Friday, December 04, 2009

Cold weather odds and ends

Here are a number of recent stories that deserve Grits readers attention as we all hunker down and wait for the cold weather to blow in:

Fire and Innocence
At the Texas Observer, read David Mann's essay on arson, innocence, and 72-year old, Cambridge educated arson expert Gerald Hurst, who has been thrust into recent controversies because he was the first of many experts to question the fire marshal's arson findings in the Todd Willingham case - before Willingham was executed.

Fingerprints, fires and email
The national Innocence Project blog has a post up about recent developments in Texas forensic politics and policy. See also Rick Casey's column from the Houston Chronicle on the counterintuitive new records policy implemented by new Chairman John Bradley at the Forensic Science Commission, asking "Can email be saved by deleting it?" Bradley clearly thinks the answer is "yes." What do you think?

Rep says bail bondsmen helping immigrants skip
State Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman) says he'll propose legislation to make bail bondsmen lose their money when a client is deported; right now they receive a waiver and aren't required to pay the bond for a no-show. According to WFAA-TV in Dallas, Rep. Phillips believes that "some bail companies are abusing the process and actually helping illegal immigrants accused of serious crimes to escape justice."

Dems debate Harris County public defender
Read a good account of a recent discussion among Houston Democrats on the pros and con of creating a public defender office along with links to various local opinions on the topic.

Hyping Tuff?
Is Williamson County's tuff-on-crime reputation a reality or just self-promotion? According to this article, "Roy Minton, an Austin defense attorney who has represented clients in several high profile cases, said he approaches cases in Williamson County the same way he would in Travis County, even though he is aware of the difference in the two counties’ reputation. Minton said he respects the county’s prosecutors and believes the county’s tough-on-crime attitude has spread not because of heavy sentences necessarily, but because of the county’s effort to promote it."

Few minorities working for appellate courts
Texas Lawyer reports that few Texas appellate courts have minority court clerks or staff attorneys. The Court of Criminal Appeals notably has three minority court clerks out of of nine, reports TL, but only one out of the CCA's 26 staff attorneys is a minority. Black folks are particularly underrepresented, making up only 1.5% of appellate court staff attorneys (3 out of 201); there are currently no black law clerks at any of the mid-level Texas appellate courts.

Merida money not yet spent
The US has spent only a small fraction of the $1.5 billion promised to Mexico in the so-called Merida Initiative.

The biggest company you've never heard of
That description was true for me. Have you heard of SERCO? If this were a UK or Australian blog they'd be major players in many of the issues this blog covers from private prisons to traffic cams. Their corporate tentacles already extend into the US in non-corrections industries. Watch this short but excellent, fascinating video:


Anonymous said...

Serco looks like the fictional OCP from Robocop.

Anonymous said...

Brillant piece on Serco!

Chris Halkides said...


The article about arson and Gerald Hurst ought to be required reading for critics of the Beyler report. Much or all of Hurst's work has been pro bono, and he makes a good case for why arson ought to be high on the agenda of forensic commission.


Anonymous said...

It's 17 degrees here now and winter hasn't really even started. You guys don't know about cold.

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't treat criminal cases differently anywhere. To work one harder in Williamson County means you don't work them hard enough in other counties.

That being said, whether it's truth or hype, the DAs there believe it's true so it effects everything they do. They'll ignore everything but what fits the theory of their case. They're worse that Harris County in that regard.

Anonymous said...

Merida money not yet spent?

With all those sticky fingers where would the $ wind up?

Anonymous said...

Harris County needs to think hard about a public defender's office.