Those engaged in legislative oversight, legal advocacy or even adjudicating habeas writs should take advantage of an opportunity next week to see the film, "Writ Writer," if you haven't already. Learn more about the post-conviction writ process from the perspective of prisoners filing the documents and the in-prison writ writers who assist them. Via email I'm told that:
Representative Elliott Naishtat and the Austin Film Society are presenting a special screening of "Writ Writer" on Friday, February 27th, at 2:00 p.m. in the Texas Capitol Extension Auditorium, Room E1.004.I've not yet seen this, so I'm definitely going to attend. The documentary focuses on storied Texas writ writer Fred Cruz, now deceased, whose quixotic career as a writ writer behind prison bars helped spawn a fascinating and rarely examined legal subculture.
There will be a Q&A afterward, attorney Steve Martin (former chief counsel to the Texas Department of Corrections) will be joined by attorney Scott Medlock of the Texas Civil Rights Project, poet and prisoner rights activist Antonio Renaud, and of course Susanne Mason, the director and producre of "Writ Writer." We will discuss current prison issues with emphasis on prisoner litigation and reentry. Rep. Naishtat has invited legislators and their staffs, so if you haven't yet seen "Writ Writer" this is a great opportunity, and it's free.
For more information about the film, please visit www.newday.com/films/writwriter.html.
Whenever I think of a pro-writ writers' legislative agenda, I think of Brandon Moon, a DNA exoneree from El Paso now living in Missouri; the forensics in his case were botched by the DPS crime lab in Lubbock. Once in prison, he took up the writ writer's mantle, telling the Senate Criminal Justice Committee when he got out that:
First, Texas prisoners have no right to receive information about their case, or anything else, under the Texas public information act, so Moon couldn't get access to the information he needed to combat the prosecution's claims. ...While many guilty people file similar writs of dubious merit, and surely it's difficult for judges to separate the wheat from the chaff, it's also true that within the flood of pro se habeas writs headed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals each year, some proportion of them, as was the case with so many of the "writ abusing" DNA exonerees, are actually innocent but cannot to a certainty prove it, or have already used up their appeals.
Second, inmate writ writers just aren't taken seriously in the courts, he said, and Moon couldn't get hearings on most of his motions before Sen. Ellis' new law allowed the new DNA testing. The New York Times quoted Moon on this point (if a bit out of context): "I had no method of enforcing procedures," he said. "I could file all the motions I wanted, but I couldn't get heard."
The Legislature has never seriously considered Moon's primary suggestion to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee in Houston now four years ago: Give prisoners open records access to information about their own cases. Presently prisoners have no rights to request information under Texas' Public Information Act, about their own cases or anything else.