Sunday, January 19, 2020

Margaret Moore's self inflicted wounds

Is it just me, or is Travis County DA Margaret Moore behaving like someone who really doesn't want votes in a Democratic primary? She started out her re-election campaign facing serious criticism on the first item below, but the rest seem like self-inflicted wounds.

Serious criticisms of record handling sexual-assault cases
A lawsuit by sexual assault survivors, supported by Austin firefighters, claims indifference by her office: This is easily the most damaging complaint against her, as one of her principle opponents, Erin Martinson, is running nearly exclusively on this issue and has proven quite formidable. Moore digs the hole deeper, though, by responding defensively on the stump and eliding the core complaints. Here's her written response to the allegations in the Austin Chronicle.

Regressive stance on innocence case
Moore wants to retry Rosa Jimenez, an Austin babysitter convicted of murdering a toddler in her care, despite four federal judges having declared she is likely innocent and should be released. After a federal magistrate judge dressed down the DA's office in open court, expect this to become a growing problem for her campaign. UPDATE: More on this case here.

Out of step with party on pot prosecutions
Moore says she supports pot legalization, but when Austin announced plans to move ahead with a local decrim policy, she hyperventilated on Fox claiming violent crime is rising and it's pot related, without providing specifics. How does she imagine such horse hockey will fly in an Austin Democratic primary?

DA of Death
Moore is the only candidate in the race who supports the death penalty: Not only that, on the stump she goes out of her way to suggest hypotheticals when she'd use it, for reasons I can't grasp. In a general election, or a different county, that might be fine. But in a Democratic primary in Austin, she's not saying things the base wants to hear. If I were her consultant, I'd tell her candidate forums aren't law-school class, stick to describing your record. Grits attended a DA candidate forum held by the Circle C Democrats, who later endorsed Erin Martinson. The crowd responded negatively to Moore's answers on the death penalty question.

Opposition to counsel for indigent defendants at bail hearings
Moore does not support making sure people have defense attorneys at magistration hearings where bail is set, even though prosecutors can be there. A federal judge in Galveston County issued an order requiring attorneys be provided to indigent defendants at that stage, and in Dallas and Harris County, judges ordered hearings within 48 hours if bail was required and a defendant couldn't pay. So, reading tea leaves, when the dust finally settles around bail-reform litigation in the 5th Circuit, there's a strong likelihood providing lawyers at magistration will be mandatory, not optional. Declining to do the right thing until you're forced to do so is a bad look.*

That's a lot of attack fodder available to Moore's two challengers. When the campaign started, Grits thought Moore would be hard to beat. Now, I'm wondering if she'll even limp into a runoff!

*CORRECTION: The original version of this post misstated details of bail-reform orders in Dallas and Harris Counties and has been corrected. See the comment section for details.


Alex Bunin said...

Scott, I am with you that defense lawyers at initial bail hearings are coming to a county near you. However, except for the federal Lawsuit in Galveston, in which I was an expert witness, no federal court has held it is required. Counties like Harris and Bexar did it voluntarily, albeit in light of litigation over money bail. It was not even a demand in ODonnell, which is why the Fifth Circuit said nothing about it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Alex, sorry to have misstated it. I misremembered what they did in Dallas. Instead of requiring attorneys at magistration, it was a hearing if they were denied there. From the Dallas News:

"In his temporary order, Godbey told Dallas County it must provide suspects booked at its jail with an individual hearing within 48 hours if a magistrate judge doesn't release them after they've indicated they cannot afford bail. He also ordered that if the magistrate declines at that hearing to lower the bail from a predetermined amount, then a suspect must get another hearing to appeal that decision — this time before a misdemeanor or felony judge."

That said, I thought that the part of the order to release 85% of misdemeanor defendants in Harris was to *avoid* providing attorneys at magistration. So I guess I was completely confused!

Alex Bunin said...

You are just ahead of your time. Ultimately, everyone whom the state seeks to detain will have a lawyer before that decision is made by a magistrate or judge. You are correct that the effect of amended Harris County Local Rule 9, for our misdemeanor courts, means that most misdemeanor defendants will simply not need a hearing to be released without paying bail. However, even those persons have the opportunity to speak to one of our lawyers, who work at the Joint Processing Center (jail), 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.