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Ken Anderson

State bar grievance filed against Paxton

It’s getting to be hard to keep track of all of the complaints and legal actions being filed against the man who would be the state’s top lawyer. This one is a grievance filed with the State Bar of Texas by another watchdog group.

Sen. Ken Paxton

In its grievance, the Austin-based Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability requests that the state bar investigate whether Paxton broke at least four rules involving the disclosure of conflicts of interest.

“Like every other Texas lawyer, Mr. Paxton must comply with the legal ethics rules that govern the legal profession,” the coalition said in a news release.

Once a grievance is filed with the state bar, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s lawyers review it to see whether it actually alleges violations of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. If it does, it becomes a complaint that can lead to an airing of the issue in district court or before a panel of state bar lawyers from across Texas. If sustained, the complaint can result in the suspension or disbarment of an attorney.

Anthony Holm, a spokesman for the Paxton campaign, called the grievance “yet another political stunt” by a group with Democratic ties, pointing out the acting executive director does not have a law license. “Frankly, it’s a bit silly,” Holm said in a statement.

The coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but in announcing the grievance said it aims to hold lawyers accountable regardless of their political affiliations.

As you may recall, a criminal complaint was filed in July, and a complaint with the SEC was filed in May. I didn’t recall hearing about the Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability before, but I did note the complaint they filed in 2011 against Ken Anderson, John Bradley, and Mike Davis over the Michael Morton case. As a reminder, to myself as much as to you, they are “a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to educating the public and advocating the public interest to hold the Texas Legal profession accountable to its statutory, constitutional, and ethical obligations”. Their origin story is that the TCLA was established in 2010, initially to provide input from the public perspective on the proposed amendments to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. Here’s a letter they sent to then-Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson outlining their concerns. They eventually won a victory over this issue in 2011, when the proposed changes were voted down by the bar members.

Anyway. They’re definitely on the do-gooder side of things, but I wouldn’t dismiss their track record. Here’s their statement on the grievance, which outlines the basics of Paxton’s admitted and alleged bad deeds, the complaint narrative, which is the long version of the story, and the actual complaint form that they filled out. Any lawyers want to weigh in on this?

Ken Anderson accepts a plea deal

Some closure in the Michael Morton case.

Former Williamson County State District Judge Ken Anderson, who oversaw the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton as a prosecutor, was sentenced to nine days in jail on Friday and will surrender his law license as part of a deal to resolve criminal charges and a civil lawsuit.

Anderson entered into a comprehensive settlement involving all matters before the court. Those include a charge of criminal contempt tied to an accusation of failing to disclose evidence during Morton’s 1987 trial, and the State Bar of Texas’ disciplinary case against Anderson over prosecutorial misconduct allegations. Charges of tampering with evidence were also dropped as part of the settlement.

Presiding District Judge Kelly G. Moore ordered that Anderson’s jail sentence — a 10-day sentence with a 1-day credit for time served — should begin on or before Dec. 2. Anderson was also ordered to pay a $500 fine along with serving 500 hours of community service in the next five years. His resignation to the State Bar will be acted on by the Supreme Court of Texas and will be treated as disbarment. Anderson did not address the presiding judge during Friday’s session and exited the courtroom promptly after the hearing was adjourned.

“There’s no way that anything we can do today will resolve the tragedy that occurred related to these matters,” Moore said, before addressing Morton, who was present in the courtroon during the hearing. “The world is a better place because of you.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Grits said that “compared to what Morton faced”, the punishment Anderson received was “relatively weak tea”. I agree with the sentiment, but honestly anything short of a life sentence could be called that. For what it’s worth, Michael Morton himself seems satisfied with the outcome.

Morton sat in the front row of the courtroom on Friday with his wife, Cynthia, and his attorneys and celebrated with his legal team following the hearing.

“When it began, I was asked what I wanted. I said ‘The only thing that I want, as a baseline, is for Ken Anderson to be off the bench and no longer practice law,'” Morton said. “Both of those things have happened and more.”

“I don’t know if satisfying is the right word,” he added, but he said the Anderson case “had to be done.”

