Friday, March 30, 2018

Two cities. Two men. Two killings.

Stephon Clark and Danny Ray Thomas didn't know each other. They lived hundreds of miles apart. Mr. Clark lived in Sacramento and Mr. Thomas lived in Houston.

But they were both black and they were both killed at the hands of police officers.

Police in Sacramento suspected Mr. Clark of breaking into cars. Deputies in a helicopter said they spotted the a man who resembled the uspect in a backyard and that he appeared to be trying to break into the house. That man was Stephon Clark and that backyard was his backyard.

Police approached. They told Mr. Clark to raise his hands. He did. He then began moving toward the officers. Thinking the cell phone he held in his hand was a gun, officers fired more than 20 shots and then waited five minutes before seeing if Mr. Clark was alive.

He was unarmed. He was shot and killed in his own backyard because someone in a helicopter thought he resembled a person who had been breaking the windows of cars. He was murdered by police for a a crime - which even if he committed - didn't warrant the death penalty.

Danny Ray Thomas was wandering down Greens Road in northwest Houston with his pants down to his ankles, talking to himself and hitting cars with his fist as they passed by. A deputy sheriff saw what was happening, stopped and ordered Mr. Thomas to stand still. Mr. Thomas continued to walk toward the deputy who then shot and killed Mr. Thomas in the middle of the street.

The deputy claims that Mr. Thomas had something in his hand at the time of the encounter but no gun was found.

He was unarmed. He was shot and killed in the middle of the street because he was engaging in bizarre behavior. He was murdered by a sheriff's deputy for a crime that didn't warrant the death penalty.

I'm sure there will be people who will read this and argue that the police weren't to blame for these deaths. They will claim that both men placed themselves in danger by their actions.

But that's not even the point. The police aren't driving into predominantly white neighborhoods and shooting white people at the slightest provocation. If that were the case then the wingnuts and wealthy folks living in gated communities would be out in the streets rioting. But so long as the victims of these killings are black, apologists for the police will look for any little fact to justify a cop putting a bullet in an unarmed black man.

Who ever said Jim Crow was dead?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

What accountability?

On July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling was murdered on the sidewalk in front of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Everyone knew the name of the man who had shot and killed him.

Now, after 20 months and an exhaustive investigation by Louisiana Department of Justice (talk about your oxymorons), Blaine Salamoni will not be charged with killing Mr. Sterling.

Blaine Salamoni is a police officer with the Baton Rouge Police Department. On the evening of July 5, Officer Salamoni and his partner, Howie Lake II, were dispatched to the Triple S Food Mart where a person claimed that Mr. Sterling had threatened him with a gun. Within 20 seconds of arriving on the scene, Officer Salamoni pulled his weapon.

While Officer Howe subdued Mr. Sterling, Officer Salamoni fired six bullets into Mr. Sterling's body - killing him. The officers were cleared by the Department of Justice last July but were still waiting to find out if any charges would be filed against them.

State Attorney General Jeff Landry said that the process was a long one and that the decision was not made lightly.

Let's see. If the police witness a shooting or come across a scene shortly after a shooting, the person they suspect of the shooting is getting cuffed and driven to the county jail. The prosecutor will recommend that charges be filed and will tell all who will listen that he will let the criminal justice system run its course. But when that shooter is a cop then it takes months, if not years, to investigate all with the hope that some other event will distract public attention away from the shooting. Meanwhile the officer gets a paid vacation while the target of his ire is left lying on a slab in the morgue.

The process is designed to find a reason, any reason, NOT to charge the officer with a criminal offense. An ordinary citizen is rarely, if ever, given the same consideration.

Meanwhile the killling continues.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Alabama calls off execution

Doyle Lee Hamm, who survived Alabama's attempt to execute him last month, will not face another date with the executioner.

After last month's botched execution, in which medical personnel poked and stuck Mr. Hamm in the arms, legs and groin in a desperate attempt to find a vein into which they could pump a lethal dose of drugs before giving up the ghost, Mr. Hamm filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state.

This morning, Mr. Hamm and the State of Alabama reached an agreement by which a new execution date will not be set in exchange for Mr. Hamm dropping his lawsuit against the state.

