Saturday, September 13, 2008

Courting justice, or just screwing with legal system?

Secret lovers and other affairs of the heart can be delicate matters and lead to indelicate consequences, but in this case, was it a question of life or death?

They weren't Frankie and Johnnie. He was the County District Attorney, charged with prosecuting crimes. She was a judge.

He prosecuted many cases before her court, including Charles Hood's murder case.

Neither Judge nor Prosecutor ever formally disclosed anything about their indeterminate and intimate relationship, which, some might say, carries at least the appearance of partiality, if not outright conflict of interest, interference with the intercourse of justice and all sorts of other mischief.

But of course, those who might say such things aren't Texan and wouldn't understand that having "friends" on the bench is no big deal. At least that's the story that the current Assistant District Attorney from the former District Attorney's county, John Rolater, appears to be sticking with, as reported in this report:
"The real matter in this is how close [of] a relationship becomes a problem for a judge," he said. "All the judges in this courthouse are friends with many of the lawyers who practice before them, and there are probably some former romantic relationships among judges and lawyers throughout our state and country.

"At what point does this become a problem? Do I need to keep a list of all my friends and all the people I dated once? Where does it end?"
For one man on death row, the aforementioned Charles Hood, it may end with his execution, but on the other hand it may be that he gets away with murder. That is why Lady Justice stands there blindfolded, and possibly deaf as well, sword in hand, ready to take a swing at the pinata of real word complexities that scales sometimes just can't weigh.

Says the NYT,
The affair might have gone unnoticed by history had it not been for the trial of Mr. Hood, who was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder and robbery of a couple in Plano. Mr. O’Connell handled part of the prosecution, while Judge Holland presided.
This is a legal SNAFU, or somesuch shemozzle, as reported in the LA Times:
Lawrence Fox, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a former chairman of the American Bar Assn.'s ethics panel, said the date that the affair ended was unimportant.

"I don't care when it ended. Because the very nature of a personal relationship like that has such a dramatic effect on people -- positive, negative -- that no litigant should be in a position where they have to worry if the judge will be biased," said Fox, one of 36 legal ethicists who signed a letter to the Texas courts and to Perry saying that such a relationship would be a conflict of interest.

Fox said it was outrageous that Holland and O'Connell had refused to confirm the affair in June, when Hood was facing execution and survived only because of legal fighting.

"This man would be dead," he said. "And these people stood silent."
Meanwhile, back in Texas, the murder victim's family is not impressed, according to that report:
The ex-wife of one of the victims was stunned to hear Mr. Hood had received a stay of execution again. Mr. Hood has had six execution dates.

"This has been going on for too long," said Eva Williamson.

Ms. Williamson said she feels Mr. Hood received a fair trial and her family would like some closure.

"This has been since '89 and we had been told this would happen within 10 years," she said. "This has been going on too long."


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