Friday, February 24, 2012

Louis Sturns to oversee Michael Morton 'court of inquiry' over alleged prosecutor misconduct

Gerry Goldstein, Michael Morton, John Raley and Barry Scheck, via AP
Last week, Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson named the judge in the Micheal Morton "court of inquiry" - fellow black Republican state District Judge Louis Sturns of Tarrant County. (Bob Ray Sanders at the Startlegram provides background, for those who need it.) A defense attorney who's practiced a great deal under Sturns told me he's the "nicest guy you'd ever want to meet," though that doesn't mean he won't also hand down extremely long sentences. Most folks seem to think he will be fair, which is all one can ask. See AP's acccount, and Brandi Grissom's coverage. If you're really interested and have the stomach for it, here's the 140+ page report (pdf) that convinced Chief Justice Jefferson to appoint a judge to oversee these unusual proceedings. Fittingly, his decision comes days after the silver (25th) anniversary of Morton's false conviction, a coincidence whose force is heightened by the protagonist's silver hair and beatific camera visage. In most pictures I see of Michael Morton he has a big grin on his face, like the cat who just ate the canary. In the one above he shows no teeth, but his eyes are smiling.

Courts of inquiry are strange birds - a seldom used, Texas specific vehicle for making an end-run around the DA's office to seek an indictment for alleged criminal wrongdoing without ever having the case heard by a grand jury. Lately, attorneys like my boss Jeff Blackburn from the Innocence Project of Texas (Timothy Cole) and Barry Scheck of the national Innocence Project (Todd Willingham) have sought (with 50-50 success) to use the procedure as a truth-seeking vehicle in posthumous innocence cases. Now Raley, Scheck and Co, hope to  use it to punish prosecutorial misonduct. These are mostly uncharted legal waters  for all involved, both for the attorneys and Judge Sturns.

What a dramatic hearing that will be! Grits may have to drive up to Cowtown for that one.

Read more here:


Anonymous said...

Barry Scheck perfected his deception when he helped get OJ off with murder. He said he's innocent! he's innocent! Trust me! Despicable.

ckikerintulia said...

Barry had quite a bit of help from the prosecution in the OJ case

Jennifer Laurin said...

Any word on when the hearing(s) will begin?

Anonymous said...

The Innocence Project was conceived in deception, so to speak. I guess it's in the DNA. And we've supposed to believe them?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

OJ? Really? You blame the guy for being one member of the defense team in 1994/5, whatever it was? Do you even understand a defense attorney's JOB? "Conceived in deception"! Like DNA evidence? Good heavens!

And Jennifer, to my knowledge the date hasn't been set, the newshook was the judge being named. And I'm only assuming it'll be in Fort Worth - if I were the judge I'd rather go home every night when it's done. I suppose he could do it in Georgetown.

Prison Doc said...

I'd be first to agree that Scheck sullied his reputation and his cause by assisting the OJ defense, but like Grits says that was a long time ago, and both DNA procedures and Scheck have come a long way since.

I guess it is due to my scientific background that I tend to look at DNA as the gold standard but even gold can be misused.

With all the misdeeds I've seen in criminal justice since the OJ days, I've come around to being a fan of Scheck and the Innocence Project in general.

Quite an evolution for me.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I fail to see how representing someone like OJ "sullied his reputation." First, they won! That bolstered his reputation. Second, even guilty defendants deserve lawyers, and rich people can hire the best. But that's workaday criminal defense work.

The Innocence Project stuff is narrower, more selective. The national group only takes DNA cases (unlike IPOT, who I work for, and some regional, affiliated groups, who also do non-DNA cases).

The OJ references just demonstrate ignorance and an inability to discuss these subjects outside of a comfortable if pointless, culture-war framework. They certainly tell us more about the (mostly anonymous) writers than they do about Barry Scheck.

Anonymous said...

OJ didn't kill them, his son did.

Double Fake Mark Furman


Anonymous said...

Please keep us posted as to when thej court will open, etc.

