Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday morning roundup

Here are a few disparate items that caught my attention which probably deserve more detailed discussion, but I thought I'd at least point them out for readers who're interested:

Austin crime lab target of whistleblower allegations
In Austin, Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg forwarded allegations of misconduct at the APD crime lab to the state Forensic Science Commission for investigation after a former employee alleged a supervisor helped staffers cheat on competency tests. It's easy to downplay such allegations from a disgruntled former employee, but after the way the Houston crime lab unraveled over the last decade, you never know. Chief Acevedo points out that the crime lab has been recently re-accredited, but of course achieving accreditation might be easier if employees cheat on their competency exams! Judging from the pace of the Forensic Science Commissions investigation into arson science in the Todd Willingham case, it could be many years, if ever, before they get to the bottom of this.

Abbott (thankfully) flip flops on public access to officials' appointment calendars
Attorney General Greg Abbott says Dallas DA Craig Watkins must hand over his appointment calendar in response to a Public Information Act request. I'm glad to see Abbott returning to the long-time AG's interpretation on this question after he'd carved out a special exception for Governor Perry to let him keep his past appointment calendars secret. I'm glad the ruling on Perry's calendar hasn't transformed into precedent, but this ruling highlights the extent to which that earlier decision was more a political sop than a defensible legal opinion.

State jail architect speaks out
Carl Reynolds at Courtex, who directed the Punishment Standards Commission in 1993 when the state jail system was created, tosses in his two cents on the recent debate over potential reforms to the state jail system. Writes Reynolds:
It may be significant to note that the two large jurisdictions that utilize state jails to a greater extent than their population or prison admissions would suggest ... are Harris County and Travis County.   Harris has Kegans and Lychner state jails, and Travis has the Travis state jail.  (It is ironic that Harris County testimony about the limitations of the state jail system triggered this debate, with their very high utilization.)

If the debate is to continue, I suggest the legislature focus on the problems to be addressed and not on whether the system should be abandoned.  Certainly the identification of the state jail category of felonies was significant and should not be undone, but must the punishment scheme be set in stone?  Perhaps some form of incentive for behavior can be built in, to replace the judicial option that no judges use, and allow a state jail felon some ability to accelerate his release.  Perhaps there should be a short period of supervision at the end of the state jail term.  Perhaps we should revisit the idea of isolating all state jail felons in their own facilities, as though they will be infected by felons convicted of higher degree offenses. Perhaps we should revisit the state governance of facilities that were originally conceived as "community corrections." And undoubtedly, there should be additional resources to support successful reintegration. 
Loan repayment for PDs and prosecutors
Courtex also lets us know about a student loan repayment program for prosecutors and public defenders, noting that recently:
the Governor designated the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to administer the John R. Justice Program (a [federal] student loan repayment program) in Texas. Texas is eligible for a $700,000 grant to be split evenly between the Texas prosecutors and public defenders. Our office, specifically the Task Force on Indigent Defense, met with representatives from the Texas District & County Attorney Associations and the Coordinating Board to develop the criteria and plan for the administration of this loan forgiveness program. The application is due on July 27th.
Students backbone of innocence work
A Texas Tribune feature published yesterday extolled the work of students on behalf of innocence clinics at the state's public law schools.

Appellate court: Evidence insufficient despite jury verdict
A panel of Texas Second Court of Appeals judges unanimously reversed a 2007 murder conviction and life sentence, saying the evidence presented to the jury was on its face factually insufficient to convict beyond a reasonable doubt. To compare this to a "man bites dog" story probably understates the regularity with which people sink their teeth into their pooches.

TDCJ medical unit ready in 2012, but staffing cut
The veterans hospital in Marlin that's being transformed into a TDCJ medical facility won't open until 2012, so as part of its recent budget cuts, the agency lopped off $10 million for budgeted first-year operating costs that won't be needed until after the facility opens. Of course, that means that the Lege must come up with extra money for staffing the facility during the worst budget crunch in recent memory.

Don't tase my nephew
US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is "shocked" and "outraged" that his suicidal, epilectic 24-year old nephew was beaten and tazed by hospital security when he refused to put on a hospital gown and is headed to New Orleans to investigate. Jeff Gamso has a nice essay on the subject.


Anonymous said...

Seems like someone at Bill White's camp should file suit over Perry's appointment calendar.

Also, Justice Thomas, welcome to the receiving end of the justice system. Must be a shocker to remember you're black, too.


Anonymous said...