For those not familiar with the case, Mr. Hamm is now 61 years old and has cancer. He was sentenced to death for the murder of hotel clerk Patrick Cunningham back in 1987. On February 22, 2018, Mr. Hamm was scheduled to be murdered by the state. For two-and-a-half hours medical personnel stuck him with needles in vain because his veins had deteriorated from chemotherapy treatments and from years of drug use.

Mr. Hamm wasn't the first inmate tortured by the state in an attempt to kill and he won't be the last. Luckily for him he had Columbia law professor Bernard Harcourt working tirelessly in his corner. May the next person in Mr. Hamm's position be so lucky.

See also:

Cooper, Stephen, "Fighting the death penalty with James Baldwin," Montgomery Advertiser (3/22/18)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Execution Watch: 03/27/2018

Tomorrow night the State of Texas will murder...

ROSENDO RODRIGUEZ, III. Mr. Rodriguez was condemned for the 2005 slaying of a pregnant woman in Lubbock. Before sentencing his mother and sister pleaded with the jury to spare his life. They described a childhood filled with physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father. Mr. Rodriguez has alleged that his defense attorneys were inadequate at trial. He attended Texas Tech University and was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. He also confessed to the killing of a 16 year old woman.



Unless a stay is issued, Execution Watch will broadcast live:
Tuesday, March 27, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT-FM Houston 90.1, HD 3 or online at:

Friday, March 23, 2018

Oklahoma to change its method of execution

In the never-ending saga of state's trying to find ways to kill inmates, the state of Oklahoma has announced that it will being using inert gas since it's no longer able to obtain the drugs it uses for lethal injection. As a result of their inability to obtain the drugs, Oklahoma has had an execution moratorium in effect since 2015.

According to Joe Allbaugh, the director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, his office will spend the next 90 to 120 days preparing the documents for the protocol. It would then be up to the Attorney General, Mike Hunter, to approve the protocol.

Last April the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission issued a report calling for the moratorium to remain in place until such time as the state reformed its death penalty process. The commission also called for the use of a one-drug barbiturate for future executions.

Mr. Hunter is on board with inert gas as the agent of death. Use of inert gas would bypass the need for physicians to prescribe or administer lethal doses of drugs to inmates. The gas would also be easy to obtain. According to Mr. Hunter, a person who is exposed to an excessive amount of inert gas would experience fatigue, dizziness, loss of consciousness and then death. He claims the use of inert gas would be "the safest, best and most effective" way to kill inmates.

However, in its Guidelines for the Euthansia of Animals, the American Veterinary Medical Association says that the use of nitrogen for the killing of turkeys, chickens and pigs is effective but that it's not appropriate for other mammals. According to the AVMA, inert gases "create an anoxic environment that is distressing for some species."

No one from the state has ever conducted any kind of testing to determine how to deliver the lethal dose of nitrogen. Or whether it should be released gradually or all at one.

But that's not going to stop Oklahoma. Despite conducting very little research, the legislature passed a bill authorizing the use of nitrogen in executions. Why? Because it's available and it's cheap.

The problem with changing the method of execution from lethal injection to inert gas is that there's no effective means of testing the method. The other problem is that when methods are changed it's generally to make the death penalty more palatable for the public.

Regardless of how "humane" you want to make the mode of execution, the fact remains we are still talking about killing people in the name of the state. As we continue to see folks  exonerated on the basis of new evidence or prosecutorial misconduct, the notion that there are adequate safeguards in place to prevent an innocent man from being executed is naive.

See also:

Hager, Eli "Why Oklahoma plans to execute people with nitrogen," ABA Journal (March 16, 2018)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Captains (not so) courageous

Let me just say it now, politicians, by and large, are not the most courageous folks out there. In fact they are pretty downright cowardly because they are too scared of pissing off small groups of voters.

It's only once a politician decides (or, as you will see later, has it decided for them) to leave public office that they regain the ability to speak what they believe. We've seen it with Republican congressmen who wouldn't criticize Donald Trump until after they announced their retirement from office.

In Harris County right wing political organizations in the northwestern part of the county seem to rule the roost when it comes to primary elections. These groups publish "slates" of candidates for their wingnut readers to vote for. Most of these groups put their endorsement for sale to the highest bidder. Others "sell" their endorsement to the candidate that toes their line.

