Monday, January 24, 2011

Delay, delay, it's the word of the day: Bradley proffers excuses to put off investigating forensic errors

I attended a meeting Friday of the Texas Forensic Science Commission at which Chairman John Bradley continued his quest to delay the commission's work as long as possible, this time pushing in executive session to request an Attorney General opinion to decide whether they have authority to consider the Todd Willingham case. See MSM coverage:
The commission retired to executive session immediately before the Willingham case was publicly discussed. When commissioners each silently reentered the room about an hour later, everyone looked tense and grumpy; I'd love to have been a fly on the wall. (OTOH, as fate would have it, I ended up sitting next to Judge Barbara Hervey from the Court of Criminal Appeals, so the delay gave us a welcome chance to chat.)

Clearly jurisdictional issues were the main focus of discussion in executive session. Bradley has repeatedly argued that the commission has no authority to investigate older cases because it can only investigate accredited labs, and accreditation wasn't required until 2005. However, the Attorney General staffer who'd been advising the Commission - before Bradley pushed for creation of a General Counsel position, that is - repeatedly advised the FSC that they could investigate entities that now require accreditation but didn't in the past. Further, notes the Austin Statesman, "several legislators who were instrumental in creating the agency rebutted Bradley's analysis, saying the law was not intended to limit investigations to accredited labs or to post-2005 cases."

Both legislators and the commission's AG adviser have repeatedly said it would be absurd to limit investigations to post 2005 cases because the FSC was created in reaction to Houston crime lab scandals, and it would be nonsensical to claim the commission could not investigate the very case that spawned its creation. (It'd solve quite a few admittedly self-inflicted problems for the commission if the Lege would clarify that language this session: It would solve many more problems if they changed the law to let commissioners name their own chair.)

In any event, Bradley wouldn't let the jurisdictional issues go, so now every active case before the commission - not just Willingham's - will be delayed while the chairman seeks to neuter his own agency's authority. (Of course, by all appearances, that's the main reason he was appointed.) Further, under state law, only the chairman himself - not the entire commission - may draft an opinion request, so look for Bradley to slant the request as much as possible to solicit the outcome he wants.

On Bradley's motion, though quite clearly over his objection, the commission voted to move forward drafting their report on the Willingham case while the AG opinion is pending. This was a clever parliamentary move. It was pretty clear the chairman has isolated himself by pushing delay so hard, and the rest of the commission seemed determined to move forward regardless of his contrary opinion. But through the language in his motion, Bradley was able to exert more control over that process by changing how the final report will be drafted. From Chuck Lindell at the Statesman:
Originally, a four-member subcommittee was to draft a report during a public meeting and then present it to the full committee of seven forensic scientists, a defense lawyer and a prosecutor.

Now, commissioners will submit suggestions to the agency's general counsel, who will compile a draft report. Final language will be hashed out by the full commission in a future open meeting.
Of course, the brand spanking new General Counsel reports to Mr. Bradley, so this new process gives the chairman much more input over drafting than if a committee did it. Indeed, between controlling the content of the AG request and shifting drafting duties on the Willingham report to the General Counsel, the chairman cleverly asserted greater control over the process in a number of important ways on Friday, even though he'd (much) prefer it not go forward at all.

And speaking of the new General Counsel, the proposed House budget cuts the Forensic Science Commission's budget by roughly the amount of her salary. Assuming that reduction stands, the FSC would be faced with a choice of firing their General Counsel or taking money for her salary out of the pot available for investigating forensic flaws. My own view is that was precisely the purpose of Bradley's push to create the General Counsel's position to begin with. But whatever his or anyone else's intentions, that's the tradeoff facing them under the proposed budget. (The budget reduction wasn't mentioned by commissioners at Friday's meeting.)