Anonymous said...

You're still working for IPOT after your untruthfulness regarding your encounter with the Austin P. D.? Hmmm. That's kind of telling.

Sheldon tyc#47333 said...

Grits I hope you find your anonymous heckler as entertaining as I do. Slapstick you might say because you just keep bitch slapping him/her down. I’m happy to see Mr. Morton is going tribal on those Wilco ass clowns. They won’t stand a chance providing the proceedings are on the up and up. Do you suppose in the picture the media is asking Mr. Morton his legal team’s opinion on the size of Bradley’s legal penis?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your continued reporting on this case.

One question: what does the race of Judges Jefferson and Sturns have to do with it? This refers to the unfortunate characterization of Sturns as a "fellow black Republican."

While the Republican identity is one of choice, certainly skin color is not. And you seem not to have been referring to anyone else in this saga as "fellow White men" (although there certainly are plenty of those).

This is not to say references to race never are relevant, but it's hard to see how race is relevant to the inquiry into the withholdig of excuplatory material by the Williamson County DA's office.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Equally telling that you're still visiting and commenting here, 12:40. I guess the incident didn't discredit this blog as much as you thought. Otherwise, please stay on topic. Go here if you want to talk about that.

2:24, that's a fair criticism and characterization that I hadn't thought of. Of course, black Republican judges are relatiely rare, which I suppose is why I mentioned it, but you're probably right it is a tangential point that doesn't tell us much. Thanks for calling me on it.

Anonymous said...

I wish that we had more insight into the minds of the Sebestas of the world. I don't believe someone would be so callous that they don't care about actual guilt/innocence. Maybe they just become convinced that they know the "truth" and that the person is guilty so then the ends justify the means of playing dirty? Prosecutors may need more therapy and vacations (seriously) to prevent the burn-out, apathy, & PTSD that results from looking at grisly crime up close and personal day in and out. Psych trauma is the only explanation I can muster for this type of misconduct.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anderson has fallen under the same thing that plagued mankind since the dawn of history. So and so is a witch no matter what the facts in front of our face tells us. Our discovery laws are suppose to prevent that but he lost sight of his responsibility. I find especially repugnant his Statute of Limitations defense. That would reward law enforcement for being better at hiding evidence.

Anonymous said...

It’s high time that Texas DAs are held accountable for there actions. To be elected a DA is to be elected to what is probability the office with the most wide ranging preview of authority of any elected office in Texas. Much more rigorous oversight, and much greater transparency of the offices of District Attorney are direly needed in Texas.

Docile Jim Brady - Columbus OH said...

In an adversary system, criminal defense lawyers represent the constitutional and statutory rights of their clients.

The issue is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, developed through a system of rules.

Docile Jim Brady typing for DJB and not OACDL
Associate Member
Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (OACDL)

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits,

“The Innocence Project stuff is narrower, more selective. The national group only takes DNA cases (unlike IPOT, who I work for, and some regional, affiliated groups, who also do non-DNA cases”).

To be precise, the IPOT only considers Non-DNA claims that have exhausted all of their appeals. While I personally love the fact that the IPOT has decided to include Non-DNA claims, I won’t allow myself to rest until ‘All’ claims are honestly considered and fully vetted. *Closed/Cleared cases – including but not limited to ‘all’ felony jury trials stopped in order to plea-bargain with probationers.

But, I know we have to start somewhere. I truly believe that the nation as a whole, really started to learn about the ungodly amount of police & prosecutorial misconduct via the endeavors of Mr. Scheck and the investigations performed by the Innocence Project.

I’m very grateful for the good works of the network of mirrored projects that followed but when we allow a portion of claims to be ignored we allow; bad cops, rogue ADAs & the ugly enablers a free pass.

Those that follow in their footsteps, simply learn to continue to obtain convictions that prevent appeals. Example. Plea-bargaining {95% to 98% of cases} with probationers in the judge’s chambers and record it as “Open-Court”). Thanks and keep up the good work.