Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Don't let the distractions fool you

State District Judge Susan Brown has decided not to compel Assistant Harris County District Attorney Rachel Palmer to answer questions from a grand jury investigating HPD's trouble BATmobile program. The decision means that the special prosecutors in charge of the investigation can either offer Ms. Palmer immunity to testify or proceed without her testimony.

As my colleague Mark Bennett so eloquently wrote the other day, if Ms. Palmer were going to testify, that testimony would be immunized, either by act of the special prosecutor or through the Fifth Amendment's prohibition on forced self-incrimination.

Jim Mount, one of the special prosecutors, should grant Ms. Palmer immunity in exchange for her testimony. That will put Ms. Palmer in the position of either testifying or risking being jailed for contempt.

The question still remains whether Ms. Palmer was protecting her own backside or trying to protect someone higher up the food chain at 1201 Franklin.

Ms. Palmer's grand conspiracy theory from Monday's proceedings may give us a hint at the answer. On Monday, during a hearing on her motion to recuse Judge Brown, Ms. Palmer claimed that Judge Susan Brown, her husband, Judge Marc Brown and special prosecutor Stephen St. Martin were engaged in a conspiracy to unseat Harris County DA Pat Lykos.  As an aside, Ms. Palmer is married to local GOP bigwig Don Hooper.

Ms. Palmer, and the cabal in the DA's office, want you to believe that the entire investigation is politically motivated. They want to distract your attention from the ways in which prosecutors in Harris County violated the Constitution and the due process rights of people charged with driving while intoxicated. They don't want you to focus on the junk science behind the breath test machine. They don't want you to pay attention to Brady violations. They certainly don't want you to think about state experts committing perjury on the stand when testifying as to the reliability of the breath test machines in the vans.

Perhaps someone on the sixth floor of the Harris County Criminal (In)justice Center needs a refresher course in the special ethical responsibilities of a prosecutor - namely, to see that justice is done.

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