My hope is that this will serve as a cautionary tale for other prosecutors. Now they know there will be at least the possibility of real consequences for the bad behavior Ken Anderson displayed. The reforms that Sen. Rodney Ellis passed that will require more disclosure from prosecutors will be beneficial, too. These are steps in the right direction, and there will be more to follow. Nothing can give Michael Morton back what was taken from him, but he will help others avoid a similar fate, and that’s something.

State Bar seeks sanctions against Ken Anderson

Seems reasonable to me.

Arguing that a trial is no longer needed, the State Bar of Texas has asked a judge to summarily rule that former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson engaged in professional misconduct by hiding evidence in the murder trial of Michael Morton, who was exonerated after spending almost 25 years in prison.

Such a ruling would allow the State Bar, which oversees lawyer discipline, to proceed directly to a state district court hearing on sanctions against Anderson, who could be disbarred, temporarily lose his law license or receive a public reprimand for his handling of Morton’s prosecution in 1987.

A lawyer for Anderson, now a state district judge in Georgetown, said he will oppose the bar’s motion and plans to move for a dismissal of the State Bar’s lawsuit.

The civil lawsuit is separate from criminal charges that are also pending against Anderson, but both cases rely on the same accusations – that Anderson hid evidence that could have raised questions about Morton’s guilt, then lied when he assured Morton’s trial judge that he had no favorable evidence to turn over to the defense as required by law.

Morton served almost 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, Christine, before he was exonerated in 2011.

In its motion for summary judgment, the State Bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline argued that a Sept. 30 trial wasn’t necessary because its allegation – that Anderson violated his duties as a lawyer – had already been proved in a court of inquiry that examined Anderson’s handling of Morton’s prosecution.

[…]

The criminal case against Anderson is still in the early stages, and Anderson’s legal team has filed an appeal arguing that the charges are improper because the statute of limitations had passed two decades ago.

Anderson’s lawyers believe the State Bar’s lawsuit also is barred by the statute of limitations and plan to file a competing motion for summary judgment asking that the lawsuit be dismissed, lawyer Eric Nichols said.

In its motion, the State Bar argued that Anderson mounted a vigorous defense during a weeklong court of inquiry hearing in February and isn’t entitled to retry the facts after losing that case.

The law “prevents relitigation of particular issues that were litigated and decided in a previous lawsuit,” argues the motion from Linda Acevedo, the commission’s chief disciplinary counsel.

Nichols disagreed, saying the court of inquiry didn’t result in a final decision or judgment against Anderson, who insisted he did nothing wrong, and operated under looser rules of evidence, providing a questionable result.

As noted in the story, the judge in the court of inquiry issued an arrest warrant for Anderson in April, charging him with tampering with physical evidence and tampering with a government document. I can see Anderson’s point that this wasn’t a normal courtroom procedure and the standards of evidence may have been different, but he got to put on a defense and it’s hard to see how things would play out differently in civil court. Unless some of the previously introduced evidence was suppressed via a successful motion by his attorneys, which would add a layer of irony to the whole thing that I’m not sure any of us could handle. The statute of limitations argument completely fails to impress me. It may be technically right if we are forced to start the clock when Michael Morton was tried, but under the much more sensible interpretation that the limitations period began when the crime was actually discovered there’s no leg to stand on. I say Anderson has had his chance to prove that the misconduct allegations were meritless. The Bar has a responsibility to act, and it should be allowed to do so.

Court of inquiry issues arrest warrant for Ken Anderson

Wow.

A judge issued an arrest warrant for former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson Friday, after finding probable cause to believe Anderson withheld critical evidence in Michael Morton’s 1987 murder trial.

Judge Louis Sturns concluded his court of inquiry by charging Anderson, who is now a state district judge, with tampering with government records (a misdemeanor), tampering with physical evidence (a felony) and failing to comply with a judge’s order to turn over such evidence, for which he could be held in “contempt of court.”

The rare court of inquiry, in which arguments were made in February, was held to determine whether Anderson, a former district attorney, committed criminal misconduct during the trial that led to Morton’s wrongful murder conviction. Morton, who was in attendance for Friday’s decision, spent nearly 25 years behind bars for his wife’s murder before he was exonerated.

Sturns said that Anderson purposefully concealed evidence from Morton’s defense attorneys, hiding reports that neighbors had seen a green van outside of the Mortons’ home and a phone transcript in which Morton’s son was said to have told his grandmother a “monster” murdered Morton’s wife.