These newsletter endorsements are important for any budding Republican officeholder in Harris County since very few folks in the electorate have the slightest idea who any of the judicial candidates are - and most don't care so long as they have an R after their name on the ballot.

Jay Karahan has been the judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 8 since 2003. As a result of this month's primary election, he will no longer be a judge come January 1. Over the past 16 years he has been involved in primary and general electoral politics in Harris County. He knows how the game is played. And not once in the past 16 years has he stood up and complained about the way the Republicans decide who will represent them in the general election.

At least not until now.

In his guest column in Big Jolly Times (a local wingnut blog), Judge Karahan goes off on the backroom politics that determine who gets endorsed and who doesn't. He states in his piece that he wrote it long before he lost his primary election, but it never saw the light of day until after the smoke had cleared.

There is much merit in what he has to say and there is much to criticize about kingmakers who demand that judicial candidates kowtow to their right wing views instead of following the law. But why are we only seeing this after Judge Karahan has been retired by the wealthy whites up in the northwestern suburbs of Houston?

The outrage he feels is real, but it comes across as sour grapes after a defeat.

And now we have the story going around that Gov. Greg Abbott was opposed to the bathroom bill that wingut Republicans were pushing during the last legislative session. Funny how the guv'nor never came out and said he was against the bill. You see, that would have taken courage. That would have required going against the wingnuts and Teabaggers who dominate the Republican party in Texas. So Gov. Abbott apparently decided to keep it on the down low. But then, how would he explain placing the bill on the agenda for the special legislative session that summer. Something just isn't adding up.

If you want to be an agent for change, you have to be willing to stand up and be castigated for what you say. You have to be willing to go down in flames at the polls if that's the price to be paid for being true to yourself. Colin Kaepernick made a decision to protest against police violence and brutality. That decision cost him his career.

His decision to take that knee was courageous. Exposing the dirty underbelly of local politics after losing an election isn't.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Let them eat cake

There's a very strange law in Alabama that allows a sheriff to pocket the money not spent from the inmate food account. In other words, if a sheriff can feed the inmates in his jail for less than what he's given to spend, he gets to do whatever he wants to with the rest.

In Etowah County, inmates are lucky to get meat once a month or so. More often than not their meals consist of beans and vegetables.

Meanwhile the sheriff, Todd Entrekin, and his wife own properties worth almost two million dollars, including a $740,000 home in Orange Beach.

The good sheriff says he's just following the law and if people don't like it, they can go ask the legislature to change it.
“As you should be aware, Alabama law is clear as to my personal financial responsibilities in the feeding of inmates. Regardless of one’s opinion of this statute, until the legislature acts otherwise, the sheriff must follow the current law.” -- Todd Entrekin
This is nothing but old fashioned graft with the blessing of the legislature. Taxpayer money funds the inmate food accounts. That taxpayer money then finds its way directly into the pockets of a sheriff with an incentive to provide inmates with the least expensive meals possible. Sheriff Entrekin's claims that he has consulted with a nutritionist about the meals he serves doesn't change the analysis.

The fact that he wants us to believe that he is duty-bound to do what he's doing demonstrates either that Sheriff Entrekin is delusional or that he doesn't give a fuck about what happens to the people in the Etowah County Jail.

Over the past three years Sheriff Entrekin has pocketed more than $750,000 from the inmate food account. This is on top of his annual salary of $93,000. That's right, over the last three years he has made almost three times his salary by cutting inmate meals to the bone. Those figures alone should tell you all you need to know about the way things work down in Alabama.

There is no good reason that the person in charge of the jail should have a personal financial incentive to cut corners when it comes to feeding the inmates. There is no good reason why taxpayer money not spent on meals should end up in the sheriff's bank account.

As a postscript, the person who brought this to light was arrested and is now in the Etowah County Jail.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Did Georgia just murder an innocent man?

On Thursday night the State of Georgia likely executed a man who was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted.

Carlton Gary died after suffering a lethal overdose of compounded pentobarbital at the hands of the state.

In 1986, Mr. Gary was convicted of the 1977 murders and rapes of three elderly white women in Columbus, Georgia. He was suspected of seven murders and rapes during an 8-month period between September 1977 and April 1978. He was dubbed the Stocking Strangler.

