Sunday, April 11, 2010

Forensic commission should 'reconsider' rules, pull Willingham case out of stacked committee

From Dave Montgomery at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ("Texas Forensic Science Commission to reopen discussion of Willingham case later this month," April 10) we get a few more details that appear to confirm my earlier suspicions that the "rules" newly appointed Chairman John Bradley insisted on creating for the Texas Forensic Science Commission were really a ruse to waylay the Todd Willingham investigation, postponing the Commission's results until after the next election cycle. Regular readers will recall the new chairman did not consult commissioners about the rules' drafting or even their existence, sharing them only the day before the group's last meeting and insisting that they be voted on immediately.

Now we learn Mr. Bradley has assigned the Willingham inquiry to one of his newly formed committees made up of himself, the Fort Worth medical examiner, Dr. Nizam Peerwani (another of Perry's recent replacement appointees), and Dr. Sarah Kerrigan, an academic at Sam Houston State who's been critical of the chairman's heavy handed tactics.
Bradley declined to discuss the commission's investigations, but three other commissioners said the Willingham inquiry has been tentatively assigned to a three-member investigation panel: Bradley, Peerwani and Sarah Kerrigan, a forensic toxicologist and director of a regional crime lab at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. ...

Peerwani said that the screening committee has scheduled a meeting for Thursday in his Fort Worth office but that members of the second panel who were assigned to the Willingham case have yet to get together. It remains unclear to what extent the Willingham panel will rely on the previous work of the original commission, but Peerwani hopes that the panel won't have to start from scratch.

"We do have a lot of material that the commission has collected," said Peerwani, who has been Tarrant County's medical examiner for 30 years. "I don't think we have to go back and restart all those investigations."

But "it's still up in the air. I don't know what the commission is going to do," he said.

If one believes - as admittedly I do - that the Governor ousted his old appointees last fall and replaced them with Bradley and Co. for the purpose of scuttling the Willingham inquiry until after the election, then these new rules and committee assignments set them up admirably to accomplish the task. Particularly telling was the chairman's brazen decision to assign himself to the committee assessing the Willingham case. From the Startlegram: "The notion that he would be on this particular committee in light of everything that has gone on in the last year is particularly inappropriate," said Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth. "A suspicious mind would be concerned about nefarious activities."

Burnam's right about Bradley and the appearance of neutrality. The Williamson County DA has already been sharply, publicly critical of the arson expert commissioned to investigate the lack of scientific rigor in the evidence presented at the Willingham trial. Bradley even tried to prevent the scientist from testifying before a legislative committee that requested his views on the role of expert testimony unrelated to the case.

What's more, a second member of the three-person committee, Dr. Peerwani, was also appointed last fall after the Governor interceded to change the direction of the commission. So two of the three committee members evaluating the Willingham case were people who, by all appearances, were appointed to the Commission primarily to impede the investigation, not get to the bottom of the matter. Given that, there's a decent chance the thing never gets voted out of committee - that's what I'd do if I just wanted to kill it.

That's why, IMO someone on the commission should bone up on their parliamentary procedure and make a "motion to reconsider" at their next meeting later this month, because they were sold a pig in a poke. The Commission made the decision to create this new committee structure based on false pretenses, believing it wouldn't apply to pending cases. I was liveblogging the hearing at the time, and here's how I recorded the exchange on whether the Willingham case would go through the new committee process:
Dr. Kerrigan asked whether these rules apply to pending cases or new ones. Good question! Bradley said new or recent cases would be affected but not those already in the pipeline. A commissioner asked particularly whether cases where they'd already spent money on outside consultants would now have to go through the new process. Bradley said "no."
Later, though, just before the meeting ended:
Bradley backtracked after the rules passed to say old cases like Todd Willingham's in fact will go through his new committee process. That's a complete 180-degree flip from what he told the commission members twenty minutes ago, back when Commissioner Kerrigan told the chair her vote depended on his answer.
The next day, in a post reviewing the meeting, I accused Bradley of:
Dissembling: When a commissioner told the chairman her vote hinged on whether old cases already in the pipeline - including ones where the Commission had already paid outside consultants (there are only two) - would be subjected to the new committee process, Bradley said no, they would not. After the vote, when the meeting had nearly ended, Bradley insisted that Willingham's case must go through "part of" the new committee process. If he'd been honest about that during the debate, IMO a majority of commissioners present wouldn't have supported his rules.
That's sufficient reason to initiate a motion to reconsider, which is allowable under Robert's Rules if the motion is made by anyone - say, Dr. Kerrigan or her allies on the board - who voted for the rules at the last meeting. I think the Commission should reconsider and clarify the rules to have pending, longstanding cases bypass this new committee, which is what they were told would happen before they voted to create it.


Anonymous said...

whether the committee find it true or false before or after the election, can the governor be held account able for these measures?

Hold Perry Accountable said...

6:51, there's only one way to hold Rick Perry accountable for this and everything else he's done: Vote for Bill White and encourage others to do the same.

PirateFriedman said...

07:59:00, the way Perry has handled this case is revolting, but it ain't enough for me to vote the socialist ticket.

I don't think this case will affect the election, but we'll see.

Hook Em Horns said...

This case will not see the light of day until Rick Perry is dead and buried.