I have to admit, I have never seen a state quite like Texas where everything is a “state secret” and finding out how your government works and spends your money is damn near impossible. Governor Rick Perry crisscrossed the United States while the taxpayers ponied up money for his “security detail” but the travel details are a state secret. The justice system in many counties is a state secret, so much so that Smith County officials made sure that a book written about alleged corruption was taken off of book shelves. The book, SMITH COUNTY JUSTICE, which exposes corruption in the criminal legal system of Smith County, Texas, USA, was withdrawn by the publisher and removed from all bookstores shortly after publication due to pressure from the authorities exposed in the book. Since then, there has been a concerted effort to suppress the work, resulting in used editions of the book becoming rare and expensive (currently $500 on amazon.com).
When a Forensic Science Commission threatened to reveal that Texas had executed an innocent man, Governor Rick Perry shut down the commission and shuddered it’s findings. Good luck getting any results there…state secret. In Texas government, which should be open and accessible to the people, the state works overtime to keep its dirty little secrets a secret. The Austin Statesman is reporting that a new report reveals a Texas agency so secretive that even state investigators were refused access to its records.
When the Sunset Advisory Commission, which is legislatively charged with determining if state agencies are operating efficiently, asked for records of meetings of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the commission refused. The 13-member commission, which hears misconduct complaints levied against the state’s 4,000 judges, argued “its meetings are closed to everyone, including the Sunset Commission and its staff,” according to the sunset agency’s report on the judicial conduct commission, released this month.
Worse, the report continued, the judge’s commission further refused to grant state investigators permission to observe its meetings or read any of the memoranda about its rulings because of attorney-client privilege — denials that, in effect, prevented the state auditors from determining not only if the commission operated efficiently, but also if its deliberations concerning judges — most of whom are elected — were even were fair or impartial. “Sunset staff were denied access to a key document providing analysis for the Commission and were unable to observe the Commission’s approach to deciding when and if a complaint of judicial misconduct is valid — and if so, what level of disciplinary action is appropriate. “As a result, staff could not assess the Commission’s primary duty…By preventing a full review, the Commission on Judicial Conduct seriously limits the ability of the Sunset Commission and the Legislature to assess the oversight of judges in Texas, as required by law.” “Everything was closed,” said Sunset director Ken Levine. “That was very unusual.” The previous time the Sunset agency reviewed the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, in 2001, “the situation was similar, but there was somewhat more access,” Levine added.
In other words: Thanks to the judicial commission’s closed-records policy, the only people left judging the judges are the judges. Particularly frustrating, the Sunset agency observed, is that for decades its investigators have been entrusted with viewing sensitive documents from other agencies considered crucial to conducting its evaluations — patient and physician health information from the Division of Workers’ Compensation, for example — without breaching confidentiality. In those instances in which Sunset investigators have requested access to otherwise confidential documents with other state agencies, Levine said a deal was usually reached without much trouble.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct’s refusal to let state investigators view its proceedings also further sets apart judges from other professionals overseen by state regulators. Sunset investigators noted that in the past they had been given access to comparable disciplinary proceeding documents from the Texas Medical Board, which disciplines physicians, and the State Bar, which oversees attorney misconduct cases. The judicial commission argued that its discussions about whether or not a judge misbehaved are constitutionally protected as confidential. The only time it is required to reveal information about its deliberations are during what are known as “formal proceedings,” and when it issues a public sanction against a judge.
Yet both of those are exceedingly rare events. Last year, only a fifth of the commission’s disciplinary actions involved a public sanction against a judge. And “Over the last ten years, the Commission has held a formal proceeding, which is open to the public, only 12 times,” the Sunset report stated. So in an effort to perform some kind of evaluation of the judicial commission, the Sunset staff resorted to a questionnaire. It designed a survey to send to the 493 members of the public who had filed complaints against judges in 2008, 2009 and 2010, as well as to the 382 judges against whom the complaints were filed. About a quarter of each group responded. The results: About 85 percent of the judges found the judicial oversight process to be satisfactory. The complainants? Not so much.
“A clear majority of complainants, 78 percent, rated the fairness of the complaint process overall as unsatisfactory” — a dramatic difference of opinion that deserves investigation, the Sunset report concluded. “Unlike most state agencies that must operate openly and transparently,” the report concluded, “the Commission operates largely behind closed doors to protect the confidentiality of the judges it oversees, most of whom are elected officials. As a judicial branch agency, the Commission is not subject to the Open Meetings, Administrative Procedure, or Public Information acts. “While Sunset recognizes the need to protect judges from public disclosure of unfair or unwarranted complaints stemming from individuals unhappy with the outcome of a case or from political opponents, this must be balanced against the public’s right to know that the process is working fairly and effectively when judges misuse or abuse the substantial authority they have been granted.”
