The Dallas News presents speculation pro and con on the $64 Question that arises now that former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Verla Sue Holland and former Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell admitted engaging in a long-term romantic affair while she was a district judge, during which time the DA's office prosecuted hundreds of defendants before her court: What will happen to all the other cases besides Hood's which may also be ethically compromised?
Reports Diane Jennings ("Former prosecutor, judge intimacy may affect more than a single death row case," Sept. 27):
Keith Hampton of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association,
Some legal ethicists say prosecutors have a responsibility to identify cases from the years the two held office and ensure that the convicted have their day in court. Others doubt that is the prosecutors' role.
"They do have a proactive responsibility," argues Robert Schuwerk, a University of Houston law professor who co-wrote the Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics.
"The principal duty of a prosecutor under our system is not to convict but to see that justice is done," he said. "I would think that a prosecutor has the duty to either bring those cases forward or, at the very least, cooperate in establishing which cases were affected by this behavior."
Others say it is a defense responsibility to raise issues about the validity of a conviction.
Collin County Assistant District Attorney John Rolater says it is his duty to see "that justice is done," but the chief of the county's appellate division declined to comment on whether the county will proactively identify cases that might have been affected by the relationship between the judge and prosecutor. ...
It's "uncharted territory," said Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. "I'm at a loss to answer that."
Prosecutors "normally wait for a defendant or someone else to raise these questions," he said. And, he added, prosecutors "want to see where the injury is, where the harm is. We want someone to spell it out for us. ... If the defendant can link that up and show me something in the record, I guess we can talk about it."
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott – who stepped in days before Mr. Hood's most recent execution date to urge an investigation into the relationship– said he would have "to know more background facts, what exactly happened, when did it happen" in each case before deciding whether a review was warranted. ...
said he does not expect a blanket order from either the district attorney or a court to cover all cases potentially affected by the relationship. Instead, "they're going to have to do this one case at a time."
But Lawrence Fox, former chair of the American Bar Association Ethics Committee, said sweeping steps may be necessary to preserve confidence in Texas' criminal justice system. Not only does he think the district attorney is obligated to bring the cases to the attention of the court, he suggested that the state should provide attorneys for defendants to challenge their convictions.
"I would hope that, under these circumstances, the state would recognize a special obligation to these people, because, remember, it was two state officers who did all this.
"You would hope somebody would say the system of justice has a black eye right now, and one way to remove it is to make sure these people who are in a prison get counsel to deal with these issues," he said.