Rusty Hardin, the special prosecutor in the court of inquiry, told reporters that Anderson would turn himself in at the Williamson County Jail on Friday afternoon, and that he would have to pay a $2,500 bond for each of three separate counts.

As for what happens next, Hardin admitted that nobody involved is sure. “We’re all kind of operating on a clean slate here,” he said, adding that Anderson would be “treated like anybody else.”

See here and here for some background. I wasn’t terribly sympathetic to Anderson after reading his testimony, so I’m not particularly sorry for him now. But as Michael Morton himself reminds us, this is not about punishment but transparency and accountability. Whatever happens next, it’s good that Ken Anderson is being held accountable for his actions. A statement from Sen. Rodney Ellis, who has authored and advocated for more legislation that would help promote that kind of transparency and accountability, is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Grits has a copy of Judge Sturns’ order.

(more…)

Court of inquiry concludes

The court of inquiry that was examining the behavior of then-prosecutor Ken Anderson has concluded with Anderson’s testimony in his defense. Having seen what he had to say for himself, I find myself not terribly sympathetic to him or his situation.

At times fighting back tears, Anderson called Morton’s case his “worst nightmare” but defended his conduct.

“We had a lot to be proud of, we still do,” Anderson said, his voice wavering. Then, pounding on the witness stand, he continued: “The office I ran was professional, it was competent. We did things right. We got it right as much as we humanly could.”

After testimony ended, [Judge Louis] Sturns said it will be several weeks before the parties reconvene. He did not say whether he will issue a ruling then.

[…]

Anderson, who testified Friday that he’s spent his life savings “defending myself against accusations that I think we all know are false,” claimed the judge only asked for a small portion of the police notes — and he complied.

Asked if there was any weight to accusations he hid evidence, Anderson responded that he’d reviewed the case “until I’m blue in the face. There is nothing in that record that even remotely says that.”

He was later shown a portion of the trial transcript where the judge asked: “Mr. Anderson, do you have anything that is favorable to the accused?” Anderson replied that he did not.

[…]

Anderson said all evidence could be seen differently with the benefit of hindsight. He also accused Hardin of wanting to “see me handcuffed and taken to jail” on matters “that are so bogus it’s unreal.”

Given the chance to address Morton directly, Anderson said he had been gracious since his exoneration and added, “I’ve apologized that the system screwed up and it obviously screwed up.”

“I’ve been beating myself up on what else I could have been done different,” Anderson concluded, “and I frankly don’t know.”

The Trib has a fuller version of that money quote: “I had to spend the money to hire lawyers. And I worked my entire life and now they have it,” he said. I have to say, you’d think a guy who spent a decade or more as a District Attorney would be familiar with the cost of competent defense attorneys. I’m sure some of the people he’s prosecuted could bring him up to speed on that. But be that as it may, he sure is weirdly disconnected from his role in this. I mean, “the system screwed up”? Last I checked, the District Attorney is a pretty integral part of the system. I get that he’s probably limited in what he ought to say during this proceeding, but an “I’m sorry” would have been nice.

Eye on Williamson sums it up nicely.

In watching all of this over the last year and a half or so, I’m not positive that Anderson technically broke any law. But I’m damn near positive there were moral and ethical lapses. And that former Sheriff Boutwell and Anderson knew, deep down in their souls, that Morton was guilty and were bound and determined to put him in jail – no matter what the evidence said. Their egos got in the way of reality. And that later on John Bradley was willing to keep him there for the same egotistical reasons. And lends credence to the many unfair justice stories, that are common place for anyone who has lived in Williamson County for an extended period of time.

Hopefully this will be a cautionary tale for all prosecutors that they are not the judge and jury. That they should allow everyone to look at all the evidence in a case – all the way through the appeals process – to make sure they’re not putting innocent people in jail for crimes they didn’t commit. Because, as this shows, when an innocent person goes to jail it not only ruins their life, but when the truth comes out it ruins the lives, and legacy, of those that put the innocent person in jail as well.

