a tweet Saturday morning that read, "We have just learned that Harris Co DA Mike Anderson passed away. Our prayers are with his wife & kids & the entire Harris Co DA family."

Anderson was a Harris County native, born and raised in Pasadena. He graduated from Pearland High School, Texas Lutheran College and South Texas College of Law.

He is survived by his wife, Devon, a defense attorney and former prosecutor and district judge. They have two children -- Sam and Brynn. Anderson is also survived by parents J.B. and Carol Anderson, sister Jan Bailey, her husband Brent and their children.

Funeral arrangements are pending. Please stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for updates.

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