This is precisely why tackling issues of public corruption, judicial malfeasance and judicial misconduct is almost impossible. The government simply hides behind a veil of secrecy that no one seems to be able to break and Texans…well…as long as the politicians promise to be tough on crime and never raise taxes, they really don’t care. Most folks in the Lone Star think it’s OK if the state “accidentally” executed an innocent person but, of course, it’s not them laying on the gurney. I will point out that in a state where 1 in 22 of it’s citizens are in jail, prison or under court supervision, it very well could be them at some point.
Texas leads the nation in DNA and non-DNA exonerations including several from our fabled Death Row. Texas Governor Rick Perry said, to wild applause, during a debate that he “sleeps well at night” presiding over executions. Really? Either Perry has no conscience or he is a bald faced liar. Kerry Max Cook, who had three death row sentences overturned, sent me this today:
“ …It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict, but to see that justice is done. They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused (Preamble to the Texas State Penal Code, Article 2.01)….”
There is definitely something broken – – and broken badly – – when the Texas County and District Attorney Association section of the State Bar of Texas awards and sanctions rogue prosecutors by unabashedly nominating them “Prosecutors of the Year.” My name is Kerry Max Cook. I am the author of a memoir called CHASING JUSTICE: My story of freeing myself after two decades on Death row for a crime I didn’t commit.
What do Williamson County’s Ken Anderson and Smith County’s Jack Skeen share in common? Both were awarded “Prosecutor of the Year” by the County and District Attorneys section of the Texas State Bar. And both were later appointed to District Judgeships by Gov. Rick Perry. When a Tyler Judge in Smith County moved my case to Williamson County in 1992 for the first of what would become a series of retrials in the ‘90’s, then-District Attorney Jack Skeen sent me back to death row a second time. In fact, of all the things you can say Jack Skeen and Ken Anderson have in common, the one thing they don’t is that Jack Skeen is not facing a Court of Inquiry and Ken Anderson is.
If anyone really sat down and took the time to wade through all the documented Jack Skeen and David Dobbs misconduct in my case, I think you would be shocked at how bad it really was. It would make the machinations of John Bradley look like Cinderella. But that won’t happen. You see, in Texas we have what I like to call Sak’s Fifth Avenue justice for the Ken Andersons and Jack Skeens, and Walk-Mart justice for the Michael Mortons and Kerry Cooks.
Take my case for example. Here you have one of our largest newspapers in Texas, the Dallas Morning News, from 1980 until 1992 writing an award-winning series of investigative stories on my persecution that began with Inmate was Railroaded, Testimony in Cook case called mostly false, Convicted Man Called Innocent, Key Evidence in Cook Case Suppressed, Wrong Man on Death row, Psychologist Views on Inmate Disputed, Conclusions Wrong, Experts Say, Police Didn’t Pursue Leads in ’77 Killing: Tyler Inquiry called Sloppy, and many more. These headlines were published across the state of Texas. The man responsible who caused those torrid headlines to be written was 1977-78 Smith County district attorney A.D. Clark, III.
Fourteen years later, Jack Skeen (A.D. Clark, III’s first-cousin) used the exact same “fraudulent” case A.D. Clark, III first built to convict me and then pushed it until he got a second conviction and death sentence at a third trial in 1994 with a Williamson County jury. * These Dallas Morning News investigative headlines had already splashed across Texas long before Jack Skeen received his “Prosecutor of the Year” award in 1997. In addition, by this time, Jack Skeen and David Dobbs had already sent me back to death row once more and they were on their way to do it again in a fourth trial after the conviction they obtained in my third trial with the use of the very same “fraudulent evidence (See Tex. Ct. Crim. Apps. Nov. 6th. 1996 Opinion)” that A.D. Clark, III used originally. The County and District Attorney’s Association knew all of this when they nominated Jack Skeen “Prosecutor of the Year” in 1997.
Today, it is so ironic that former Smith County Chief Felony prosecutor David Dobbs makes these kind of public comments to explain the misconduct in my case calling the egregious nature of the documented prosecutorial misconduct anything but that: “No question there were some things that were done to Mr. Cook in 1978 that were unfair and happened before we got the case.” If what happened to me and all my losses weren’t so profound, I could laugh at David Dobbs hubris. For Dobbs, it is just one in a long plethora of lies played out on an audience that doesn’t know any better but to believe him. The facts of my case show those comments to be gross manipulation. Simply put, David Dobbs you wouldn’t know the truth if it walked up and introduced itself to you. I know the words of Article 2.01 of the Texas Penal Code were words meant to have meaning, serve as a moral compass. Given what I’ve gone through as a victim of Smith County Justice, now going on thirty-five years, I am not so sure I can ever believe in those words again.
The motions filed in Smith County can be read here and there is more to come.
