Tucson NACDL. Death Penalty. Houston.
Back from Tucson NACDL meeting. Tell you what, I’ve got a whole new respect for Arizona. It has some of the most beautiful country I have seen. Some friends spent some time in the Sedona area last fall, and now Tucson this winter, and I want to come back. And I got to play some music with a good friend and great lawyer and saw a bunch of the same.
But off to political government people problems. We’ve got a variety of death penalty issues at the moment. I used to think the US would do away with the d.p. in my life time, and then we got the terrorist problems and the attack on the U.S., and the activation of federal death prosecutions. I lost a little hope with those events. But not entirely. In fact, what was looking really pretty dark is beginning to get a little light on it.
Tina Gutierrez, a wonderful lawyer from Baltimore, with roots in Texas like me, sought relief for the people in Puerto Rico, where the citizenry is totally against the death penalty, when our federal prosecutors sought death against a Puerto Rican citizen in the federal court in San Juan. Tina prevailed and the Court would not allow the prosecutors to seek death. This was a few years ago, but it was a great victory for the people. Alas, this great fighter was lost a few years ago when Cristina succumbed to a variety of health issues.
And speaking of our inside losses, Amy Seidman from Vermont, a wonderful and feisty warrior, a public defender of the best sort, died a few years ago from cancer, just two weeks shy of her 50th birthday. Amy was one who would never claim to be ready for trial; there was always more she wanted to do for her client. I miss her.
Bill Bryson died a couple years ago in his home in Anchorage. Bill was a traveler (not the travel writer), a strikingly handsome man much respected by his clients and colleagues and feared by the prosecution. And a most desirable dinner partner.
Some of our United States are looking at what happens in death cases, how many people are actually innocent of the crime for which they received the "ultimate penalty." And there is a slow down, a de facto moratorium, an informal moratoriuim, a recognition of the issues, among many states and many more people.
Thanks to Barry Scheck and NACDL and the Innocence Projects springing up around the country, the tireless humanitarian lawyers with real respect for Life.
Then there’s Chuck Rosenthal in Houston, a long standing and staunch supporter of the death penalty. Chuck, as the District Attorney of Harris County, explained that he would continue to seek death for anybody potentially eligible, and seek execution of those convicted, because this is God’s will.
You may have heard Chuck resigned last Friday, following some of his own federal court testimony and an indictment. My understanding of the big picture is this: a warrant was executed by HPD, and a fellow across the street taped the beating that accompanied the warrant. Houston’s finest didn’t want to be filmed, so they attacked the camera man, beat him, and destroyed his camera and film. The camera man got a lawyer who explored what insiders have always known or at least suspected: there is an agreement between the Houston DA’s office and HPD to tolerate these little civic lessons in proper respect for law enforcement. At any rate, the lawyer subpoenaed emails from the DA’s office, and uncovered a boatload of inappropriate emails from Chuck. (I never knew him to have a sense of humor at all, but apparently he was quite amused by racist and sexist and otherwise exploitative email, including videos of men beating women.) Then apparently one of the emails found in the mess was one from a very married Chuck Rosenthal to a secretary not his wife - something about kissing her behind her ear. Maybe that’s just a special greeting in the DA’s office there.
What adds to the mix legally, and I’m guessing prompted his resignation, is the fact that Chuck destroyed at least hundreds and probably thousands of emails AFTER they were subpoenaed to Federal Court. His testimony in court was brought to an abrupt end when, after explaining why he destroyed the emails, a sworn declaration was presented, signed under oath and penalty of perjury by Mr. Chuck Rosenthal, giving a quite different explanation of the destruction of subpoenaed evidence.
Wow. I went to a different Sunday School. Hope you did too.