Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Great Day for Justice in Texas

Hello everyone! It’s Ana Yáñez-Correa again.

Today is a great day for justice in Harris County and across Texas. Leah Pinney and I attended the Task Force on Indigent Defense Board Meeting today, where we were reminded of the value of grace and perseverance in seeking justice.

  • The Task Force unanimously approved the grant proposal for the new Harris County Public Defender Office. I don’t have to say that this is an historic occasion for Harris County, and it is due to the amazing work of Senator Ellis, his staff, and long-time advocates (and our dear friends) from Harris County: Mary L. Ramos, Howard Jefferson, Rev. William A. Lawson, Rev. Robert Jefferson, and others. We also want to acknowledge the hard work of Harris County officials in collaborating with Task Force staff to create a strong proposal for the new public defender office. This office is a monumental undertaking that will include misdemeanor mental health and appellate divisions, both scheduled to begin taking cases on February 1, 2011, as well as juvenile and felony trial cases which will begin a year later. Here you will find an article from the Houston Chronicle about Harris County's grant.
  • In addition to the Harris County Public Defender Office, the Task Force awarded discretionary funds to help establish Montgomery County’s Managed Assigned Council Program (MACP). It is the first of its kind in Texas and will provide direct client services to indigent defendants suffering from mental health issues. Modeled in part after the San Mateo County Bar Association Private Defender Program in California, the Montgomery County program is unique in Texas because it will be led by attorneys in the local defense bar. The MACP will provide specially trained defense attorneys, case management, and investigative/expert services to assist defendants on the county’s mental health docket. Once the program is running at full capacity, county officials estimate that a panel of 12 private attorneys will serve a client base of approximately 600 indigent defendants. This well-considered program includes objectives to measure attorney performance, which provides increased accountability, and reduce recidivism. It truly presents great potential for replication in other counties across Texas. I had a chance to speak with Judge Cara Wood before today’s meeting and she seems genuinely excited about getting this program up and running. Considering all the potential for this program (including greater independence from the judiciary), Judge Wood and the rest of Montgomery County have plenty to be excited about.
To learn more about the Task Force's Discretionary Grant Program, click here for a newly developed one-pager.
  • As important as these new opportunities for public defense in Texas are, today was particularly meaningful because the Task Force voted to forward the final recommendations, nearly a year of work in the making, by the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel to a wide range of stakeholders. In attendance were the family members of Timothy Cole – an innocent man mistakenly identified, wrongfully prosecuted, and convicted, who later died while in prison. His family members continued to demonstrate their amazing grace with policy-makers, stakeholders, and justice system practitioners. They knew their son and brother was innocent and stood by him through his dying day as the justice system failed repeatedly, and their response to this injustice was to move forward and build relationships with those who are charged with ensuring justice in Texas. Even today, they honor him in their continued dedication to ensuring that known best practices become a reality in the Texas justice system. The family thanked the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel members and the Task Force for their work, culminating in specific recommendations for best practices in eyewitness identification procedures, the recording of custodial interrogations, and evidence discovery procedures, as well as expanded opportunities for DNA testing for post-conviction proceedings.
As those who struggle to shape public and administrative policy often focus on consensus building and necessary compromise to achieve even modest reforms, today we are reminded of the tremendous suffering and loss that occurs everyday as we move slowly, but (we hope) surely, toward justice. Although this is just one day and one step forward in the process – and there are many more ahead – each of us should be motivated to continue to push for real and complete implementation of these reforms. We must continue to pursue even more justice than we thought possible because someone in Texas is waiting on it right now.

But in light of today’s great accomplishments, we must recognize the Task Force board members, the Task Force Director, Jim Bethke, and his dedicated team for their amazing work in collaborating with a diverse range of stakeholders and community advocates to move each of these projects forward successfully!


peter said...

Good news indeed! As always, while praise must be fulsome for a development that will surely help many people in the future, there is also sadness that so many reside in Texas prisons (and perhaps elsewhere), unfairly trapped by systems that in the past have been woefully inadequate. Further developments in the parole system might help them, and would be a logical next stage of the root and branch reform that is needed, not just in Harris, but across the state.

Anonymous said...

Too little too late for my husband, who has sat in a southeast Texas prison he has been in for 15 mos now! TDCJ tore up our lives! He is in that place for a bad check he wrote 20 years ago, was violated on his parole because his crazy ex girlfriend called hpd on him for trying to leave her (she recanted her call but it was too late!) he served his time and they waited 9 years to find him? This system in Texas is all JACKED up!!!!!

The Team said...

Yes Ana, this is good news for a system torn apart from within by rogue/lazy Judges, ADAs, Lawyers, Police, & Politicians for decades. Leaving the taxpayers with the tab.

Peter is absolutely correct in suggesting that the Texas Board of Pardons & Paroles be vaccinated next. The incompetent staff is a great place to start. We should know due to dealing with them since 1998 only to see them get promoted.

We also must remove the goofy rules that require one seeking a Full Pardon - for innocence to obtain three letters of recommendation from the three trial officials (Judge, Sheriff, & D.A.) These three have no incentive(s) to personally vet the request, so they issue blanket denials via disgruntled peons or don't reply at all. Unless one is lucky enough to have a Senator, State Rep., or a network of preachers backing you, it's not happening (unless your case hinges on DNA, are on Deathrow, or currently in custody)

*The question is - How do we make sure that the reforms we see today include the Clemency Section? Or, How come they don’t? (We must start somewhere, I know, but to ignore the Gatekeeper of apologies is like a band aide without stickem) Blog on & we will follow.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Great to have you on this blog so we can in a since, talk with you. I have been and admirer of you for many years and appreciate the work you do.

There are many who are sent to Harris County Jail who are innocent and to restate a phrase made to me by a police officer who is good friends with outr son, "When a family violence call is made, the man is taken in no matter what." What is fair about this?

Anonymous said...

Public Defender offices pile too many cases on a handful of lawyers doing cut-n-paste work and taking pleas without doing adequate discovery. This was about dollars, not about ensuring effective defense counsel. A bad day for Harris County.

Anonymous said...

May we in Texas who are advocating for those wrongfully convicted and caught up, "unfairly trapped by systems" as Peter commented here, see that this new development is one that actually produces the results it is designed to produce.

Hook Em Horns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...
Public Defender offices pile too many cases on a handful of lawyers doing cut-n-paste work and taking pleas without doing adequate discovery. This was about dollars, not about ensuring effective defense counsel. A bad day for Harris County.

8/26/2010 04:07:00 PM

I will take a public defenders office any day of the week over "judge appointed" hacks afraid to piss off "his honor". This may or may not be the best but it's a step in the right direction!

Hook Em Horns said...

Great posting guest bloggers!

Anonymous said...

Yes, great work guest bloggers!

Anonymous said...

A great day for justice:

Task force rounds up gangs in Tulsa, Okla.
U.S. marshals, state, local cops move in.

Washington Times August 29, 2010

The U.S. Marshals Service, working with state and local police in Oklahoma, has arrested more than 160 violent street-gang members in Tulsa in what federal authorities called a task force operation that will serve as a "nationwide model for similar initiatives" targeting gang-related violence across the country.

Dubbed "Operation Triple Beam," the two-week law enforcement initiative involved more than 40 federal, state and local police officers who targeted the city's most violent gang members and focused on removing guns and drugs from the streets.

"This operation is a great example of multiple law enforcement agencies working together to reduce violent crime," said Acting U.S. Marshal Carroll Allbery in Oklahoma. "As a result of this initiative, many known violent gang members were taken off the street, and the proactive nature of this mission was paramount in stopping gang activity before it occurred.