Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Special prosecutor in Michael Morton court of inquiry is Rusty Hardin

The stakes for Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson just got a lot higher with this news, via the Texas Tribune:
Houston criminal defense lawyer Rusty Hardin will be the special prosecutor in the court of inquiry looking into possible misconduct in the case of Michael Morton, who was wrongfully convicted in 1987 of bludgeoning his wife to death.

This won't be Hardin's first high-profile case. The former Harris County prosecutor has represented Roger Clemens, J. Howard Marshall's estate in the Anna Nicole Smith lawsuit, and, during the Enron scandal, accounting firm Arthur Andersen.

Tarrant County state district Judge Louis Sturns will lead a court of inquiry to investigate allegations of criminal prosecutorial misconduct against former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, who saw to the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton. 
Hardin is a major-league legal talent, a respected crime victims' advocate, and a man widely recognized as one of the top criminal-law attorneys in Texas. If Judge Anderson wasn't taking the Court of Inquiry process seriously before - and that's been my sense - you can bet your bottom dollar he is now. As Patti Hart at the Houston Chronicle pointed out, "A former Harris County prosecutor, Hardin is no stranger to taking on public officials. In 2009, he represented a woman who accused former U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent of sexual harassment. Kent was impeached and sent to prison." This Court of Inquiry is shaping up to be quite a dramatic event.

MORE: From Pam Colloff at Texas Monthly.


Lee said...

Payback is a @&%$#! In the end justice will come full circle.

Hook Em Horns said...

Rusty Hardin is an excellent choice.

Anonymous said...

I hope he hangs Bradley and Anderson. Both need to rot in prison.

Anonymous said...

This court of inquiry cant send anyone to prison. But, Hardin won't be cutting Ken Anderson any slack. I hope Anderson's career is over.

Brandon W. Barnett said...

This should make for quite an interesting case indeed.

Anonymous said...

Scott, what is the worst that could happen to Anderson if it's found that he did indeed withhold evidence that would have exonerated Morton?

The way I understand this inquiry is that it's just a fact-finding type of court, and that there would need to be evidence that Anderson willfully withheld evidence before the next step, which would be a presentation of the information gathered here to a grand jury which could then decide to issue a criminal indictment, is this correct?

Although I don't believe the bar would do so, could the bar hold a hearing on Anderson's license if it had evidence that he withheld evidence?

Also, how was Hardin chosen and who is paying for what must be a very high salary?

Sorry, but I think too much may be being made of this, and that ultimately nothing will happen, and certainly no one will be punished except maybe at the polls.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anon 6:45, I believe Judge Sturns appointed Hardin, but I don't know about the payment status.

As for what happens if they find evidence of a crime, this is all basically uncharted territory. The Texas Tribune did a "Texplainer" column on courts of inquiry and had this to say on the subject:

"If the court of inquiry finds probable cause to believe that Anderson committed criminal misconduct, the case would probably be referred to a prosecutor’s office and heard by a grand jury in district court, said former Travis County District Judge Charlie Baird, who has presided over courts of inquiry. But it’s not clear what the outcome would be if Anderson were found guilty of withholding evidence."

So you may be right. ¿Quien sabe? But it sure puts the issue of prosecutorial misconduct on the front burner throughout 2012 while the COI is going on.

ckikerintulia said...

What will happen? I'm certainly no expert, but I know what happened in the Tulia thing. Coleman was indicted for perjury by a Swisher County grand jury, and convicted in a trial in Lubbock. The jury said seven years, probation. Since the maximum sentence for the crime was ten years, the judge extended the probation to ten years. That will be up in a couple more years.

Many thought that Coleman should have done time; under a system of retributive justice, he should have. But the world would not necessarily be a better place if Coleman had done three or four years in prison, then paroled.

He suffered pretty severe consequence really. Can never be a police officer again. Cannot be in possession of a fire arm during his probation which will soon be up.

Others involved got off lightly. The DA was investigated by Texas Bar Assn., and got a one year license revocation, probated. So he could continue to practice law. He did lose his next election bid, but that was probably due more to a DUI in New Mexico than to any of his Tulia misdeeds.

