Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dog on Dog Open-Government Action, the Fiction of the Consensual Police Encounter, and other stories

Here are a few items I ran across recently that deserve Grits readers' attention:

Backstory on breaking Austin open government scandal
Get the full background on the Austin City Council Open Government Scandal when the Jennifer Peebles at the Texas Watchdog interviews Ken Martin at the Austin Bulldog in a TW podcast. That's a lot of dog on dog action. Interesting stuff; Martin dishes a lot of juicy details about who concealed what and how the story was broken. They've stopped the illegal meetings, says Martin, but the City is still concealing emails where City Councilmembers performed city business on their personal email accounts, a clear violation of years of precedent from the Texas Attorney General. Which is probably why, also in violation of the law, the City of Austin did not request an opinion from the Attorney General. They just said "no," like Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener declaring, "I would prefer not to." With no other recourse, Martin has been forced into court for the documents. Honestly, County Attorney David Escamilla is the only one who can crack this nut by bringing charges against those politicians who by all appearances conspired to violate the open records and open meetings acts.

'Perpetuating the Fiction of the Consensual Police Encounter'
The subhed is the title of a post from Liberty and Justice for Y'all criticizing a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision that placed the subject of a police encounter in a no-win position. If the defendant had not complied with a police command, writes blogger B.W. Barnett, "there is no doubt the court would now be using his noncompliance to justify a more intrusive search. There is absolutely no way for the defendant to win here."

Latest poster boy for asset forfeiture reform
As if he needed another one after the 2009 Tenaha Scandal, Jim Wells County has offered up a poster boy for Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire's asset forfeiture reform bill this session. According to the SA Express News, last week "four-term Jim Wells County district attorney pleaded guilty Monday to a felony count of misappropriating more than $2 million in asset forfeiture funds."

Attitudes toward gays fair game in sex offender voir dire
Attorney Bill Habern pointed out to me an interesting civil ruling from the Texas Supreme Court involving voir dire during civil commitment trials of sex offenders, on a couple of points: Where the case will include evidence that the target is gay, it's permissible to question jurors whether or not they can be fair to a gay person. Also, where a case requires proof of two prior sex-offense convictions, the defense may question whether or not the jurors will require more evidence than the mere fact of conviction in the two cases to determine whether the civil commitment target is "likely to reoffend." The SCOTX held that the judge unfairly limited the defendant's ability to eliminate biased jurors who would not consider the evidence. MORE: From the Supreme Court of Texas blog.

Making (some) sense of Indictment-Fest 2010 in Collin County
I've got to admit, I've never understood the whole brouhaha up in Collin County where the outgoing DA and judges spent their final months in office taking turns getting one another indicted, but several items I read today helped somewhat clear up the bizarre and murky picture. Here's Ed Housewright at the Dallas News framing the story with a journalist's faux balance. More probative, IMO, were attorney Hunter Biederman's excellent offerings at the blog Collin County Observer and on Biederman's own blog, Frisco DWI Lawyer, including juicy links to primary documents. MORE: From the Dallas Observer.

Why don't MSM sites link to primary documents?
Speaking of which, why don't MSM newspaper reporters and editors link to their primary sources in online reporting? I've never understood that. They have access to them, reference, them, quote them. Often they're already available online and only need a link, or are easily uploaded online either onto the media outlets own server or a variety of free alternatives (Google Documents, etc.). I thought about this today reading Brandi Grissom's piece in the New York Times where she quoted Dr. Tony Fabelo from a recent presentation to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Grits has quoted the same report, but I linked to a copy [pdf]. It'd pretty much put blogs like Grits out of business if the MSM would do that themselves. Quite often, the main value Grits adds is linking to primary sources for those who want more information (and, having read them for myself, raising any issues the MSM didn't pick up on). The idea of journalists as information gatekeepers is a myth that's been blown sky-high in the internet age. Today the best journalists are information conduits, summarizing the topline, takeaway issues for the masses but also providing access to more detailed information for opinion leaders and others with specialized interests. There's no reason they can't do both and it would make their product more valuable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Judge Kerry Russell ruled on March 11, 2011, that the show will go on in the trial against Judge Wooten in Collin County, where campaign contributions have been characterized by an overzealous DA as felony bribery. The case has been taken over by Texas AG Greg Abbott's office as pro tem.