One of the witnesses against him was 71 year-old Gertrude Miller who was raped in her house but someone survived the attempted strangling. She testified that Mr. Gary turned on the light in her bedroom while raping her and that allowed her to identify him. It turns out that in Ms. Miller's first account of the rape there was nothing said about the light being turned on. She told police she didn't know if her rapist was white or black. She later identified another man as her rapist before trial.

Even though he was not charged with the rape of Ms. Miller, then District Attorney, Bill Smith, told the jury that the same man had committed all seven rapes. He told the jury that the reason Mr. Gary was charged with only three of the murders is because there were only three houses in which his fingerprints were (supposedly) found. As it turned out, this was a very dubious claim.

However, when, years after his conviction, the sheets from Ms. Miller's bed were tested, the DNA recovered from those sheets was not a match for Mr. Gary. So, if we believe the state's theory of the case, either Carlton Gary wasn't the stocking strangler or the stocking strangler didn't rape Ms. Miller.

But that's okay, said the state. You see, Mr. Gary wasn't on trial for raping Ms. Miller so whether it was his semen on her sheets or not, it didn't prove his innocence.

Oh, but then there was that semen sample taken from the sheets of one of the women whom Mr. Gary was convicted of raping and murdering that had never been tested. But in 2010 it turns out that the lab analyst who was tasked with testing the sample to determine if it was a match to Mr. Gary's DNA did something that can only be described as bizarre. Using his own semen as a "control," he smeared it over the sample to be tested -- and the test equipment.

I don't know. Maybe he got off on forensic science and came all over the lab at the mere thought of testing such an important piece of evidence. Or maybe he didn't want it tested for whatever reason. Now I can think of a lot of ways to get around the sticky situation of having a sample that doesn't match the DNA specimen you want it to, but smearing your own semen over the slide is a new one to me.

Prior to that episode, in 2009, when Mr. Gary was first scheduled to be killed, his attorneys sought a court order to test biological evidence from the original trial only to be told by prosecutors that all such evidence had been destroyed because it was a biohazard. But that didn't exactly turn out to be true.

After the "discovery" of the evidence, the state fought tooth and nail to prevent it from being tested. And why might the state object to the testing of evidence? Maybe because they are more interested in maintaining a conviction that seeing to it that justice is done? Maybe because once that floodgate opens, there would be more convictions that could be questioned with DNA testing? Maybe because the courtroom isn't the crucible of the truth that we are taught in civics class.

I could also mention that footprints found outside the window of one of the victims were too small to be Mr. Gary's and that bite mark evidence found on one of the victims didn't match his teeth.

But none of this matters anymore, because the State of Georgia said fuck it, we're killing him anyway -- and so they did.

There is no greater tragedy in our criminal (in)justice system than executing an innocent man. It's happened before. It will happen again. And it very likely just happened in Georgia.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

An interesting little read for a Saturday morning

Here's a little something interesting to read related to the use of forensic science to determine just how a woman died. If more so-called forensic experts were interested in what the science actually showed rather than trying to help the state make its case, we'd all be better off.

Click here to read about how the death of an elderly woman in an Indiana barn was solved by spots.

h/t Deandra Grant

Friday, March 16, 2018

Consequences, what consequences?

Alfred Brown spent a decade of his life on death row in Texas before he was exonerated by phone records found in a detective's garage in 2013. What makes this tale more chilling is the fact that the prosecutor who sought the death penalty in Mr. Brown's 2005 trial for the murder of Houston Police Officer Charles Clark and store clerk Alfredia Jones was made aware of the phone records prior to trial.

The prosecutor, Dan Rizzo, is now retired.

In 2003, then HPD Officer Breck McDaniel sent Mr. Rizzo an e-mail regarding the telephone records. But neither the e-mail nor the records were produced prior to trial.

After the discovery of the records, the Harris County District Attorney's Office claimed that the failure of the prosecutor to turn over the phone records was inadvertent.

The phone records were important because they corroborated Mr. Brown's alibi that he was at his girlfriend's house at the time of the slayings.

The e-mail to Mr. Rizzo was discovered after Mr. Brown filed suit seeking compensation for his time behind bars as the result of a wrongful conviction. The State of Texas denied him compensation because prosecutors didn't declare him to be actually innocent.