Not surprised about Acevedo's disingenuous 'recently re-accredited' comment, I don't think much of his integrity. And I can't imagine why Clarence is shocked and outraged, the Dim Blue Line tazes people 24/7. What box has he been in that this is news to him? But maybe, now that it's directly impacted Himself (isn't that always the way?), some PFA might help put a muzzle on these dogs. I'd like to see far less latitude given to taser use.

James said...

Does it make a difference if it was hospital security, not police, who did the tazing?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not to the tazee! :)

James said...

True for the tazee.

I was thinking about the legal aspects. Police are supposed to be trained on the hows and whens of using force, and enjoy certain immunities to liability, whereas private security usually has lower training standards and does not have the same legal protections as police.

Anonymous said...

Security guards with tazers? Scary thought. But usually it's off-duty cops and the like who do a little moonlighting or just flat get stuck there by their departments. In any case, that particular tazer wielding person is totally screwed. The circumstances in this deal are just too damned good to miss...I'm throwin' a party. Incidentally James, nice Wing Commander pic:)

TDCJEX said...

Interesting Clarence Thomas is shocked about the treatment of his nephew, but has been part of decisions that allow for this .Welcome to the club Justice Thomas .I doubt this will change your view how you allow the state to abuse and torturer citizens Using a Tazer can cause fatal reactions cardiac arrests and seizures that not a safe and should be removed for the ever growing n arsenal of “cool tactical toys” that cops use.

My guess who ever tazed Thomas' nephew is about to be hit with the full force of the government come down on them for daring to abuse a high officials relative .I bet who ever tazed they man will be in a world of shit if not facing prison time for assualt . Because he made the mistake off tazing a one of fortunate few's family members. I doubt Thomas will have a change of heart he will simply abuse his power and have who ever tazed his nephew severely punished. That is what his ilk does they are hypocrites what is good for you and me is not good for them . It is that simple the view them selves as above us. I just do not see Thomas doing anything but being arrogant and abusing his postilion .

The other more important issue is reversing the Winningham conviction on insufficient evidence there are a lot of cases in TDCJ trat if this is upheld could be re open and looked at many case especially out of Smith co and Wilco are based oin very flimsy evidence and fabricated perjured testimony . If only one of those students would take a look a very interesting case out of Smith county . If only I could be public about it . Lots of suborned perjury and fabricated evinced and lies “secret deals and a we hole host of constitutional violations topped of with a huge dose of abuse of power and on and on the whole deal I don't think even Bradley in Wilco or any one Harris would have gotten away with what those SOBs did

Grits that is typical cop and prosecutor work find a acceptable suspect then create a case that fits now he might or might not be guilty but because of this type of cop and prosecutor work The are decisions like this I have no doubt Sharon Keller will say it is harmless error anything the state does in her eyes is a harmless error and if the states wrong doing gets in the way of a execution well we will just close the court OK I am beings sarcastic but not far off the mark . . People do not understand tht the constitution protects us all especially when we need it most when we are accused of a crime . Bit a lot of media twisting of that has people believing that it gives rights to convicted yes in fact you have constitutional rights once you are convicted that you do not is a common myth .

Anonymous said...

TDCJ EX, email the details to some law profs. Or have you a sit down with a constitutional lawyer. I think any da who abuses his power in such a way ought to get his ass tore up in prison.

Anonymous said...

Nice pun.. Thomas 'shocked' hehe..

The only reason Thomas is upset is that the elitist in him says Not MY family they don't.. That's how they treat the 'regular' people.. I think the term would be peon.

The big question is, what exactly is Justice Thomas going to do about it? Legally he is joe citizen when it comes to family, and judicially, he can't touch the details of the case. Yeah I know, he is SCOTUS, which is exactly why he needs to leave it alone, or better yet, call a good attorney there and allow them to handle it.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the budget cuts, any word on TDCJ's proposal for the 10% budget cut for next biennium due next month?

Anonymous said...

No Idea about the budget cuts, but I hope they are DEEP, long, and put plenty of bosses in a bread line!

Hook Em Horns said...

Close state jails? Not gonna happen! I will defer, however, to Scott's view the closing prisons "could happen" to reduce the budget shortfall but rest assured they will likely be contract facilities. Texas would never put one of it's pole barns in mothballs!

Anonymous said...

Texas has the most barbaric prison system, for profit I might add. It has no incentive to reduce the time served at state jails, for these must be kept at 95% capacity. Kickbacks abound amongst the various counties starting with the correctional facility telephone vendors right down t the soap bar distributors. Oh let's not forget the Pretrial probation fees -- who ever heard of having to pay for pretrial probation BEFORE being tried and convicted. Looks like a scam, smell like a scam, by golly it is a scam!