Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sex Parte okay in Hood case, say courts

I've written before that that Charles Dean Hood capital murder case at times feels like an optical illusion by M.C. Escher, with more things wrong with the picture from each new angle one examines.

Truly it must be one of the strangest legal journeys in Texas history. The judge and prosecutor have an affair either before or during Hood's trial (depending on which story you believe from whom), and continued to remain "close friends" who traveled together apart from their spouses for several years thereafter. But six of the nine members of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said that was no reason to stop an execution, which surely has nothing to do with the fact that the trial judge in question, Verla Sue Holland, was later elected to the CCA and served with 8 of the 9 sitting members.

Yesterday the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case, so the judiciary as of now has officially signed off on this behavior: Going forward, judges sleeping with prosecutors may get a pass by Texas appellate courts if they successfully conceal the behavior long enough, is the message we may take from this bizarre chain of decisions. Gotta love that stare decisis, baby.

One can't read much, though, into SCOTUS' denial of cert because their main interest is in managing Texas' death penalty. In February, the CCA found cause on different grounds related to jury instructions (that contradicted their previous rulings in the case) to overturn Hood's death sentence, finally acquiescing in a 20-year long dispute and admitting the court had "completely misunderstood" the US Supreme Court in two decades of decisions.

It's probably true that they'd "misunderstood" in the sense that their rulings weren't in line with SCOTUS and the high court kept benchslapping them in sharp, public rebukes. But it was a damn convenient time for the flip-flop, giving the CCA alternative means to grant Hood relief without ever having to rule on the conduct of their friend and former colleague.

The whole situation stinks to high heaven.

NUTHER THOUGHT: One wonders if state and federal courts' toleration of such egregious, admitted misconduct by judges and prosecutors doesn't contribute to headlines like this one: "80% of Americans Don't Trust the Government."


mamanabila said...

are sex parte same with sex party? i lile that :P

TDCJ EX said...

Maybe Hood should incorporate himself . That way he will be seen as a person by Roberts and his fellow right wing activist judges . If he c0ntriubutedsto the correct politicians will he then recive a fair and impartial trail?

Hood has a few chances though .One ishe does not get a death sentence. Two Outside of a disaster of unheard of proportions Obama will be re-elected . This case is another case for term limits and holding prosecutors and judges accountable and not having lifetime appointments or elected judges . Maybe when we are bankrupt due to policies made on emotion and to get re- elected instead of if they will work or not this kind of behavior will stop .

I can see Texas wasting millions on Hood just to show how “tough” they are .

Alan said...

For a court or judge at any level to overturn the conviction based on the conduct of the judge and prosecutor would be to admit that a judge's impartiality can be compromised--surely a position that's anathema to the profession. The judge should have self-recused to avoid the appearance of bias, of course, but it becomes an accusation coming from another judge, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Think about it, though. For the judge to self recuse, there would have had to be a reason. That reason would be an admission of adultery, etc.-- things certainly not in the best intesterest of the judge's political career, public persona, or reputation. There is no way to expect the judge to recuse, it would have been to personally damaging. A true conflict of interest-- self interest vs. public interest. I suppose the same goes for the prosecutor in the case, leaving the appeals courts the only people who could do anything.

Oh wait, wasn't the CCA suffering from an extreme conflict of interest as well? I guess that means there are no options left for the defendant to receive a fair trial. Well, better luck next time, and we will try to get right in the future.

Anonymous said...

It's my understanding that there has never been any question as to Hood's guilt. Nor has there been any suggestion, or evidence, that any ruling the judge made during the trial was unlawful or indicative of bias. In recent years, this Supreme Court has not shyed away from overturning the death penalty in those instances where they felt it warranted. They fact that they chose not to get involved in the Hood appeal just underscores the fact that this is really much ado about nothing.

Anonymous said...

Grits: The Supreme Court's denial of a cert. petition has no precedential value, and is not deemed to me a ruling on the merits, so the "stare decisis" comment is not quite on point. But the cynic in me is thinking that the USSC looked at the case, realized that the evidence against Hood was strong, and that another trial might well result in another conviction, and decided to leave him where he is - with a new trial on sentence only. And they - like the CCA - must surely have been thinking about all the other cases where the judge & DA were, ahem, involved, and probably wanted to avoid opening those floodgates. This really is a Supreme Court afraid of "too much justice" as Thurgood Marshall once said.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@10:06: The stare decisis line was intended as a poor joke. But I do think it sets a precedent, just not a legal one: Judges in Texas will protect their own, no matter how egregious the misconduct they engage in.

I also agree it's possible they "wanted to avoid opening those floodgates."

3:33, you're right that "In recent years, this Supreme Court has not shyed (sic) away from overturning the death penalty in those instances where they felt it warranted." IMO that's why they didn't take this case: The CCA ordered resentecing and it wasn't a death penalty case anymore.

doran said...

I wonder if the august legal minds at the Texas CCA realize what they have done.

Lawyers representing clients in future death penalty cases as well as in other criminal cases, should take the Hood case as a lesson "learned in chambers": Interview the elected District Attorney and the Asst. District Attorney who is prosecuting the case, to determine if the prosecutors and judge are having sex, have had sex, or may have sex while the trial is in progress. The inquiry should also be broadened to inquire into business relationships, if any, between judges and prosecutors.

Prosecutors will, to put it mildly, balk at answering any questions of this nature from defense attorneys. That means that a public hearing, upon motion by defense counsel, should be held by a judge other than the one to whom the case is assigned, so that the DA and ADA can be questioned under oath in open court.

I'm not kidding. The Texas CCA, as I understand their Hood ruling, strongly implied that if the intertwined Judge and DA can keep the affair secret, then the defendant is just SOL. It will be mal-practice, under that ruling, for a defense attorney not to make at least a preliminary inquiry, on the record, into the possibility of such relationships.

Anonymous said...

doran is right on point. Give the CCA what they're asking for. If they expect defense counsel to uncover inappropriate relationships between judges and prosecutors, then make the judge and prosecutor sign a statement confirming they are not having an inappropriate sexual, business, or other type of relationship before the trial can proceed.

Unknown said...

I wonder what the outcry would have been if the defense attorney and the judge had an affair and the person was found not guilty.

doran said...

"R", very likely both of them would have been indicted by the District Attorney's favorite grand jury, or by a federal grand jury, for obstruction of justice.