A former governor, a former district attorney, a former U.S. attorney from North Texas, and the former director of the FBI are among a group of 21 lawyers who have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a controversial Texas death penalty case.
The group, which was organized by the Constitution Project, is asking the court to hear the case of Charles Dean Hood, who was sentenced to death for killing two people in Collin County in 1989. Hood's case has garnered national attention not for the horrific crime, but because the prosecutor in the case had an intimate relationoship with the judge.
See the Constitution Project's press release. According to the petition, "Amici are deeply concerned that, if the judgment [by the Texas CCA] is allowed to stand, the Due Process Clause’s guarantee of fundamental fairness—especially in death penalty cases— will be imperiled, and public confidence in the courts will suffer."
The brief asserts that "the Due Process Clause forbids a trial judge from presiding over a criminal proceeding in the circumstances presented here." SCOTUS should intervene, they said, because it "has an extraordinarily strong interest in preserving the reputation of the judiciary—in particular affirming the courts’ willingness to recognize and remedy appalling acts by a judge and officer of the court that violate fundamental fairness."
It's worth mentioning that all but one of the sitting members of the Texas CCA served on Texas' high criminal court with the judge in question - Verla Sue Holland - so there's an appearance that they declined to correct this obvious error out of an excess of collegial deference (read: cronyism). Only three CCA judges - Cochran, Price, and Holcomb - dissented to that embarrassing ruling. (Good for them, btw - I'm sure there was pressure to do otherwise.) So whether or not SCOTUS reviews the case, the majority of judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have already affirmed their un-willingness to "recognize and remedy appalling acts by a judge and officer of the court that violate fundamental fairness."
This is perhaps an even more embarrassing, despicable spectacle than Presiding Judge Sharon Keller's defiant insistence that she'd repeat her behavior from the "We close at 5" imbroglio. Keller, at least, is just one vote on the court. But here, five others joined her in shirking their responsibilities to protect their ex-colleague, and not on the spur of the moment, as in Keller's infamous decision that got her into trouble, but in a deliberative setting when they had full power to right the wrong.
One bad apple could perhaps be overlooked, but in this case the barrel's spoiled. Hopefully SCOTUS will take the case and clean up the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' mess, again.
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