Saturday, October 08, 2011

State Bar should sanction prosecutor from Michael Morton case but almost certainly won't

I couldn't agree more with an Austin Statesman editorial today calling for the Texas State Bar to investigate and (hopefully) sanction Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, who was the prosecutor that allegedly withheld evidence which might have exonerated Michael Morton, who was recently released from after 25 years in prison based on a false conviction:
The State Bar must look into allegations that then-Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson improperly withheld evidence that could have spared Morton from a guilty verdict. Those are legitimate questions that Morton's attorneys have raised in court records. The evidence withheld includes:

A taped police conversation with Christine Morton's mother, who said the Mortons' 3-year-old son described the attack, identified key details about the murder scene and said his father was not home at the time.

A document that reported that Christine Morton's missing Visa card had been apparently recovered at a San Antonio store. There is no record that the lead was followed up in the sheriff's or district attorney's case files.

A document reporting that a check made out to Christine Morton was cashed nine days after her death, and the signature on the back appeared to be a forgery of her name.

Had those clues been disclosed, it's possible Morton never would have been convicted and the true killer found.
For my money they should also investigate current Williamson DA John Bradley who fought the release of said information tooth and nail for the last six years. Whether these "Brady violations," or failure to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense, stemmed from malice or incompetence matters little, certainly to Mr. Morton. Said the Statesman editorial writers:
the State Bar can hold prosecutors who violate the law or legal ethics accountable. That responsibility is spelled out in state law, which says "The prosecutor in a criminal case shall make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense."

The State Bar has an obligation to discover why the system failed Michael Morton. A legal system that lacks accountability and fails to correct its errors is an accessory to miscarriages of justice.
The problem is, although the State Bar "can" hold prosecutors accountable, in practice they almost never do. Criminal defense attorneys are disciplined quite frequently, but a one-armed man could probably count up the number of prosecutors disciplined in the past decade for Brady violations and not use up all his fingers. When you're talking about a DA who went on to become a District Judge, I'd put the odds he'll be sanctioned at slim to none, with slim making plans to leave the building. Prosecutors in this state simply aren't sanctioned for withholding exculpatory evidence, for reasons that completely elude me.

The State Bar didn't even discipline a DA or judge from Collin County after the prosecutor admitted in a deposition they'd been sleeping together during a capital murder trial. (The judge claimed they'd ceased the affair before the trial, contradicting the DA who recalled it continuing during and after the event, but either way they concealed the relationship and/or lied about it for many years after the fact). If those two weren't disbarred, I harbor little hope the State Bar will sanction Judge Anderson over the Michael Morton case. Since prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity even for egregious misconduct, the only even theoretical accountability for them lies with the State Bar disciplinary committee, and they've proven over and over they just aren't up to the task.

MORE: See Chuck Lindell's story on details and implications of withheld evidence in the Morton case.


Ty D. said...

I believe there are others in prison from Williamson County who were railroaded as Mr. Morton was. It is my hope this is the beginning of the undoing of the unlawfulness that has ruled the court house for the last 25 years. Lead prosecutor, Ken Anderson, is now a district judge. The assistant prosecutor, Mike Davis, is now in private practice and has displayed some questionable business practices. See:

And, while the ink might not have been dry on Bradley's license to practice law, Bradley sat on the DNA and in all likelihood has known of the other exculpatory evidence for some time.

John Bradley has covered for these guys for at least the last 5 years. Bradley claimed he would investigate the way Michael Morton's case was (mis)handled. Right, like he investigated the fraudulent billing practices of Mike Davis?

As far as sanctions: DISBAR all of them.

Old Cop said...

Williamson County has been a bastion of "jack-booted thugs" for too many years. And, yeah Grits, you're right...the State Bar needs to grow a pair and start popping crooked prosecutors and the good prosecutors need to start popping crooked cops. "the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys shall be, not to convict, but to insure that justice is done..." TxCodeCriminalProcedure. Ha, I'll be long in my grave before this maxim of the law becomes the rule rather than the exception.

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Anonymous said...