Michael Morton hearing on February 10, 2012 at the Williamson Co. Courthouse. photo by: Spencer Selvidge
AUSTIN, Texas — (DMN) – Prominent Houston Attorney Rusty Hardin will be the special prosecutor in the court of inquiry looking into possible misconduct in the case of Michael Morton, who was wrongfully convicted of bludgeoning his wife to death in 1987. This won’t be Hardin’s first high-profile case. The former Harris County prosecutor has represented Roger Clemens, J. Howard Marshall’s estate in the Anna Nicole Smith lawsuit, and during the Enron scandal, accounting firm Arthur Anderson. Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, who prosecuted Morton and is now a state district judge, has vigorously denied any wrongdoing in his court filings, and has expressed regret over the 25 years that Morton was imprisoned before he was exonerated in December.
Morton argues through his lawyers that there is probable cause to believe that Anderson should be charged with contempt of court and tampering with official documents. Morton’s lawyers allege that Anderson concealed police reports that included a transcript of a telephone conversation between a sheriff’s deputy and Morton’s mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a “monster” — who was not his father — attack and kill his mother. Anderson’s lawyers said that the judge in the case only requested a small portion of the police reports be turned over and called the complete report ”nothing more than an artifice, a construct to support a requested result.”
I like Diane Sawyer but am almost convinced that ABC News has launched a war against red meat. First, as I was sitting down to dinner, Diane reported on World News that “Pink Slime” a cheap meat filler, is in 70 percent of the ground beef sold at supermarkets and up to 25 percent of each American hamburger patty, by some estimates. The low-grade trimmings come from the most contaminated parts of the cow and were once only used in dog food and cooking oil. But because of BPI’s treatment of the trimmings — simmering them in low heat, separating fat and tissue using a centrifuge and spraying them with ammonia gas to kill germs — the United States Department of Agriculture says it’s safe to eat.
I appreciated the report even though it basically ruined my appetite and ruined dinner for the evening. I don’t want to eat pink slime. Diane and ABC didn’t stop there. A few days later, the reported again on “Pink Slime” and helped us us by telling us what stores don’t carry the substance. ABC News traveled across the country to the meat section of grocery stores to see if it’s in the ground beef they sell. At most stores it was impossible to tell for sure whether the beef contained pink slime. At one store there was no way to know from the labels and the butchers did not know the answer.
ABC News emailed the top 10 grocery chains in America and seven responded:
“We rely on the federal government to help guide us on food safety issues. USDA has been clear in its judgment that Lean Finely Textured Ground Beef is a safe source of nutrition. However, we are reviewing the matter at this time.”
2. Ahold (Stop & Shop/Giant)
“Stores operated by the divisions of Ahold USA do carry ground beef made with Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT), also called Finely Textured Beef (FTB). Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings (BLBT) is beef and is absolutely safe for consumption. To make the product, beef companies use beef trimmings, which are the small cuts of beef that remain when larger cuts are trimmed down. These trimmings are USDA-inspected, wholesome cuts of beef. This process has been an industry standard for almost 20 years. Alternatives to the conventional ground beef supply, in the form of Certified Angus Beef and Nature’s Promise ground beef products, are available to customers in stores across all of the divisions of Ahold USA. These products do not include the use of BLBT. Customers are being encouraged to ask any meat associate should they have any questions or would like to be directed to meat that does not include Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings. Our labeling is in compliance with USDA regulations. BLBT is USDA tested and approved ground beef and therefore does not require labeling.”
Does not use pink slime.
“Anything that we sell at Costco we want to explain it’s origins, and I personally don’t know how to explain trim treated with ammonia in our ground beef,” Craig Wilson, vice president of quality assurance for Costco, told ABC News. “I just don’t know how to explain that. I’m not that smart.”
“We have never allowed the use of LFTB (pink slime) in our meat. It’s 100 percent ground beef with no LFTB.”
“All our ground beef sold at H-E-B is 100% pure with no additives.”
6. Whole Foods
Does not use pink slime.
“We do not use finely textured beef in our fresh ground beef. … We are routinely presented the finely textured beef as an option, but have always refused.”
In addition to Whole Foods, Tops Markets told ABC News it does not use “pink slime.” A viewer, Miles Herbert, wanted to know, “Is there any evidence that organic meat contains this pink slime?” It turns out there isn’t. If your meat is stamped USDA Organic, it’s pure meat with no filler. Otherwise, you can’t know from the packaging because pink slime does not have to appear on the label. And the USDA is giving no indication it will force meat packers to lift the veil of secrecy any time soon.
Turns out some Kroger meat does have “Pink Slime” in it but just as I wrapped my brain around reading the label closely, Diane and ABC hit me again! Eating a single serving of red meat per day may raise the risk of early death, a new study found. The study, which followed more than 120,000 American men and women, linked daily consumption of unprocessed red meat with a 13 percent increase in mortality risk. A daily serving of processed meat carried an even bigger risk. Eating one hotdog or two strips of bacon per day was associated with a 20 percent increased risk of death, according to the study. All of this and then a story about how former President Bill Clinton has turned vegan leads me to believe ABC News has declared war on red meat.