Another sign of behind-the-scenes tension - and another topic where the commission seemed united against its chairman - regarded whether to accept anonymous complaints, which heretofore had always been allowed. The commission is updating their intake forms, over the chair's objections, specifically to allow for anonymous complaints. Bradley argued against the idea briefly, but it was clear he'd already lost this fight in other forums and he didn't press the subject. Dr. Sarah Kerrigan noted that the federal Forensic Science Reform Act filed by Sen. Patrick Leahy would allow for anonymous complaints.

A final oddity was that the chairman seemed to misrepresent or at least dramatically downplay the opinion of Dr. Niram Peerwani regarding a recommendation to accept a case based on allegations against the crime lab in Austin. Peerwani regrettably was unable to attend because he had to testify in court that day. But at the screening committee meeting in December (which Grits attended), he recommended the FSC close out the case, declaring there was "no basis" for the complaint. It had been thoroughly vetted by three other agencies and both Drs Peerwani and Eisenberg said enough investigation had been done. According to that discussion, much of the complaint deals with personnel and supervisory issues, not science, and no specific defendants' cases were implicated.

In response, Bradley had made a rather legalistic argument that the screening committee should consider only a handful of objective criteria - is it an accredited lab, is the complaint about a forensic science as defined under the law?, etc. - and that Peerwani's arguments for "closure" of the case would be better made before the full commission. The chairman also argued that, since the complaints seemed unfounded and the lab seemed to have responded to them as they should, the case would give the commission a chance to "deliver a positive message" to accredited labs by affirming their work. After Dr. Eisenberg seconded the chair's motion to recommend the case, Peerwani reluctantly went along.

But Peerwani's rather strong objections to spending resources on the Austin case weren't voiced in absentia when it was discussed on Friday. Instead, his Aye vote at the screening committee was portrayed as an endorsement that the FSC investigate, which was the opposite of my impression from my memory and notes. Be that as it may, the case has been delegated to an investigative committee whose first meeting date has not been announced.

Some of Mr. Bradley's stratagems are breathtakingly bold and crass but as far as I can tell they're essentially working, at least if you assume the chairman's goal is to delay the commission's work as long as possible and ultimately, if he can, to kill all its ongoing investigations while diverting resources to innocuous projects. He's alienating his fellow commissioners in the process, no doubt, but there's scarce evidence that the chairman particularly cares about their good opinion, or for that matter yours or mine.

See related Grits posts:

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does anyone in the state have the balls to say they made a mistake and executed an innocent man?

Anonymous said...

I'm sure plenty of people would have the balls to say it if it ever happened. But there's no proof that it has. Personally, I'd be okay with the legislature zeroing out the entire FSC budget. It's nothing more than a Trojan horse for the innocence project folks anyhow. What a waste of money!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your opinion, JB (10:15).

Anonymous said...

We don't need no stinkin' science. We ought to cut all funding to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, too. Some of those patients might be criminals, or worse yet, moderates or liberals!

Sined: A proud, if not too smart, Texian.

Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...
Does anyone in the state have the balls to say they made a mistake and executed an innocent man?

1/24/2011 10:01:00 AM

--NO--

ALL OF THIS POSTURING IS SO GOODHAIR CAN MAKE A RUN FOR POTUS! IF THEY GO DOWN OVER WILLINGHAM, AND THAT'S A HUGE "IF", IT COULD MEAN THE END FOR GOODHAIR AND HIS BUDDY BRADLEY!

Anonymous said...

Hence the reason that the liberal mainstream media and those bleeding heart New York City "Innocence Project" Yankees are doing so much "wailing and gnashing of teeth" over this psychopathic baby-killer from Corsicana. After the election results from November 2nd, they are probably more worried than ever that the overwhelming majority of people in this country are fed up with Obama's brand of liberalism and just might be tempted to put another conservative Texan in the White House. I say thank God we have people like Rick Perry and John Bradley who are willing to stand in the gap between us right-thinking, law abiding citizens in the greatest state in the union and those who would love nothing more than to turn Texas into another overtaxed, overregulated bastion of social welfare like California!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Hence the reason that the liberal mainstream media and those bleeding heart New York City "Innocence Project" Yankees are doing so much "wailing and gnashing of teeth" over this psychopathic baby-killer from Corsicana. After the election results from November 2nd, they are probably more worried than ever that the overwhelming majority of people in this country are fed up with Obama's brand of liberalism and just might be tempted to put another conservative Texan in the White House. I say thank God we have people like Rick Perry and John Bradley who are willing to stand in the gap between us right-thinking, law abiding citizens in the greatest state in the union and those who would love nothing more than to turn Texas into another overtaxed, overregulated bastion of social welfare like California!