Until you can sanction and disbar prosecutors and revoke LEO commissions this kind of stuff is going to continue.

Wyde & Associates said...

I was in Houston 2 months ago and a columnist for the Houston Chronicle wrote an editorial similar to the AAS. I am a former assistant DA, criminal court judge and in private practice, and this "convict at all costs" behavior immoral, unethical, illegal and dangerous to our system of innocent until proven guilty. Lawyers like Bradley and Anderson must be held accountable by our profession. I am forwarding this editorial to Bob Black, SBOT president(, Buck Files, SBOT president-elect (903.258.9447; Senate Crim. Justice Chr John Whitmire (
Please contact the above people and simply ask them to pass legislation making it unlawful for the State to employ a prosecutor who has knowingly withheld exculpatory evidence.
Dan L. Wyde

Anonymous said...

So how do we hold the state bar accountable for not doing their duty?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wyde, you are wasting your time forwarding this info to Buck Files. Although he is a criminal defense attorney, Buck is the crooked prosecutors best friend. He has courted cozy relationships with crooked Smith County prosecutors for years. He is pals with Jack Skeen who, as a long time Smith County DA, routinely withheld evidence and did all kinds of slimy things. Skeen is now a judge who makes no effort to hide his bias and was recently chastised by the appeals court for making up rules of evidence to help the prosecution win its case in the Mineola Swingers Club cases. When the defense attorney tried to get Skeen recused from that case guess who testified in support of Skeen? You got it, Buck Files. Buck testified that Skeen was not biased when one would have to be deaf, dumb, blind and stupid to believe that. He committed perjury because he well knows Skeen is as biased as they come and that he bends over backwards to make sure the proseuction wins. So, don't waste your time sending anything to Buck. Buck has supported prosecutors whe engage in this type of behavior by prosecutors in Smith County for years.

Anonymous said...

Where are the Boondocks Saints when you need them.

Anonymous said...

Grits: What is the basis for your assertion that defense lawyers get disciplined quite frequently? Speaking as a defense lawyer who does appellate and habeas work I see some appalling examples of representation, including in capital cases, but almost never see a fellow criminal defense lawyer sanctioned for anything. (I read the Bar Journal every month and always look to see who has got themselves into trouble!) My perception has always been that when the complainants are defendants and their families, most of the bar grievances againt defense counsel get thrown out almost reflexively by the state bar. Do you have information that would back up your assertion?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:20, I meant by comparison to prosecutors. I have no data to back it up, but I occasionally hear of defense counsel disciplined while for prosecutors, almost never. Actually, I'd love to see stats on the subject. That could be a misconception on my part just because more grievances are filed against them.

Anonymous said...

If this prosecutor can do all of this and not even get as much as a slap on the wrist, WHAT IN THE HELL ARE ALL THE OTHER PROSECUTORS GETTING AWAY WITH?????

Time to reign in the TDCAA bunch! For too long law enforcement and prosecution have brother-in-lawed each other at the legislature. They continue to go unchecked due to their tremendous lobbying power and bullshit "tough on crime" rhetoric.

Its been a number of years back but Texas Monthly covered a bunch of death row stories that absolutely turned the stomach. One account told of a sheriff, defense attorney, and prosecutor who framed up an oilfield man for arson. While in the jail he was given psychotropic drugs for back pain???? Prosecutor pointed out how emotionless the offender was all through the trial knowing full well it was the medication. The defense attorney worked for the prosecutors law office before/after term in office... offender sat on death row for a number of years before another inmate confessed to the crime. Don't think anything happened there either.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to post this as anonymous this time, much as I hate to. The criminal behavior of Anderson and Bradley likely had a direct impact on my family. Had they not essentially framed Morton and conducted a real investigation, then just maybe Debra Masters Baker would be alive today, her kids would not have grown up without a mother, and unspeakable pain and suffering avoided. The likely suspect killed 3 people up to 1988. Are there more Michael Mortons in prison, convicted for this guy's crimes? The investigation into Williamson County needs to thorough and out of the control of Bradley. I think it is time for a petition campaign directed at Buck files. Thank you so much for that email address. Perfect! I'm also contacting the good folks at the Innocence Project with our information. The rot of Williamson County needs to be cut out.