Mr. Rizzo signed an affidavit in 2008 stating that he had not withheld any of the requested phone records from the defense.

The Harris County Criminal Lawyers' Association (of which I am a member) has sent Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg a letter requesting that a special prosecutor investigate whether or not Mr. Rizzo committed any criminal violations in his failure to produce the records and subsequent denials of their existence.

Some defense attorneys have suggested that Mr. Rizzo face a charge of attempted murder - though former District Attorney Johnny Holmes and Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed think that attempted murder would be a stretch.

Well, let's look at that for a bit, shall we?

According to Section 19.02(b) of the Texas Penal Code, the murder statute:
(b) A person commits an offense if he:(1) intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual;(2) intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual;  or(3) commits or attempts to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.
The death certificate of an executed inmate lists homicide as the manner of death. That is murder.

Mr. Rizzo sought the death penalty for Mr. Brown. He asked the jury to sentence Mr. Brown to die. Being strapped down on a gurney while being pumped full of poison would qualify as an "act clearly dangerous to human life."

According to Section 15.01 of the Texas Penal Code:
(a) A person commits an offense if, with specific intent to commit an offense, he does an act amounting to more than mere preparation that tends but fails to effect the commission of the offense intended.
We already know that Mr. Rizzo wanted Alfred Brown to be condemned to die. He tried the case and he asked the jury to return a death sentence. He also failed to turn over the phone records to the defense prior to trial despite having been told of the existence of those records. His failure to produce the records led to the guilty verdict as there was no corroboration of Mr. Brown's alibi without the records.

As I have pointed out numerous times on this blog, a defense lawyer's ethical duty is to provide the best defense he can for his client. His job is to try to win the case - or at least limit the damage to his client. A prosecutor, on the other hand, has an ethical duty to see that justice is done. Mr. Rizzo was trying to win his case. He wasn't interested is seeing that justice was done. He was only interested in obtaining a guilty verdict and a sentence of death.

Mr. Rizzo violated his ethical duties by failing to turn over the phone records. As for attempted murder, if the shoe fits...

Here is the letter from HCCLA President Tucker Graves to Harris County DA Kim Ogg:

   Rizzo-3-12-18 by Paul B. Kennedy on Scribd

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On schemes, whistles and influence-peddling

Poor Jeffrey Wertkin. He had it tough.

He left his job as an attorney with the Justice Department and took a gig with Akin Gump for a cool $450,000 a year. He didn't feel it was enough.

Even though he'd be making three times what he made at the DOJ dealing with whistle-blower suits, his pay would have been on the low end of what partners were making at the time.

And, you know, he's probably right. Akin Gump wasn't paying him $450,000 a year for his brilliant legal mind or his courtroom skills. They were paying him because having a former fed in the firm is good for business. Akin Gump figured that that alone would be enough to get current clients to fork over more money in monthly retainers and to get some new business on board.

But nevermind that. Let's get back to poor little Jeffrey.

He hatched a plan to put more money in his pocket.

His plan was to steal secret whistle-blower suits and sell them back to the companies named in the suits. There were qui tam suits in which a private citizen files suit, on behalf of the government, alleging that a contractor has defrauded the government. In a qui tam suit, the government litigates the suit and the citizen who brought the suit gets a cut of the recovery. These suits are filed under seal and sent to the DOJ for review. The company only finds out they're the target of the suit once it's made public.

Mr. Wertkins idea was to extort money from the targets of the suit in exchange for the sealed documents. I know you're asking yourself, what could possibly go wrong with this scheme.

What went wrong is the feds figured out what was going on. I suspect one of the targeted companies called up the DOJ to ask them what was going on and then one thing led to another.

In the end, Mr. Wertkins was taken into custody in a hotel room wearing sunglasses and a wig and waiting for his money.

When asked why he did it, Mr. Wertkins told the court that he felt under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform for his new employer at a salary that he just didn't think was adequate for his experience and know how. But, then again, no one put a gun to his head and told him to leave his government job for a position as a partner in an actual law firm.

Mr. Wertkins pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. His wife asked the judge if he could avoid prison and just go around to law schools and tell students about his tale of woe. I guess the judge thanked her for her input and just said no.

