Monday, August 1, 2011

Texas Three Step

STEP ONE - LET'S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF (or Who Cares If He Was Innocent?)

That's Cameron Todd Willingham, of course.
I'm not going to review the whole sordid mess in detail here, just the quick and dirty by bullet point.
  • Convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die for setting a fire that killed his kids.
  • Evidence that the fire was set is pure junk.  Science says there's no evidence of arson.  As in none.
  • Executed anyway.
  • When he signed off on the killing, Gov. (and presumed presidential candidate) Perry had the information before him about the junk science but chose to ignore it.
  • More investigation makes public aware that there's essentially no evidence of murder.
  • Texas Legislature sets up Forensic Science Commission to investigate shit like that.
  • Just as Commission is set for hearing on Willingham case, Perry replaces three members, including the chair.
  • New chair, John Bradley, calls off hearing.  Rewrites Commission rules to prevent any investigation.  Commission eventually rebels.
  • Hearing is held after Perry is relected (which seems to have been the point) and surprise, experts say what we knew - no evidence of arson.  State brings in a lawyer to say that in his opinion there sure was.
Do you reopen cases?  Do you issue a real report on Willingham?  Do you admit killing an innocent guy?  Do you admit there's at least a chance you did?
Or do you get the Attorney General to issue an opinion saying that Commission could investigate the case but couldn't look at the evidence?
Alan Turner, writing in the Houston Chronicle, notes that current Commission chair, Dr. Nazim Peerwani, doesn't know for sure what will happen next.
"We will debate what impact the opinion has on Willingham at our meeting in September," he said. "It's something we will collectively decide."
Bradley, who was ousted from the chairship by the legislature, knows the right answer.
"I'm not on the commission, so I don't know what it will do," he said, adding that, given Abbott's ruling, moving forward with the investigation "would really threaten the rule of law."
He meant to say the Law of Rule.  Or maybe the Law of Cover-Up.  But then, like Humpty Dumpty, when he uses a word 
it means just what [he] choose[s] it to mean -- neither more nor less.
OK, maybe less.

Paul Kennedy has more on this.

STEP TWO - YOU'RE BREAKING MY HEART (or "It's real lives we are dealing with")
Last week, Rufus Sito Nanez, III lost his appeal.
Nanez had appealed his conviction on two counts of aggravated sexual assault.  His claim was that his trial lawyer was a grotesque incompetent.  The court of appeals disagreed.  Actually, it didn't just disagree.  It excoriated him and his appellate counsel.
Counsel is not ineffective simply because he did not do that which his accuser thought he should have done.   Nor is he legally deficient simply because some attorney who enjoys the benefit of hindsight and cool reflection would have taken a different tact.   Indeed, appellate counsel should not only recognize what is required by law but also use caution when calling someone ineffective.   Those before us today should heed that admonishment when next they think about invoking the theory.   Unfounded and undeveloped accusations like those uttered at bar needlessly belittle their human target and do little to serve a client's interests.   It “ain't” a game folks;  it's real lives we are dealing with.
Well, yeah.
But the lives at issue aren't the lives of the lawyers.  They're the lives of the defendants. 
The opinion in Nanez was written by Justice Quinn.  He's been down this road before.  In fact, he cites  an opinion he wrote in 1998 making the same point.
Claims of ineffective assistance seem to be the newest tactic in the criminal defense arsenal. They are increasingly being offered as a means of attacking the judgment. Yet, it has been our experience that very, very few have any semblance of probative value. Instead, appellants have ignored the admonishment that hindsight and perfection are not the test and have taken to castigating counsel for not doing what they would have done if they were lucky enough to have a record of the completed trial before them. It is enough that attorneys have become the butt of disrespect and incessant jokes within the public eye. But, to have attorneys attack attorneys on utterly baseless grounds, like here, where appellant does not even attempt to question the evidence of his guilt, is unacceptable.
OK, got it now.  You can only claim your lawyer was a fuck up if you're factually innocent.
Otherwise we might be concerned about, say, fair trials.

STEP THREE - GOODNIGHT IRENE (or Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out)
Killer Keller is running for Chief Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  Why not?  She wasn't actually censured or removed from office or defrocked or anything.  And there are still doors to slam, so her work isn't done.
If she wins the election this year and serves her full term, she'll have been CJ longer than anyone else in Texas history.  Enough.
From Grits.
Judge Larry Meyers - usually a member of the Keller-Hervey pro-prosecution wing of the CCA - has decided to run against Sharon Keller as presiding judge in 2012 in the Republican primary.
I'm not sure there's actually a wing of the court that isn't "pro-prosecution," but I get the point.  You wouldn't expect it of Meyers.
Meyers' challenge comes from a judge who's sided with Keller on most topics - and even went on a damage-control tour with the media on her behalf at the height of her troubles - but who now appears to have had enough of her. 
According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, there's nothing personal or even substantive here.  Meyers just thinks it's time for a change.
The normal term for this position is 8-10 years. As such, it is time to rotate the presiding judgeship on our Court.
More to keep a eye on.

As they like to say down there, 
It's a Whole 'Nother Country.

No comments:

Post a Comment