If there’s one other lesson that I hope everyone learns from this, it’s that if a convicted murderer requests that some old piece of evidence be tested for DNA, go ahead and let it be tested. What can it hurt? If he’s as guilty as you believe him to be, the DNA test will vindicate you. And if it proves him right and you wrong, isn’t it better to know, and to not be the villain that tried to keep the truth from coming out? Don’t be like John Bradley, that’s what I’m saying. Texas Monthly has more.

The court of inquiry

Going on this week is a court of inquiry in the matter of Williamson County Judge Ken Anderson, who was the District Attorney that won a conviction against Michael Morton for the murder of his wife, Christine, which as we know has since been overturned after DNA evidence cleared him and implicated another man. The court of inquiry is to evaluate the claims made by Morton’s attorneys that Anderson deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence, which may lead to criminal charges being filed against Anderson if that allegation is found to have merit. The Statesman and the Trib have all the background on this unusual proceeding, and for everything you need to know about the Morton case, read the two-part Texas Monthly story (and be prepared to have your heart broken by it) as well as Scott Henson’s interview with author Pam Colloff. Finally, you can follow the inquiry itself at the Trib’s liveblog.

Whatever else comes out of this inquiry, what I would like to see happen is a re-evaluation of how we think about those who fight crime. From the Trib story:

Anderson, who declined through his lawyer to be interviewed for this story, has contested allegations of wrongdoing and has said that he is sick over the wrongful conviction. And those in the Central Texas city of Georgetown, who have known Anderson over the years, say they can’t believe that the church-going Boy Scout troop leader — who tried to steer young people who veered into his courtroom onto a productive path — could do the unethical things he’s accused of doing. Even some defense lawyers who sparred with Anderson in the courtroom say allegations that he behaved underhandedly are hard to fathom.

“I never thought of him as acting unethically or in violation of the rules,” said veteran defense lawyer Roy Minton. “I did think of him as being very strong and hard on crime, but that was the history of that county.”

In Georgetown’s small courthouse circles, there are different ideas about who may have contributed to the injustice that befell Morton.

Williamson County’s legendary Sheriff Jim Boutwell, a tall, thin cowboy of a lawman who was rarely without his white Stetson, cowboy boots and handcuff tie clip, helped forge the county’s tough-on-crime history.

A former Texas Ranger, Boutwell became famous in 1966 when Charles Whitman went to the top of the University of Texas tower with three rifles and a sawed-off shotgun and fired at students and faculty. Boutwell flew an airplane over the campus, distracting Whitman with gunfire long enough for officers on the ground to take him down. Boutwell cemented his reputation in 1983 when he and a task force of officers extracted hundreds of murder confessions from Henry Lee Lucas. After Lucas was sentenced to death, then–Attorney General Jim Mattox issued a report that dismantled many of the confessions and concluded that the drifter wasn’t even in the same state when some of the killings were committed. In 2001 — eight years after Boutwell died of cancer — then-Gov. George W. Bush commuted Lucas’ death sentence to life in prison.

There’s no question that the path to Michael Morton’s conviction was paved by Sheriff Boutwell’s myopic, almost comically flawed investigation of the case. And whether Anderson was criminally negligent or not, there’s no question that exculpatory evidence was not made available to the defense. By their actions, geared towards convicting Michael Morton, Boutwell and Anderson are responsible for at least one other murder apparently committed by Mark Alan Norwood, who now stands accused of Christine Morton’s death. To me, anyone who by their actions could allow this to happen doesn’t get to be “hard and strong on crime”. Too many people who have that reputation – and this certainly includes now-former Williamson County DA John Bradley, who lost his primary race last year after waging and finally conceding a long battle to keep Michael Morton from doing the DNA test that led to his exoneration – who are more accurately described as being “tough on defendants” or “tough on suspects”. The two are not the same, a lesson I hope is finally starting to sink in. Maybe Mark Alan Norwood would not have been caught in time to prevent him from killing Debra Baker in 1988, but there’s no doubt that Boutwell and Anderson’s zealous pursuit of Michael Morton cost him 25 years of his life, for no good purpose. Had they been as committed to the truth and to justice with the same fervor, the world would be a better place today. It’s time for us to rethink what it means to be “tough on crime”, because the way we use that phrase now, it’s not a virtue.

Court of inquiry appointed in Morton case

Maybe now we’ll get some answers.