While the saga of Mr. Wertkins may be amusing to some and might serve as a warning for other less scrupulous attorneys, one thing it highlights is the revolving door in government. White shoe law firms and lobbying firms right over the privilege of hiring attorneys and other government officials when they decide they've had enough of the long hours and low pay that defines government work. These firms then advertise to their existing clients and their potential clients that they have yet another connection to a government agency.

These connections are the lifeblood of these firms and they are the tools by which companies, advocacy groups and others try to influence legislation in ways that help their bottom lines. This is where democracy is undermined.

h/t @CJMcKinney

Monday, March 12, 2018

You're my home

Steven Long was a janitor at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, home of the Seattle Seahawks. As befits many jobs in our society, this one didn't pay Mr. Long enough to afford a place to live. So he lived out of his truck.

In Seattle a car cannot remain parked in the same spot for more than 72 hours (unless I suspect that spot is the driveway of a home). Mr. Long's truck was not in the best of repair and he was unable to move it so it was impounded.

Mr. Long sued the city claiming that because he was living out of his truck, the city could not legally impound his truck. He relied on Washington state's homestead law.

The city argued that the application of the homestead law was improper and that the city was well within its authority to impound the truck. The city denied that impounding the truck amounted to a forced sale of Mr. Long's homestead because there was no constitutional right to housing.

Mr. Long prevailed when the judge ruled that his truck was his home.

This decision comes on the heels of a decision in Clark County, Washington, in which a court held that police officers violated a homeless man's 4th Amendment right to privacy when they lifted up the tarp under which he was sleeping, found a bag of meth and arrested him.

The homeless are being criminalized as a result of gentrification and city's attempts to lure affluent whites from the suburbs to downtown business districts. The homeless are an inconvenience as well as a reminder that our economy hasn't come close to benefiting everyone in society.

First you get cities making it illegal for the homeless to camp under overpasses. Then you make it a crime to provide food to the homeless without a permit.

As a result of conservative lawmakers, funding to mental health providers, homeless shelters and homeless advocacy grounds have been cut to the bone. The minimum wage isn't even enough for a person to live on. We subsidize low-wage employers by proving food stamps, welfare and Medicaid to those who can't afford to live on the wages employers like Wal-Mart, McDonald's and the like pay.

These two court rulings out of Washington are evidence that at least two judges understand the new American economy and the criminalization of the poor.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Shocking, simply shocking

Judge George Gallagher in Fort Worth, Texas must have an affinity for the Middle Ages. Either that or the Spanish Inquisition.

You see, Judge Gallagher thought it was perfectly acceptable to order a defendant to be shocked with 50,000 volts whenever he gave an answer hizzoner didn't like.

Terry Lee Morris was on trial for soliciting sexual performance from a minor in 2014. On the first day of trial Judge Gallagher asked Mr. Morris for his plea. Mr. Morris objected to the shock collar on his ankle. He also informed the judge that he had a pending lawsuit against both the judge and his attorney, Billy Ray, with regard to the shock collar.

After excusing the jury, Judge Gallagher asked Mr. Morris if he was going to behave during trial. Mr. Morris pointed out that he had filed a motion to recuse the judge. Judge Gallagher then ordered the deputy to shock him. Once again the judge asked Mr. Morris if he was going to behave. Mr. Morris told the judge he was an MHMRA patient and the judge once again ordered the deputy to shock him. The judge kept berating Mr. Morris who accused the judge of torturing him. You can guess what happened next.

Mr. Morris left the courtroom and refused to return and his trial was conducted in his absence. As can be imagined, the jury convicted him and he was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

The Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso reversed and remanded the case on the grounds that Mr. Morris' 6th Amendment right to be present at trial was violated by the judge's continual use of the shock collar.

Now, I think we can all agree that Judge Gallagher's handling of this matter was inappropriate and wrong. We might even agree that it was a violation of the 8th Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. It certainly resulted in a violation of Mr. Morris' rights under the 6th Amendment.

But that's not the end of the story. You see, there are more folks complicit in this matter than just the judge.

First we have Mr. Billy Ray who didn't object to the installation of the shock collar on his client. He didn't object - or say anything at all on the record - when the judge ordered his client to be zapped with 50,000 volts three times on the first day of trial. He also stood by and failed to object when the judge ordered the trial to proceed without Mr. Morris in the courtroom.

