Failure of leadership at Texas Forensic Science Commission Raises ConcernsThat pretty much sums it up.
(Austin, Texas)//Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today urged the Texas Senate to reject the nomination of Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley for the remainder of his term as Chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. The Senate Nominations committee voted 4-2 to send Mr. Bradley's nomination for consideration by the full Senate.
"The Legislature created the Forensic Science Commission to ensure we have forensic evidence we can trust in our courtrooms --in order to increase public safety and the public faith in justice system," said Senator Ellis. "Unfortunately, since Mr. Bradley has taken the reins, rather than move the commission forward to look into allegations, find the truth, and repair problems in our broken justice system; the Commission has invested most of its time and energy finding ways to avoid looking into problems and looking for loopholes to block the commission from doing what it was created to do."
In 2005, the Legislature created the Texas Forensic Science Commission to restore public faith in forensic evidence following the discovery that a series of serious errors called into question evidence in hundreds of cases across the state. The commission is yet to complete a single investigation. In 2009, just as the Commission was poised to begin completing its first investigation -- a review of the evidence used to convict and sentence to death Todd Willingham -- Mr. Bradley was appointed Chair of the Commission.
The Commission is still yet to complete any investigation.
After boasting that he knew nothing about the Commission, Mr. Bradley's first move was to unilaterally cancel that meeting, stunning the public and policymakers, as well as his fellow Commission members. According to press reports, Mr. Bradley then ordered all Commissioners to delete their Commission-related emails, and declared that he wouldn’t let the Commission meet until he had time to learn more about it. Mr. Bradley displayed a shocking lack of objectivity in his work by declaring to the press that “Willingham is a guilty monster,” a clearly inappropriate statement from the Chair of a state Commission tasked to provide independent, expert investigations of allegations of forensic negligence or misconduct.
"We wanted independent experts to form a lean, efficient, and non-paid publicly review allegations of problems, investigate them, and report to the public about what it had found so that the public and thus all jurors could regain faith in forensic evidence – and thus convict the guilty and not convict the innocent," Ellis said. "Sadly, Mr. Bradley has used his position to seize power over and thwart the will of the expert Commission, hide the Commission’s work from public view, greatly increase the Commission’s bureaucratic bloat, slow its previously impressive progress to a crawl, and otherwise prevent the Commission from accomplishing the legislature’s intent."
Mr. Bradley may have a problem. If the Democrats all stick together, they theoretically have enough votes to sever his nomination and block it from coming to the Senate floor because of the 2/3 rule. And it wouldn't surprise me if some Senate Republicans agreed that Mr. Bradley's agenda-driven approach and bellicose comportment, on full display at the Nominations Committee, was a poor fit for a panel full of scientists charged with objectively evaluating forensic questions. (Last session, one of Governor Perry's appointees to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Shanda Perkins, was scuttled on a bipartisan 27-4 vote, with some senators who'd voted for her in committee voting against her on the floor.)
I'd like to see Bradley's nomination rejected outright, but even if he stays on the Commission, the Lege should change the law to let commissioners select their own chair. There's an opportunity this session, either way, for the Forensic Science Commission to be reinvigorated with leadership that actually cares about accomplishing the agency's mission instead of thwarting it. Rejecting John Bradley's nomination would be a terrific first step toward that goal.
RELATED: See Grits arguments against Bradley's nomination and coverage of the hearing.