In a report which will surprise no one who has been following the Texas judiciary, The Center for Public Integrity rated the Texas judiciary as an “F”. Least we write this off as some sort of leftist fluke, the same report gave Texas an “A” when it comes to the state budget process.
The report noted such shortcomings as judges not being required to disclose the reasons behind their opinions and no effort made to enforce whether judges properly disclose their asset holdings so that the citizenry knows they are independent. In addition, there are no restrictions on former judges who enter private practice.
Any judicial evaluations remain very difficult for the public to obtain so that there is effectively no voter oversight.
Does this tie into all of the wrongful prosecutions we see in Texas? It is hard to see how it can’t.
Timothy Cole was honored with a historic plaque put up near his grave in Tarrant County.
Mr. Cole was a US military veteran and a college student, doing the right thing. He was falsely convicted of rape using faulty forensic “science”. Other evidence argued against his guilt. The victim testified the rapist smoked and Mr. Cole was a severe asthmatic who never smoked. He was sent to prison where he died because the prison officials refused to treat his asthma.
Afterward, through DNA analysis, it was established he could not possibly be the rapist. The real rapist also confessed to the act.
Because of Mr. Cole, we now have an act compensating wrongfully imprisoned victims of the criminal justice system. Critics were dead set against this as it was feared the act would be expensive. Of course, the real way to save money is to quit convicting innocent people.
Tarrant County is known for the number of exonerations it has experience, in spite of a policy of destroying evidence which would exonerate some in prison.
It has also added to the American lexicon by coining the word: “afluenza”.
Ethan Couch was obviously a troubled youth growing up. His parents were wealthy and Mr. Couch felt entitled, so his defense attorney said.
Mr. Couch had had some trouble with the law in the past. In 2013, after stealing a truck and driving while drunk, he ran into a car, killing four people and injuring nine others. He was clearly guilty of intoxicated manslaughter, requiring a sentence for from two to twenty years.
Instead, a Tarrant County judge found he suffered from “afluenza”, which seems to be defined as being brought up in such a privileged state that he did not know right from wrong. Accordingly, Mr. Couch’s sentence was for ten years probation; this in a known for its harsh sentences and subsequent exonerations.
Mr. Couch returned the favor by being seen on Facebook violating his parole by drinking. He subsequently skipped town and fled to Mexico with the help of his mother. No one knows why his father was not allowed to raise him. It is a shame so many people who were exonerated later did not get the leniency this man received in Tarrant County.
In Tarrant County, it is hard to lose a judgeship, yet Judge Mike Sinha did so. It is enlightening to review the reasons his successful opponent gave for running against him. Newly elected Judge Patricia Bennett spent her own money opposing Judge Sinha and prevailed. Her statement:
“Family courts in Texas are courts of law and equity. However, equitable principles can only be used if there is no adequate remedy at law and are limited by both statute and case law. A judge who sees a modern-day family court as simply a “court of equity” fails to recognize the limits Texas law places upon a judge.”
Basically, she got tired of the judges in Tarrant County ignoring the law for their own personal reasons. Judge Sinha routinely ignored laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor for the “best interest of the children”. His reasons were often hard to justify since he had most of his “hearings” (he called them conferences) in the back room where decisions were made in darkness.
This was justified by the judges in Tarrant County by saying family courts are “equity courts” which they interpreted to mean they could ignore the law as expressed by the will of the people. They still say that in Tarrant County: decisions are still made in darkness, children suffer, and people make money.
Mr. Cook was found guilty of murder in Denton County. He had briefly known the victim but tried to distance himself from her when she appeared unstable. He always maintained his innocence.
There was really no connection between him and the victim, other than he had visited her the day before. Even so, he was pursued by the prosecutors and found guilty. The prosecutors suppressed evidence which would have cleared Mr. Cook, a depressingly common practice as district judges do not police this behavior.
He was released after 19 years in prison after it was determined he was innocent. He still had to push for DNA tests to be exonerated. Over the strenuous objections of the prosecution, six DNA tests came back negative for him. The real killer was finally identified by the DNA test but he will not be prosecuted because of the passage of time.
One has to wonder why the prosecutors resisted the DNA testing so strenuously and why the district judges permitted this. In the meantime, because of the behavior of this prosecutor and these judges, the real murderer remained free for years. Who knows what else he may have done.
Most voters in Texas have no idea about the judges they vote for. They vote straight ticket because they don’t know what to do. Unfortunately, party is no indicator of proper judicial conduct.
Fortunately, each county bar in Texas periodically performs a judicial conduct poll. Any citizen may access the results before voting and should. When reading these polls one should understand that judges often retaliate against those they feel issued a negative opinion so the real opinions are probably much lower.
In the 2015 Tarrant County Judicial Bar Evaluation, we find some real gems. For example, we find that Judges Haddock and Poulos have the lowest ratings in their group in terms of rulings which are well-reasoned and in accordance with the law. That should bother people. The winner goes to Judge Haddock who has the lowest overall rating in her group.
Michael Roy Toney was found guilty in 1999 of killing three people by use of a bomb in Tarrant County. He was convicted by a jailhouse snitch who claimed Toney had confessed the murders to him. The snitch claimed it was a killer for hire deal concerning drugs. The jailhouse snitch received leniency in return.
There was no evidence Toney knew the victims or had ever even heard of the trailer park where they lived and where they died. The witness claimed Toney drove to the scene of the crime in a truck which evidence proved Mr. Toney did not even own until a month after the deaths.
Unfortunately, the prosecution did not turn over fourteen pieces of evidence which would establish Mr. Toney was innocent; he was found guilty and sent to prison.
Mr. Toney was exonerated by an appeals court as the prosecution had violated the law concerning evidence and there was no real evidence Mr. Toney had committed the crime.
Mr. Toney died in a car accident about a month after being released. Nothing happened to the prosecutor who violated our trust by breaking the law to convict Mr. Toney. Because of the prosecutor, somewhere is a murderer still out there.