Mr. Ray's excuse was he was scared of his client. Well boo-fucking-hoo. This is the job you signed up for. We don't all get to defend the white collar criminal from the suburbs who drives the Lexus and sips expensive wine after dinner. We sometimes deal with some pretty nasty folks. But then, anyone who decides to do criminal defense work should be well aware of the nature of the clientele.

Mr. Ray's job at trial was to provide a vigorous defense for his client. That means making damn certain that the deck isn't stacked against him by the state or the court. Sure, the facts may be really bad, but the process needs to be fair. Mr. Ray's job was to make certain that Mr. Morris was afforded every right and courtesy possible during the trial. By standing by and allowing the judge to shock his client, Mr. Ray abdicated his role. By refusing to object to the judge's order to continue the trial without his client, Mr. Ray violated his ethical duties.

To be fair, Mr. Ray did file a motion to withdraw after his client filed suit against him. Judge Gallagher denied the request.

The prosecutor, Ms. Andrea Risinger, also deserves to be castigated in this matter. Under our ethics rules, the prosecutor has a duty to see that justice is done. That means the prosecutor has an affirmative duty to make certain that the process is fair to the defendant. Allowing trial to continue without the presence of the defendant makes a mockery of that duty.

Finally, the bailiff isn't escaping without criticism.  Yes, he is supposed to follow the orders of the presiding judge in the courtroom. However, surely the bailiff knew that what he was doing was wrong. He doesn't get to slide by claiming he was just following orders.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Open mouth. Insert foot.

Jimmy Blacklock was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat of Don Willett who was appointed by President Trump to sit on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Mr. Blacklock's immediate prior job was as general counsel to Gov. Abbott.

Since Judge Willett's term expired in 2018, Judge Blacklock must stand as a candidate this November. His website is adorned with partisanship and highlights his stance as a wingnut. And now Gov. Abbott is going around telling folks that he knows how Judge Blacklock will rule on abortion-related issues because of his anti-abortion positions.

We like to pretend that our judges sit on the bench and make decisions based upon the law and the facts presented to them without regard for politics. That, of course, is a fiction (in large measure). Gov. Abbott's remarks cast aside that shroud of impartiality and case severe doubt on Judge Blacklock's ability to sit as an impartial arbiter.

You might expect the governor to know better than to tout his appointee's positions on issues that may come before the court given that Mr. Abbott once sat on the State Supreme Court. But, fear not, the governor has a long track record of being a hack who carries the water for insurance companies, the petrochemical industry and large corporations.

And, lest you forget, Gov. Abbott fought tooth and nail to defend the state's voter ID law which imposed some of the most stringent requirements for voting with the intent to restrict the ability of the poor, minorities and the elderly to vote.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Dancing with the stars

Once upon a time there was a strip club on the North Freeway called Fantasy Plaza. Now, believe it or not, drugs were sold at the club and men paid dancers for sexual favors. Shocking, I know.

The city had enough after awhile and began trying to shut the club down. As an aside, the city made an agreement with some other topless clubs to allow them to violate certain rules in exchange for some donations to the city's human trafficking initiative.

Last June, officers were investigating claims that a 16-year-old had run away from home and, thanks to a fake ID, got herself a job as a dancer at Fantasy Plaza. They had to check it out.

On June 9, 2017, undercover officers entered the club and noticed a girl dancing on a side stage who met the description of the missing teen - and who matched photographs provided by her mother. One officer decided it was time to go above and beyond the call of duty to close the case.

He walked around to the other side of the club and plopped $40 on the table for a lap dance from the minor girl. At some point while she was gyrating on his pelvic region he noticed a mole on her shoulder blade which allowed him to make a positive identification.

Just let that sink in for a moment. An adult male police officer sat on a chair and allowed a minor to simulate sexual intercourse with him under the guise of trying to ID her.

Let's see, what other methods could he have used?

He could have asked the girl her name.

He could have told the girl he believed she was a runaway and needed to see some identification.

If she refused to answer he could have taken her to the station to "straighten out" the mess.

Not one of those alternatives, though, offered him the opportunity to have a minor girl grind on his lap.