The holiday season is providing no break in attention to Williamson County’s ongoing political turmoil that reached a new peak last week with Michael Morton’s exoneration in a false murder conviction that kept him wrongfully incarcerated for nearly 25 years. With Morton’s legal team requesting a formal Court of Inquiry action to determine if now-District Judge Ken Anderson is guilty of criminal contempt in his role as district attorney/lead prosecutor in the Morton case, focus on central Texas and this appearance of egregious public corruption will undoubtedly continue.
On Christmas Day, the Houston Chronicle featured a great piece on Houston attorney John Raley. Raley, a civil litigator in his Raley & Bowick firm, worked pro bono with the Innocence Project for seven years. He and his IP co-counsel Nina Morrison were unwilling to relent in the face of ceaseless Williamson County-generated legal hurdles. Their tenacity and perseverance has everything to do with Morton’s freedom and ultimate exoneration.
The Chronicle quotes Morrison saying this of Raley:
Morrison now laughs when she recalls the naiveté that Raley, a civil litigator with expertise in medical malpractice, brought to the criminal court arena: “He said, ‘Of course the prosecutors will want to do DNA testing. Who wouldn’t want to do DNA testing?’ ”
Morrison, jaded from years of fighting injustices that occur all too often in the criminal court system, knew better. Prosecutors do not like to admit mistakes.
While most lawyers who volunteer for Innocence Project cases work in large law firms where “somebody else” picks up the slack, Morrison noted, Raley works with a small firm – Raley & Bowick. “There aren’t a lot of ‘somebody elses’ in John’s firm,” Morrison noted. “And this was a huge undertaking.”
Undoubtedly, somewhere those corporate, collegiate legal environments exist. But certainly not in Williamson County – as Raley and Morrison well learned.
The Texas Tribune’s Brandi Grissom has also provided solid reporting since this case took on new life. The New York Times has regularly run Grissom’s pieces including Murder Cases Put Questionable Evidence to Test on Christmas Day.
In the piece, Grissom details an important observation made by Judge Sid Harle:
Before he dismissed the wrongful murder charges against Mr. Morton last week, Judge Sid Harle recounted the faults the case exposed in the Texas justice system. Among them: the use of so-called junk science in the courtroom.
“The courts and the sitting judges need to be ever mindful about their role as gatekeeper in regard to the admission of science,” Mr. Harle said. “Your case illustrates the best and the worst of what can happen.”
Probably the most clever response yet to the Morton case is being reported by The Wilco Watchdog. The Watchdog has also done much great reporting and analysis as the Morton case unfolded. As a citizen journalist effort, they have kept pace – even “scooped” – traditional media outlets. Williamson County grassroots activism is now taking a further step. In Attorney Takes On Ken Anderson, The Watchdog reports:
Attorney Adam Reposa has turned up the heat another notch on Judge Ken Anderson. Reposa emailed the Wilco Watchdog stating he had hundreds of yard signs made. Reposa said he hopes the public will apply added pressure to Anderson in resigning and post these in their yards. Reposa stated he is handing out the signs to anyone who wants them at no charge. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Morton case will indeed continue to generate interest locally, statewide and nationally. It offers an important platform for legal reform and its political implications – at least in Williamson County – will be significant.
Meanwhile, the Morton case has often been characterized as being a product of “good ol’ boy” politics whereby an embedded government body uses protectionist actions and policies to promote their own self-interests, often to the detriment of taxpayers, residents and others.
In light of this case, Texans (and anyone else) should take a long, hard look at what bad acts may be occurring at the hands of “good ol’ boys” in their neighborhoods.