The judge got off scot free, and continues to be elected.

The sheriff was allowed to rehabilitate his testimony in the Coleman trial, and avoided a possible perjury rap. He has since retired, and is prominent in his church.

In view of all this, I would expect that the worst that would happen to Anderson would be indictment by a grand jury, and, if convicted, would probably lose his license. I doubt if he does any time.

But I have been known on rare occasions to be mistaken. I could be again.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Lord help us, Rev, Ed Self is still in office? I had no idea. Thanks for that recitation of the Tulia outcomes. There were more folks held accountable in officialdom out of that case than any other Texas LE scandal in my adult lifetime, and though the innocent were freed, holding those accountable who put them there wasn't the system's strong suit.

That said, if the issues in Morton were aired publicly at the COI and the result was that Anderson is convicted of a misdemeanor, loses his license, etc., that would at least signal that there's some deterrent to such behaviors - that they're not entirely without personal consequence, which so often seems to be the case.

And, of course, perhaps just as likely, Anderson could air the issues at the COI and prevail. Judges Harle and Sturns thought there was enough to move forward, but the evidence hasn't been fully vetted yet nor the statute of limitations issues addressed.

Even if the COI does result in criminal charges and a conviction, I too doubt Anderson will "do time" and truthfully, the world would be no safer if he did. He needs to get knocked off the bench - whether by the justice system, the Commission on Judicial Conduct, or the voters - and if the state bar is going to start taking discipline more seriously for prosecutors' Brady violations, this would be a good one to start with. But IMO there's no benefit from an eye-for-an-eye approach here, he just needs to not be presiding over more cases, as of yesterday.

Arachne646 said...

Truly, the best thing about these kind of proceedings is the facts they unearth about what has gone on in the case or cases. This can, temporarily at least, clue the public in to the existence of wrongful convictions, make the system work more closely to the way it's supposed to, and, hopefully, give the wrongfully convicted some ammunition for a lawsuit for recompense of some of his monetary losses.

Anonymous said...

If Anderson did actually conceal exculpatory evidence and that resulted in this miscarriage, as a lot of people believe he actually did, then he should have some penalty beyond just losing his office. A monetary penalty, public disgrace and the loos of his law license would be a start.

The real crime could have taken place years after the conviction. If there was a conspiracy between Bradley and Anderson over the last several years to suppress the evidence maybe someone should look seriously at 18 USC 241. Realize it's a long shot but I think it could apply.

Anonymous said...

If evidence was knowingly withheld would obstruction of justice and/or official oppression apply. Certainly official oppression could be considered "ongoing" thus within the statute of limitations.

benbshaw said...

If Jail time results from the conviction if a prosecutor is found guilty of intentionally failing to disclosure exculpatory evidence for the defendant would be a good deterrent from this kind of misconduct.

I always find it shocking when those brainwashed in the two-tier system of Justice we have in this country suggest that loss of office, loss of status, or even loss of one's primary means of making a living such as revocation of a law license is punishment enough for the rich and powerful, but insufficient for the "common" criminal.

Many of those who post here who are self-identified as employees in the criminal law system in Texas, show no understanding of the primary duty of the District Attorney, which is to ensure that Justice is done, not to win convictions on anyone arrested by the police.

Th failure of the Grand Jury system in Texas, which is also supposed to protect against false charges, to act independently of the District Attorney is also a key component in why the Michael Morton tragedy occurred. Anyone serving on the grand jury should ask to see all admissible evidence the District Attorney has in his or her possession.

ckikerintulia said...

Yeah Grits, Ed Self is still hizzoner. Paul Holloway ran against him in 2010 and got nowhere.

Anonymous said...

8:01, had I been one of those victims in Tulia everyone would still be talking about me and the horrible atrocities I committed on all who were responsible. If you ever heard the term "fish bait", you would understand. I would have it on videotape which I would have then distributed everywhere. THAT, would have made a difference. These monsters need to know there is retribution for their crimes, and they have no idea how lucky they were that I wasn't one of those framed.