Monday, October 24, 2011

Nuther Brady violation alleged from Williamson County DA's office

The blog Wilco Watchdog breaks the news of another alleged "Brady" violation - i.e,. failure to hand over exculpatory evidence - from the Williamson County DA's office, this time in a more recent 2010 case. Reports the Watchdog, "A fresh piece of evidence in a 2010 case which apparently involved prosecutorial misconduct by an attorney in John Bradley's office has added to a growing concern that hiding evidence which might help defendants wasn't just isolated to Michael Morton's case."
According to court documents, a motion for a new trial (Click here to read motion) was filed in June 2010 based on issues of suppressed evidence by prosecutors. A portion of the motion reads (page 3 of the motion): ”Defense counsel became aware of the evidence during the discussion with the jury panel after sentencing. The State’s attorney, Tommy Coleman (second chair) and defense counsel were discussing what evidence the jurors wished they had seem. Juror number 1, Jennifer Reasner and juror number 25, Michelle, both specifically said they needed to see the sales flyer because it ‘would have most likely been exonerating.' Mr. Coleman then told defense counsel the state had been emailed the piece of evidence in question but had not produced it to the defense.  When defense counsel questioned why Mr. Coleman failed to disclose the information during the trial, (defense) counsel was told ‘it’s too late now, your guys already pled.’” (emphasis in original)
Like his boss, John Bradley, says the Watchdog, the same prosecutor openly mocked requests for DNA testing that ultimately exonerated Mr. Morton: "During one of the Michael Morton hearings in September of this year, Coleman was overheard by several people mocking Morton's attorney, John Raley, who had argued for the relevance of a key piece of evidence which played a pivotal role in exonerating Morton.  In a demeaning tone, Coleman said, "Ewwww!  Bloody bandana! Bloody bandana!" in a cynical attempt to discredit the evidence."

The prosecutor in question, as it turns out, has also served a political stalking horse for the District Attorney and the establishment faction on the commissioners court in local Williamson County political feuds:
Tommy Coleman was employed by John Bradley in 2008. Coleman announced in early 2011 his intentions to run for County Attorney, but he later withdrew his name after discovering a lack of support according to several local political observers.

Coleman has since endorsed Hal Hawes, the Williamson County Commissioners Court legal advisor, who has announced his candidacy for county attorney.

In addition to assuming the role of Hawes’ campaign manager, Coleman also launched a PAC supporting Hawes and is listed as the PAC's treasurer.
For the Watchdog, allegations of additional, more recent Brady violations make the writer wonder just how deep the rabbit hole goes: "With this discovery of Coleman's role involving hiding exculpatory evidence, as revealed by an official filing in the case, one has to wonder how many other times has this evidence-withholding problem has happened? Defense attorneys across the state have chided Bradley for having a closed file policy. Ironically, in one of District Judge Ken Anderson's books, he promotes an open file policy within a prosecutor’s office." (Of course, this is par for the course: Regular readers will recall that Mr. Bradley supported destruction of DNA evidence as part of plea agreements to prevent future habeas writs like Morton's based on actual innocence claims.)

The problem with the Brady requirement for prosecutors to produce exculpatory evidence is that it assumes good faith  and so imposes no penalties for non-compliance beyond - at the very worst - ordering a new trial. For most prosecutors, that's plenty of incentive to follow the rules. But for those willing to cheat to win, prosecutors are immune from civil penalties and except in rare events, face no professional consequences from the state bar disciplinary committee as a practical matter (though that group has announced they're investigating the Morton case). There might be ways to tweak the law to make prosecutors more accountable for overt misconduct, but as it stands, public disapprobation is about the worst penalty they face, even when misconduct was willful and egregious.

Grits wonders why every Brady violation where the prosecutor actually knew about exculpatory evidence and failed to disclose it - as opposed to another agency having information prosecutors were never made aware of - shouldn't result in an automatic referral by the court to the state bar disciplinary committee? I also wonder why courts and the state bar historically haven't taken such misconduct much more seriously than has typically been the case? Instead, court opinions finding Brady violations typically don't even name the prosecutor responsible, much less sanction them, allowing such conduct to be too easily swept under the rug. That should change; if they haven't already, the Williamson DA's office may soon become the statewide poster child driving reforms to strengthen Brady disclosure requirements.


ckikerintulia said...

Willful violation(s)>disbarment. That would end willful violations. Won't happen until John Q. wants it to happen. John Q. won't want it to happen until he knows what's happening. That's why Grits, Wilco, and other blogs are so important to a just justice system.

Anonymous said...

Justice system= Cops planting evidence to get an arrest. DA's suppressing evidence to get a conviction.

This picture just STINKS !!!!


Anonymous said...

I think the old saying, "where there's smoke, there's fire" probably applies to these types of situations. Williamson County reminds me very much of Smith County. In Smith County you have a DA's office who has had a well-deserved repuation of misconduct for decades (going back at least to the Kerry Max Cook case in the late 70s, to most recently, the Mineola Swingers Club cases). Yet, nothing is ever done about it and the sleazy people get reelected by an ignorant citizenry. Back to my initial point: When an incident or two of misconduct is exposed, nine times out of ten, you can bet that is just the tip of the iceberg. When you have someone willing to be dishonest in one case, it is likely they have been dishonest in many others. In both Williamson and Smith Counties, you have cultures in the DA's office and in law enforcement that encourage this type of behavior. If the full extent of this type of corruption were exposed in either county, I'm sure it would be truly shocking.

Bill said...

I believe another favorite device that is being manipulated by WilCo's prosecutors is the "Motion to Introduce Extraneous Offenses and Bad Acts" in plea negotiations. It doesn't matter if the defendant is actually guilty of such offenses or bad acts. You're screwed if you get a plea broker for a court appointed lawyer. Bradley and Anderson should consider their next book titled: "How to Get the Innocent
to Cop a Plea." A sequel of sorts to "The Perfect Plea".

rodsmith said...

with these continual revelations of what from anyone else would be CRIMINAL conduct...might be long past time to bring back another old fashioned texas ideal.


but the new target would be people like these criminal prosecutors instead of cattle russlers!

Anonymous said...

So a court pleading filed by some criminal defendant who now wants to reneg on a plea bargain is now considered to be an authoritative source? Really? Do you have any idea how many inmates get "buyer's remorse" and file post conviction claims asserting ineffective assistance of counsel, Brady violations by the state, etc.,? The bar could easily devote its entire budget investigating frivolous claims by criminals. In this particular instance, if the two jurors knew about the allegedly "exculpatory" evidence, the prosecution must have done a REALLY good job of hiding it! LOL!

Legal Minds said...

Anonymous 7:18pm
You should read the motion and entire story before you post. The jurors didn't find out about the exculpatory evidence until AFTER the trial was over. The guy didn't "plea", he was found guilty by the jury who said if they would have had the evidence ADA Tommy Coleman failed to produce (Brady violation), they WOULD have aquited the defendant. Guess the "LOL" is on you.

Anonymous said...

You can also add Palo Pinto County, Texas to this list!