Justice for All

Do lawyers protect their own when it comes to punishing wrongdoing? It’s a common perception and one that clearly contributes to the public’s overall low impression of lawyers. However, a couple of recent events in Central Texas demonstrate conclusively that holding a powerful position in our criminal justice system is no guarantee against prosecution, or even jail time.     

In the first case, Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson was arrested and booked into jail after a special Court of Inquiry found that Anderson – while serving as Williamson County District Attorney in 1987 – intentionally withheld key pieces of exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys and the judge, resulting in Defendant Michael Morton serving 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Judge Louis Sturns, who presided over the Inquiry, was not amused:  “This court cannot think of a more intentionally harmful act than a prosecutor’s conscious choice to hide mitigating evidence so as to create an uneven playing field for a defendant facing a murder charge and a life sentence,” said Judge Sturns. 

The second instance involved Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who was arrested on April 12 on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. She refused to provide a breath or blood sample and forced sheriff’s deputies to obtain a search warrant to draw a blood sample, which later showed her blood alcohol level to be nearly three times the legal limit. 

Videotape of the District Attorney’s booking show her demanding that deputies “call Greg,” and asking if “Greg” had authorized the search warrant, an apparent reference to Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton. To her credit, once she sobered up, she apologized and agreed to accept whatever punishment the judge gave her.  She received 45 days in jail, a relatively stiff sentence for a first-time offender with no criminal record. 

When asked if “Greg” had authorized the search warrant, the deputy simply replied that “I was advised to do nothing different on this than I would on any other case I would make.”  When the criminal justice system treats a powerful prosecutor just as they do every other defendant, the system is working pretty well. 

Posted: 4/25/2013 10:22:22 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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About This Blog

Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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