1/24/2011 03:57:00 PM

SPOKEN LIKE A NATIVE FROM PAINT CREEK!

ROFLMAO@

Gritsforbreakfast said...

3:57, you realize, don't you, that conservative Texas Republicans appointed every single person on the FSC, including the scientists bucking Bradley? How you get from this issue to "Obama" is beyond me.

Hook Em Horns said...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

3:57, you realize, don't you, that conservative Texas Republicans appointed every single person on the FSC, including the scientists bucking Bradley? How you get from this issue to "Obama" is beyond me.

___________________________________

3:57 is using Rick Perry logic in blaming Obama for everything. Birds of a feather...

Anonymous said...

Some people (3:57) are so narrow minded they can only see the world through one filter. They are unable to think for themselves and realized that not every issue has to do with liberal vs conservative or Obama vs whoever. 3:57 your arguments show a true lack of intellectual ability.

And to 10:15, your assertion that "plenty of people would have the balls to say it if ever happened", just doesn't ring true. Why? Well, it is now stunningly clear that Texas executed a man where the evidence does not prove his guilt. Yet, no one seems to have the balls to even admit that. So, what makes you think anyone would have the balls to admit that the state executed an innocent person.

Back to 3:57 - conservatives tend not to trust the government (I know, I am one). Yet, some unable-to-think-for-themselves-conservatives like you seem to have complete faith in the government when it comes to criminal justice. Isn't that just a little contradictory. The government can't be trusted to do other things right but is completely infallible when it comes to criminal justice? Maybe, your not a conservative after all. Maybe, your really a big government loving liberal.

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered how John Bradley sleeps at night.

Anonymous said...

JB doesn't sleep at night. He is a blood sucking zombie.

Anonymous said...

Suppose there was some surveillance video that turned up that proved beyond a doubt the Todd Willingham didn't set the fire, that he was truly innocent, and a horrific injustice had been done. Does anyone believe that would bring Perry down? Embarrass him, yes, but bring him down? He would just say he made a tough call at the time and now deeply regrets it. To believe he would be tried for murder is ludicrous, nor would it have kept him from being elected governor of this law-and-order state. Presidency, maybe, but presidents have gotten away with a lot of shit and I really doubt it would sink him.

David RD said...

Bradley is doing exactly what Perry put him there to do - and most likely they talk on the phone before each meeting...so instructions can be relayed to Bradley. Did anyone think Bradley, no more than another Perry appointed henchman/CRONY, would do anything that came even close to the truth? Or anything different? He's in charge of prosecution for one of the most corrupt counties in Central Texas - Williamson...they work in the "good ole boy" method. Perry and Bradley DON'T CARE ABOUT THE TRUTH or whether an innocent man possibly was murdered by the State, but only if they look good for the next election. The two guys ARE NOT good Texans nor are the good patriotic Americans...cause if they were, they'd be after the truth and own up to a possible mistake (if it is determined it was indeed a mistake). The two men without the "balls" are Perry and Bradley...what idiots they are!! A true Texas and patriotic American would put their arrogance and quest for power aside in seeking the truth; allowing the truth to be told...not squelched as these two idiots has attempted at every step of this investigation - TRAITORS to the ideals of this country and state!

R. Shackleford said...

You know, Darth Bradley really is a disgrace to Texans everywhere. How can you call yourself a good man (or even a man) if you choose your career over (possibly) innocent people? He's the worst "offender" in the Lone Star State.