Anonymous said...

Since 1973, a staggering 138 people in 26 States have been set free from wrongful convictions because of bad prosecutors like former Smith County district attorney Jack Skeen, now a seated State District Judge in Tyler overseeing 'justice" (see Kerry Max Cook and Chasing Justice), Charles Sebesta (Burleson County case of Anthony Graves), and now, the case of John Bradley (Michael Morton Williamson County).

Police and prosecutorial misconduct is rewarded in America. The US Supreme Court endorses it. The only members of the legal profession ever sanctioned for it are criminal defense attorneys.

Kerry Max Cook versus prosecutors and police in Smith County, Tyler, Texas is said to be the worse example of documented police and prosecutorial misconduct in Texas history. At the height of an incredible intense investigative run by the Dallas Morning News publicizing the horrendous prosecutorial misconduct that was responsible for my own wrongful conviction and near execution, the Texas Bar Association awarded my prosecutor "Prosecutor of the Year." Later, Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to a State district judge position overseeing justice in Tyler.

Outside organizations such as the Innocence Project, Centurion Ministries and localized university law clinics have ended thousands of years of wrongful convictions and imprisonment. Yet, when commentator Brian Williams asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry whether he's lost any sleep over the record number of executions in his state - - 234-plus - - he responded "Not at all."

Until America's Jails and prisons can incarcerate more than just the guilty and the wrongly convicted who are only in prison to start with because of prosecutorial misconduct - - people will continue to suffer wrongful arrest, trials, indictments, convictions, and long prison stays....perhaps even executions.

We as a society do not hold police and prosecutors to the same legal standards we hold other suspected criminals to. Based on the facts as I read them today, prosecutors like John Bradley, Charles Sebesta and Jack Skeen are just as much a criminal as those they prosecuted who turned out completely innocent. The only difference between is and the men that prosecuted us is, they can prosecute, get it wrong and punish us without consequences.

From a death row cell I read these words to the Preamble of the Texas Penal Code, Article 2.01:These sacred words are found in the Texas Penal Code, and they read, in part:

"....It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict, but to see that justice is done. They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused...."

Until we hold corrupt Texas prosecutors to the same legal standards we hold other suspected of criminal activity, these words will continue to without meaning.

Kerry Cook said...

The preamble to the Texas State Penal Code, Article 2.01, reds, in part:

“ …It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict, but to see that justice is done. They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused….”

F.R. "Buck" Files is the new President of the Texas State Bar Association

In my award-winning book, CHASING JUSTICE, I detailed a rich history of mind-boggling, well documented, judicially acknowledged police and prosecutorial misconduct - - police & prosecutorial misconduct so severe, it is said to be the worst in Texas history. In fact, famed author John Grisham writes for the cover of my book saying, "If it were fiction, no one would believe it...."

The State Bar of Texas can hold prosecutors who violate the law or legal ethics accountable. State law says "The prosecutor in a criminal case shall make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense."

Who is the president of the Texas Star Bar association overseeing justice for prosecutors today? A man from Tyler, Texas named F.R. “Buck” Files. Those of you who may have read my book CHASING JUSTICE will recognize the name Buck Files easily: he represented the murder victim’s 45-year-old married ex-boyfriend in the rape and murder of Linda Edwards...the same man the DNA belonged to, tested 22 years later whom Files claimed was innocent and that I was guilty.

This is who now holds the distinguished title of President over the State Bar of Texas.

If I were to petition the State Bar of Texas to look into the enormity of the documented police and prosecutorial misconduct responsible for my 1977 arrest, grand jury indictment, and executi8on date, and nearly three more capital murder trials later kicked out the backdoor of Smith County still with a conviction, this is who I would have to ask to help me…the murderer’s lawyer of 34 years.

Anonymous said...

Tyler, TX. is the Evil Empire of Texas Justice. Why is Files, Skeen, Bingham, Clark and their team of consciousless crooks allowed to continue their illegal rein and are not behind bars?