Saturday, November 12, 2011

Odds and Ends, or, how to tell the 'good guys' from the 'bad guys'

Having been away from the blog for a couple of days, several items have piled up that merit Grits readers' attention, even if I don't have time to expand on them all in full posts:

John Bradley fought Morton's release while real killer remained at large
Just as the real, alleged killer was identified and arrested based on a DNA match at two Central Texas murder scenes, we learn that Williamson County DA John Bradley vigorously fought Michael Morton's release when the DNA findings came back, reports the blog Wilco Watchdog, analyzing a previously sealed transcript (pdf) of closed court proceedings released this week. Relatedly, the Williamson County Sun concluded this story with a telling exchange between Morton's attorney John Raley and the amnesiac investigator in the case, Don Wood:
RALEY: Before this deposition started, when I told you that I represented Michael Morton, you said, ‘I thought you were one of the good guys.’ What did you mean by that?

WOOD: The good guys is the DA’s and the bad guys is the defense attorneys.

RALEY: Oh, okay. And that’s the way you feel?

WOOD: Yeah. Oh, I’m sorry. We’ve always talked to the good guys and the bad guys.

RALEY: I got you. Well, I hope you don’t think I’m a bad guy.

WOOD: Well, I don’t.
That white hat, black hat worldview spawns a narrow tunnel vision once someone is accused - certainly once they've been convicted - which explains a lot about how such terrible mistakes happen. "The good guys is the DA's and the bad guys is the defense attorneys." The only surprise here is that that's not a slogan on some logo or letterhead in the Williamson DA's Office. Speaking of which, Bradley himself published this op ed in the Round Rock Leader this week aiming to pretend that the kind of hide-the-ball tactics in the Morton case weren't practiced by his office, leaving aside the fact that his office fought the release of exculpatory evidence in the Morton case for the last half decade.

Judge tosses conviction based on BAT van evidence
As a grand jury investigates alleged misconduct by prosecutors related to its investigation of the so-called BAT van case, a Harris County judge has overturned a conviction because of the DA's office's alleged failure to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence about technical  problems with the vans. Murray Newman informs us that the County Court at Law Judge who took that unusual action was Paula Goodhart. David Jennings thinks the allegations against Harris County DA Pat Lykos amount to a witch hunt, while Mark Bennett thinks Lykos has more to account for than she's done so far. While I agree some of Lykos' critics don't have the purest of motives, so long as she won't acknowledge the problem with flawed forensics in the BAT vans, unfortunately she plays right into her critics hands.

Jerry Madden's primary opponents
House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, who has authored numerous nationally recognized criminal-justice reform packages, faces two serious challengers in his GOP primary. The Collin County Observer profiles the candidates. Very few people in Texas government understand the inner workings of the corrections system like Madden, so if he were gone it would be a significant loss.

Condition X removed for 176 parolees
So says a press release from a San Antonio attorney.

Does hiring bail bond lobbyists as your lawyers reduce liability?
Folks were surprised when it happened in Dallas, so I should mention another story about big discounts for bail jumping, this time out of Hays County, where "TV infomercial entrepreneur" Peter Spiegel signed a bond for $11 million to spring from jail a religious "guru" Prakashandand Saraswati, who'd been accused of child molestation. When Mr. Saraswati allegedly fled back to India, though, Mr. Spiegel found paying top-flight attorneys to litigate was cheaper than paying the bond. Reported the San Marcos Mercury
County officials were not immediately available to explain why they left so much money on the table. It could have something to do with the All Star team of four bond lawyers Spiegel hired to defend him.

“Literally, they teach bond law and they also go to the state legislature and propose legislation on bail bond law. I was fortunate to prevail the way I did,” former Hays County Assistant District Attorney David Mendoza told the Mercury in June.

Spiegel testified in March that he didn’t know the legal ramifications of the $10 million indemnity agreement he signed in 2008. He said an attorney presented the document for his signature during a hearing in a chaotic moment, when all he thought about was doing whatever he could to allow the guru to carry out charitable work in India.

Even if the settlement did not approach $11 million, Spiegel’s $1.2 million is by far the the most money the county has received for a single bond forfeiture case. The money goes into the general fund, and since it is not budgeted to be spent, rolls into the county’s reserves.

Such an unexpected infusion of cash is rare, said County Auditor Bill Herzog, who noted $1.2 million is about equivalent to the money generated by one cent on the property tax rate.
Debating medical examiners' credentials in court
Michael Reed at YourHouston has a clear, no-nonsense article explaining the arguments behind the controversy spurred by researcher and occasional Grits commenter David Fisher over the legitimacy of autopsies performed by medical examiners who'd not taken the oath of office and/or filed a constitutionally required anti-bribery statement. See earlier Grits coverage.

Texas ranks last in per capita mental health spending
So reports the Texas Tribune. That fact drives a significant proportion of state and local criminal justice spending

National analysis of state corrections spending, policy
Via SL&P and the Right on Crime blog, I noticed this new report (pdf) by the the National Governors Association, which mentions Texas' examples several times as well as documenting de-incarceration reforms from other states. Looks like a pretty substantive overview of what's going on in other states, some of which would be familiar to Grits readers but with many examples I hadn't seen before. A notable tidbit: "Between 2009 and 2010, at least 40 states made cuts to general fund expenditures for corrections." In other words, they had plenty of fodder for finding fresh examples.


ckikerintulia said...

"The good guys is . . ." and "The bad guys is . . ." The best you can say for Wood is that he uses poor grammar. It is not unusual that anyone who speaks up for defendants and/or those convicted is regarded as a "bad guy." Reportedly, someone high up the food chain in the CJ system said of Alan Bean and me that we were the two most dangerous people in Swisher County. We were two of the few people in the county who do not own a gun! Take him at his word and it highlights the fact that ideas and words are more effective weapons against injustice that guns or bullets could ever be!

Lee said...

Wondering what happened to you over the last few days, Grits?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Lee, I caught a bug, wasn't feeling well and took a couple of days to recuperate - still feeling a little punkish, in fact. Unfortunately, Grits has no pinch hitter at the ready when such things happen.

john said...

Those in power consider themselves the good guys, and all who oppose their power, the bad guys. That's another way to look at it. That arrogance exceeds even ignorance is a human condition, but it's really out of control, these days. So you don't want to be caught opposing their power, huh? IF we could get courts to do their real job and be impartial and follow the written laws, it would really help. But we'd still have the political problem of lobbyists/companies owning legislators.