Austin crime lab target of whistleblower allegations
In Austin, Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg forwarded allegations of misconduct at the APD crime lab to the state Forensic Science Commission for investigation after a former employee alleged a supervisor helped staffers cheat on competency tests. It's easy to downplay such allegations from a disgruntled former employee, but after the way the Houston crime lab unraveled over the last decade, you never know. Chief Acevedo points out that the crime lab has been recently re-accredited, but of course achieving accreditation might be easier if employees cheat on their competency exams! Judging from the pace of the Forensic Science Commissions investigation into arson science in the Todd Willingham case, it could be many years, if ever, before they get to the bottom of this.
Abbott (thankfully) flip flops on public access to officials' appointment calendars
Attorney General Greg Abbott says Dallas DA Craig Watkins must hand over his appointment calendar in response to a Public Information Act request. I'm glad to see Abbott returning to the long-time AG's interpretation on this question after he'd carved out a special exception for Governor Perry to let him keep his past appointment calendars secret. I'm glad the ruling on Perry's calendar hasn't transformed into precedent, but this ruling highlights the extent to which that earlier decision was more a political sop than a defensible legal opinion.
State jail architect speaks out
Carl Reynolds at Courtex, who directed the Punishment Standards Commission in 1993 when the state jail system was created, tosses in his two cents on the recent debate over potential reforms to the state jail system. Writes Reynolds:
It may be significant to note that the two large jurisdictions that utilize state jails to a greater extent than their population or prison admissions would suggest ... are Harris County and Travis County. Harris has Kegans and Lychner state jails, and Travis has the Travis state jail. (It is ironic that Harris County testimony about the limitations of the state jail system triggered this debate, with their very high utilization.)Loan repayment for PDs and prosecutors
If the debate is to continue, I suggest the legislature focus on the problems to be addressed and not on whether the system should be abandoned. Certainly the identification of the state jail category of felonies was significant and should not be undone, but must the punishment scheme be set in stone? Perhaps some form of incentive for behavior can be built in, to replace the judicial option that no judges use, and allow a state jail felon some ability to accelerate his release. Perhaps there should be a short period of supervision at the end of the state jail term. Perhaps we should revisit the idea of isolating all state jail felons in their own facilities, as though they will be infected by felons convicted of higher degree offenses. Perhaps we should revisit the state governance of facilities that were originally conceived as "community corrections." And undoubtedly, there should be additional resources to support successful reintegration.
Courtex also lets us know about a student loan repayment program for prosecutors and public defenders, noting that recently:
the Governor designated the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to administer the John R. Justice Program (a [federal] student loan repayment program) in Texas. Texas is eligible for a $700,000 grant to be split evenly between the Texas prosecutors and public defenders. Our office, specifically the Task Force on Indigent Defense, met with representatives from the Texas District & County Attorney Associations and the Coordinating Board to develop the criteria and plan for the administration of this loan forgiveness program. The application is due on July 27th.Students backbone of innocence work
A Texas Tribune feature published yesterday extolled the work of students on behalf of innocence clinics at the state's public law schools.
Appellate court: Evidence insufficient despite jury verdict
A panel of Texas Second Court of Appeals judges unanimously reversed a 2007 murder conviction and life sentence, saying the evidence presented to the jury was on its face factually insufficient to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. To compare this to a "man bites dog" story probably understates the regularity with which people sink their teeth into their pooches.
TDCJ medical unit ready in 2012, but staffing cut
The veterans hospital in Marlin that's being transformed into a TDCJ medical facility won't open until 2012, so as part of its recent budget cuts, the agency lopped off $10 million for budgeted first-year operating costs that won't be needed until after the facility opens. Of course, that means that the Lege must come up with extra money for staffing the facility during the worst budget crunch in recent memory.
Don't tase my nephew
US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is "shocked" and "outraged" that his suicidal, epilectic 24-year old nephew was beaten and tazed by hospital security when he refused to put on a hospital gown and is headed to New Orleans to investigate. Jeff Gamso has a nice essay on the subject.