In an ethics training video leaked recently by someone at the Harris County District Attorney's Office, the trainer, Rob Kepple, seems genuinely puzzled at one point by the question of why the topic of prosecutor accountability is such a big deal these days.To which theory do you subscribe?
"I got a theory," Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, tells a room full of Harris County prosecutors. "I think it's because we're pretty much done with the DNA exonerations. … We've tested just about everything we can. Now you've got a whole big exoneration machine that doesn't have anyone to chew on anymore."
So, he concludes, it only makes sense to go after prosecutors. We - presumably the media, the public, the lawmakers and the Innocence Project - need something else to chew on.
I take a different view. I think prosecutor accountability is a big issue because former Williamson County prosecutor Ken Anderson - who sent Michael Morton to prison for a quarter century for a murder he didn't commit - is still sitting on a bench, wearing a judge's robe, hearing cases.
It's a big issue because the former district attorney, John Bradley - who fought the DNA testing that finally exonerated Morton - is still giving talks and applying for state jobs. Kepple is still defending him for having done nothing illegal or unethical.
It's a big issue because the former Burleson County prosecutor, Charles Sebesta - who sent Anthony Graves to prison for 18 years, 12 on death row, for murders he didn't commit - is still training officers through the Sheriffs' Association of Texas, and taking out full-page newspaper ads maintaining he did nothing wrong.
Kepple touts a self-serving analysis by TDCAA claiming prosecutorial misconduct is extremely rare, but a Texas Tribune investigation last year into the causes of false convictions among Texas exoneration cases found prosecutor error - most frequently Brady violations (17 out of 21 cases) - played a role in nearly a quarter of them. If Sen. Whitmire's legislation passes, at least the public will have a better idea if the state bar can or will address the matter. That would be a small but important step toward restoring public confidence.
MORE: See coverage of the bill hearing from the Texas Tribune.