U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks had heard enough. After several days of listening to attorneys for the State of Texas defend the state parole board's operations, he became exasperated by the testimony of a parole board lawyer.RELATED: Federal judge: Parole board may have improperly labeled thousands as sex offenders.
"The lady is wrong. She is stating issues of the law that are wrong," he told the jury.
The rare display of judicial pique resulted in a mistrial after state lawyers objected that his remarks could have improperly influenced jurors. But Sparks had already made it clear that he had serious questions about whether parole board policies violate a prisoner's right to due process.
Sparks is not the first judge to make such findings. In three other cases in two years, Austin federal judges have questioned the legality of the state's policies for placing restrictions on parolees, particularly sex offenders, who face some of the strictest conditions on their parole. Across Texas, parole officials said, more than a dozen other lawsuits on the issue are pending.
The court cases have highlighted criticism of the parole board for not taking time to adequately review parole cases, for operating in secret, for not detecting errors in paperwork and for placing conditions on parolees that are not justified by the evidence. Although most of the cases so far have dealt with sex offenders, observers say that changing the rules for those cases could open the door to broader changes, including more openness.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Sam Sparks v. Rissie Owens: Federal judge may unmask secretive parole process
The Austin Statesman's Mike Ward brings word ("Court cases forcing change at parole agency," Aug. 31) of a recent clash between US District Judge Sam Sparks and an attorney from the Board of Pardons and Parole: