Murray Newman first broke the story on July 1 at Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, publishing the actual memo text, as I'd noted a couple of weeks ago. The Houston Chronicle followed up with a story July 7 quoting Newman: "It is absolutely destroying any last vestiges that a police officer is a neutral witness who is just trying to figure out what happened," Newman said ... "If, theoretically, the truth is supposed to help you, why would anyone advocate hiding it?"
Then over the weekend the Chronicle published an odd editorial that critiqued the new practice but called instead for prosecutors to be present when defense attorneys speak with officers - an even more cumbersome requirement. (Would prosecutors be similarly banned, one wonders, from speaking with police without defense counsel present?) That's not a serious proposal, almost like the unsigned editorial was written by an intern.
The Chronicle's reporting, however, was flamboyantly bested by excellent editorial coverage from Newman, Mark Bennett and Paul Kennedy. On his blog, The Defense Rests, Kennedy reported on the Tuesday City Council meeting where the issue was raised for the first time publicly before the Houston Chronicle did, mentioning that:
Robert Fickman, Mark Bennett and Nicole DeBorde (current president of HCCLA) spoke out this afternoon at the weekly city council meeting and were joined by about 50 of their colleagues. (Click here to see the video of today's meeting.)Notably, Kennedy provides readers with direct access to the video so they can judge what happened for themselves. Bennett links to the relevant law and HPD policies. As an aside, that's one big reason people read blogs and I've never understood why the MSM doesn't make us all redundant by just linking to their primary sources. Instead they pretend they're some sort of information gatekeepers when the fences surrounding raw information in the modern world have all blown down. Why is it that all the links to primary sources on this story come from Newman, Kennedy and Bennett?
Councilwoman Jolanda Jones, a criminal defense attorney, understood the larger issues involved and told Mr. Feldman that "the Constitution trumps overtime."
Speaking of Bennett, who also spoke to the City Council, he has an excellent analysis of the issue in this post. At his blog Defending People, he notes that:
Texas’s highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, has held, in Stearnes v. Clinton, that a rule barring defense counsel from talking to some witnesses without the prosecutor’s presence “is not only in conflict with principles of fair play, but in direct conflict with defense counsel’s responsibility to seek out and interview potential witnesses.”Bennett also mentioned that:
At the City Council meeting, City Attorney Feldman poo-pooed the Tampering With Witnesses statute, which suggests that he hadn’t read it—the clear language of the statute could easily be interpreted to forbid the Chief’s conduct. Everyone knows the Chief is never going to be prosecuted for tampering with witnesses, but our government officials shouldn’t be in the business of committing crimes just because they know nobody is going to prosecute them.This episode not only speaks poorly of whatever dark forces in the Houston Police Department or the City Attorney's office generated this troubling memo, it also shows how blogging has grown up in recent years. Houston criminal defense blawggers not only broke this story but are providing by far the most important, in-depth discussions of the subject and even helping lead the charge to change this odious policy, bypassing the gatekeeper media to dominate the story more than any MSM outlet. Well done, gentlemen. Well done.