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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Another ex-DA in hotseat for wrongful conviction, Bexar Co. Judge charged with bribery, Fed Bureau Prisons Serves Dogfood to Inmates

from Texas Tribune

The State Bar of Texas has found enough evidence of alleged prosecutorial misconduct that it will launch a hearing in front of an administrative judge to determine whether former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta should be sanctioned for his role in securing a wrongful death sentence for Anthony Graves in 1994. Graves spent 18 years behind bars — 12 of them on death row, where he twice neared execution — before the U.S. 5th Circuit of Appeals overturned his conviction in 2006, ruling that Sebesta had used false testimony and withheld favorable evidence in the case.

Ex-judge vows to fight bribery charges
More than four months after resigning from the 144th district bench amid a corruption investigation, former state District Judge Angus McGinty made his first appearance in federal court Monday and vowed to fight charges that he took bribes from lawyer Al Acevedo in exchange for rigging cases.

Update on DPS Lab Scandal
Grits for Breakfast has a good article on the continuing fallout from a DPS lab technician who falsified thousands of test reports, a practice called "drylabbing." The Court of Criminal Appeals denied habeas relief in Ex Parte Cody when the drug was still available for testing, and was indeed cocaine. Most of the cases he worked on are from East Texas. The lab tech in question is Jonathan Salvador.

Texas meat manufacturer has pledged to adopt new procedures to ensure compliance with food safety laws and paid almost $400,000 to resolve a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigation into mislabeled meat that was intended for pet food but instead was sold to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and served to prisoners.
The U.S. Department of Justice was quick to point out in an August 17, 2012 press release that there was “no evidence that anyone who consumed any of the ... product suffered any ill effects.”
According to the Justice Department, John Soules Foods, Inc. of Tyler, Texas entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.


  1. After reading some of your posters comments regarding what constitutes a minimum defense in criminal proceedings, I thought I would do a little reading up on the matter. My first stop was the Kerr County District Clerks office. My initial plan was to look at the past docket in the 198th and 216th, and pull some case files and see what the defense lawyers are filing, maybe even create a data base for statistical analysis. I ran into an instant road block, as the District Clerk, Ms. Berlew, informed me they do not have a current or past docket and when they get one they quickly throw it away, and do not keep any copies. Ms. Berlew informed the the docket was not filed of record, and therefore I did not have the right to access the information. She referred me to the DA, and said that I could get docket info there. This seems a little strange to me as per the District Clerks web site as follows:

    "The District Clerk receives for filing and processing all documents in a court case. The Clerk Maintains the official court records and must:

    * Mark the exact date and time of receipt
    * Issue papers during the life of a case for many years after a case is final. For example: subpoenas, notices, citations, abstracts, writs, temporary restraining orders, warrants, etc…
    * Prepare the “docket” or calendar of hearings and trials"

    Now my antennas are starting to go up. According to the DC web site, one of the primary duties of the Clerk is to prepare the docket, and now they claim they do not prepare the docket, and do not have a copy of a past, present or future docket.

    My next stop is to call the 198th DA and ask for a copy of the last few dockets. I am told that information is not available to ordinary citizens (secret) and I would not be getting any docket info, past, present or future from the 198th DA. Now the antennas are really going up. I went all over the courthouse looking for a docket posting and there was none. One common thread among the DA's staff and the District Clerk is they both wanted to know who I am and why I want the information. Not good.

    As a non-lawyer, I find it hard to believe that a District Court Docket is a secret document. Perhaps you can explain to me the way the law applies here. It seems to me the Court Docket is among the most important documents one needs if there is to be any meaningful oversight of our government. The dead ends, stone walls and run runarounds from career bureaucrats is something I have seen before, and it never ends pretty. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire.

  2. This may be a lack of communication. I'm not sure what you're calling the 'docket.' It's one of those imprecise terms. It can mean the list of cases to be dealt with on a specific court date - it will list the defendants, their lawyers (if they have one), and the action to be taken - arraignment, pretrial hearing, motion to suppress, sentencing, probation revocation and so on.
    It can also refer to the record of what happens in a given case. You can go online on the DC website under public records, follow the menu to criminal cases, put in a name or case number, and there is a list of everything that has happened in the case. The judge also makes notations on the jacket of each file, or on a separate "docket sheet." It's all public information.

  3. p.s. I've been meaning to do a couple of posts on discovery in criminal cases. Since the Michael Morton law went into effect, the DA is required to give us so much that, with the standing discovery order for the district courts, we don't have to file as many motions as we used to.

  4. In order to get a name and case number I need a docket (the list of cases to be dealt with on a specific court date) as I want to look at cases that have been adjudicated in chronological order. In order to watch court proceedings I need a docket, showing what cases are to appear in a future court date. Obviously there is a difference between something filed of record and public information. The DC claims the docket is not filed of record and therefore she has no duty to let me see it or give me a copy. I feel like Berlew is not correct on this point. This is an obstructionist move, in my opinion. I will file an open records request.

    The Kerr DC website is one year out of date on cases set for trial in one court and I complained about this to the DC and the IT person that works in the DC office. I think I am in agreement with the 198th DA's staff and the DC concerning the general definition of what a docket is. They dont want me to have this information. I prefer to look at the actual hard copy case files in the DC office, but without a record of what the court did and a case number, I can not do this. I can not be sure each document within the file was scanned, as some of the work on the DA website is out of date and incomplete.

    I pulled one file for a PG 1 > 1gm, and noted the San Antonio lawyer put up a vigorous defense with multiple pretrial motions filed and several hearings. One could imagine that each case is unique, but I suspect there may patterns that emerge with a proper statistical sampling.

    I also viewed a judges order concerning discovery, and I thought the scope was fairly narrow. I am interested to learn how the Morton law expands this.

    I thought it would be interesting to look at about 100 similar felony cases (PG1 >1gm) and enter the information into a database and make queries regarding the differences in pretrial motions, lawyers, race, outcome of the cases...etc I did see one (1) docket for the 198th that contained all the info I was looking for, so I know these documents (dockets) exist.

    Having a record of the courts past and current business seems to be really important. The argument that I do not have a right to see this info because it is not filed of record causes me some concern as well as furrowed eyebrows.