A special court will examine whether Georgetown District Judge Ken Anderson acted improperly when, as Williamson County’s district attorney in 1987, he prosecuted Michael Morton for a murder the authorities now acknowledge he did not commit.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson convened a court of inquiry Thursday to examine allegations, leveled by Morton and his lawyers, that Anderson hid evidence that could have spared Morton from the murder conviction and almost 25 years in prison.

Jefferson also appointed District Judge Louis Sturns of Fort Worth to conduct the court of inquiry, a rarely used feature of the Texas criminal code designed to determine whether state laws have been broken.

“This is a historic moment for Texas justice,” said John Raley, a Houston lawyer who has represented Morton for free for the past eight years.

[…]

A court of inquiry is a fact-finding exercise that cannot result in a criminal conviction or punishment against Anderson, but a finding of misconduct could lead to criminal charges or disciplinary proceedings before the State Bar of Texas, according to Morton’s lawyers.

I have no idea how long this may take, but we may finally get some closure on this.

In the meantime, this made me angry.

[Last] week, the State Bar of Texas opened testimony in its lawsuit against a Lubbock attorney who faces possible disbarment for taking millions of dollars in compensation from 12 men cleared after DNA evidence showed they were innocent of charges. Attorney Kevin Glasheen acknowledges he collected $5 million in fees, a 25 percentage contingency fee taken from the payments the state of Texas pays to wrongfully convicted prisoners who prove their innocence.

Glasheen claims the fees are fair, saying his clients received more money from the state because he successfully lobbied for legislation increasing state payments to exonerees, from $50,000 to $80,000 for every year served in prison. He also says he kept only $3.5 million, sharing the rest with Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, who assisted with the cases because of his expertise.

The Lubbock attorney entered into contracts with the wrongfully convicted men because he intended to file federal civil rights lawsuits on their behalf. But he changed his strategy, and chose to lobby for passage of legislation awarding more state compensation, rather than pursue the federal lawsuits.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who has made helping wrongfully convicted people his signature legislative issue, was appalled at Glasheen’s enormous fee – and his reasons for collecting it. “It’s amazing, when a bill passes the Legislature, how everybody other than the people in the Legislature are responsible for it,” said Ellis, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “My staff and I did a heck of a lot of work.”

Ellis is board chairman of the Innocence Project of New York, an entity separately run from the Innocence Project of Texas, where Blackburn works. Ellis said he knows nothing about the inner-workings of the Texas-based group.

“I did not know they had this arrangement,” referring to Blackburn and Glasheen’s fees from the exonerated men, Ellis said. When they appeared at the Capital favoring his bill, “I thought they were there because they cared about the issue. I’m very disappointed.”

The State Bar ultimately lost their lawsuit, so Glasheen and Blackburn stand to collect their lobbying fees. Good luck sleeping at night, fellas.

Court of inquiry recommended in Morton case

Good.

Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson should face a court of inquiry to examine allegations that he hid evidence that could have spared Michael Morton from a wrongful murder conviction and almost 25 years in prison, a state district judge ruled Friday.

The finding means District Judge Sid Harle found probable cause to believe that Anderson violated state law in his prosecution of Morton.

But, Harle emphasized, he agreed to seek a special review court as the best way to balance competing needs, giving Anderson a chance to clear his name and Morton the opportunity to seek a greater measure of justice.

“I personally cannot imagine, having been a former prosecutor, a worse stain or tarnish on a prosecutor’s reputation, integrity or legacy,” Harle said.

The deeper examination of the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct would also serve the public’s need for answers in the high-profile case, Harle said at the close of a 75-minute hearing.

[…]

Harle’s request for a court of inquiry, an affidavit certifying that he found probable cause that state laws were broken, will be reviewed by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson.

If Jefferson agrees, he would name a state district judge to oversee the special court, which would have the power to issue subpoenas, take testimony and make a finding about whether Anderson violated state law. Designed as a fact-finding body, the court would not issue a punishment or criminal conviction.

This is all well and good, but it seems to me that if this much care had been taken back in 1986 to protect Michael Morton’s rights, we wouldn’t need to be doing any of this today. There’s a reason why prosecutors need to be held to a high standard of professional conduct. Grits, EoW, the Trib, and State Sen. Rodney Ellis have more.