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Defense attorneys criticize Forensic Science Commission

Good for them.

Texas defense lawyers took aim at the state’s Forensic Science Commission Monday, charging that the group — now probing the possibly botched arson investigations that sent an East Texas man to his execution — is in danger of being “permanently tainted and derailed by politics.”

In a statement issued by Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association president Stanley Schneider, the lawyers targeted commission Chairman John Bradley, saying he has “overstepped his authority, ignored the will of the Legislature and is trying to hide the commission’s work from public scrutiny.”

[…]

Schneider, a Houston lawyer, said a Bradley-devised system of subcommittees designed to collect investigation evidence, accept citizen complaints and handle other matters “very likely” violates the Texas Open Meetings Act.

In response to my emailed request, Keith Hampton of the TCDLA sent me a copy of the their statement, which I have reproduced beneath the fold. Like Grits, I hope the TCDLA pursues the open meetings angle, which based on the story and Grits’ analysis seems likely to be a winning argument if a lawsuit were to be filed. Someone needs to hold John Bradley accountable for his actions.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association “Deeply Concerned” About
Forensic Science Commission Leadership

The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association claims the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s work is in danger of being permanently tainted and derailed by politics. Following is a statement released today by Stanley Schneider, President of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association:

“We believe commission Chairman John Bradley has overstepped his authority, ignored the will of the Legislature, and is trying to hide the commission’s work from public scrutiny. TCDLA believes that the citizens of Texas have a right to expect their government to be open and responsive to important issues that affect the criminal justice system. And they have a right to be outraged that since September 2009, the Texas Forensic Commission’s new chairman, John Bradley, has failed to live up to that expectation by delaying important meetings and making decisions to review issues behind closed doors. We all have a right to know how the Texas Forensic Science
Commission works.

“Our legislature created this panel in order to find and correct deficiencies in forensic science practices that increase the likelihood of serious errors in criminal cases. Such errors can cause wrongful convictions. We are very concerned that the Commission’s new chairman appears to be doing everything he can to try to stop the commission’s work and conduct it in secrecy, in order to avoid any negative impact upon the State and its prosecutors. John Bradley now wants to have subcommittees conduct critical discussions and hear testimony behind closed doors, in spite of the fact that the full Commission decided unanimously in August 2008 to investigate the arson cases of Ernest Willis and Cameron Todd Willingham, as well as an allegation of forensic negligence resulting in the wrongful conviction of Brandon Moon. It is our view that the Commission’s ongoing work must continue, and it must be open to the public.

“Conducting these meetings in secrecy may very likely violate the Texas Open Meetings Act, and contravenes the publicly expressed wishes of the Chairmen of the Senate Criminal Justice and House Public Safety Committees, both of whom have said that they want the commission to operate transparently, regardless of the recent change in its leadership. TCDLA believes that all Commission meetings fall within the legal description of a governmental body under the Texas Open Meetings Act, and therefore must follow the law and hold its meetings in public.

TCDLA believes this issue of wrongful convictions is not a political one; forensic science problems in Texas need to be addressed now. Let’s all work together to fix them so justice can be done.”

Stanley G. Schneider

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