Last Night’s Good News on the Criminal Justice Front

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

There were a couple of results from last night that Agitator readers should find encouraging.

The first was the reelection of Dallas County, Texas, District Attorney Craig Watkins. It was close, but it looks like Watkins pulled it out. Watkins is a former defense attorney who in 2006 took over one of the most notoriously ruthless DA offices in the country. He’s also the first African-American DA in Texas history. Watkins set up a special unit within DA’s office whose sole charge was to find innocent people who had been convicted by the prosecutors who previously occupied the office. It’s probably of no coincidence, then, that Dallas County leads every county in the country (and most states) in exonerations. Watson actually had critics, who argued that it wasn’t a prosecutors job to free the wrongly convicted. So it was good to see Dallas voters give him their approval, if only by a slim margin. (Read my interview with Watkins here.)

The other encouraging news from last night is that Colorado voters soundly rejected judges Terence Gilmore and Jolene Blair. Gilmore and Blair were reprimanded by the Colorado Supreme Court in 2008 for withholding exculpatory evidence while they were prosecutors. That withheld evidence helped them convict Timothy Masters of a crime he didn’t commit. While Masters served a decade in prison, Gimore and Blair were promoted to judge. The reprimand and finding that they convicted an innocent man did not preclude them from sitting on the bench, where they presided over criminal cases.

Voters stepped in where the system failed. Masters’ family and supporters started a campaign to get the two removed from the bench. Of the eight judges up for retention in Colorado’s 8th Judicial District, only Blair and Gilmore were rejected, and both were rejected by at least 60 percent of voters. The other six judges were retained with at least 70 percent of the vote. It’s pretty clear that the Masters case is why they lost.

In an age when there’s far too little accountability for misbehaving prosecutors, Gilmore and Blair got some belated comeuppance. More of this, please.

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33 Responses to “Last Night’s Good News on the Criminal Justice Front”

  1. #1 |  anarch | 

    So individuality and its rights might have a chance after all?

  2. #2 |  Rhayader | 

    Looks like Steve Cooley is gonna lose a close race for California AG too, which is good news (or, really, evasion of bad news) for CA medical marijuana.

  3. #3 |  Sky | 

    From the article…”Watson is a former defense attorney who in 2006 took over one of the most notoriously ruthless DA offices in the country.”

    Really? I would have continued to believe that Mississippi held that distinction!

  4. #4 |  JS | 

    God bless Craig Watkins! To get elected in one of the most neoconservative areas of the country is an amazing accomplishment and may indicate that even some of the most rabid law and order conservatives are starting to see what a problem we have.

  5. #5 |  Patrick | 

    It didn’t hurt that Bob Fletcher, one of the leading lights behind the awful Minneapolis / Saint Paul Metro Gang Strike Force, got his rear handed to him in the Ramsey County sheriff’s race.

    The Strike Force is best known for the Fong Lee shooting. Fletcher is best known for a home invasion in which deputies confiscated three buckets of dirty water, thinking to protect John McCain from being attacked with urine.

    (Sorry for linking to my own blog, but I haven’t seen it covered by Joel Rosenberg, who’s really the go-to guy on Fletcher.)

  6. #6 |  Darth Fabulous | 

    So Dallas re-elects Watkins and loosens restrictions on beer and wine sales. Go Big D! (But still f— the Cowboys)

  7. #7 |  Kerade | 

    #4 | JS | November 3rd, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    While you may be right about most rural areas of Texas, Dallas voted more predominately Blue than Red yesterday. And I’m sure Austin was a big blue dot on the political map.

  8. #8 |  SJE | 

    Great news. Perhaps my opposition to judicial elections should be rethought: maybe they should only be allowed when there is something like a special election to recall the judge. Sort of electoral impeachment.

    Also good is that the Sheriff of Prince George’s County (MD), one of the more notable counties for police abuse, deaths in custody, puppycide, “malfunctioning” cameras, etc, did NOT win his bid to become the next executive, despite direct support by the outgoing executive.

  9. #9 |  Mo | 

    This is great news. Who are you and what have you done with Radley?

  10. #10 |  Irving Washington | 

    JS, Dallas County had a 20,000 straight ticket vote advantage for Democrats yesterday. Watkins, for whom I voted BTW, would have lost badly were it not for the morons who vote straight ticket. Also, Texas is not “neoconservative.” It’s paleoconservative.

    A little background: Radley, I do not believe there were any serious critics of the exonerations, at least not recently. Watkins’s opponent pledged to continue DNA testing and the work of the conviction integrity unit. Watkins was not much of a defense lawyer in private practice. He has admitted that he is not the right lawyer to prosecute the most serious criminal cases. He comes off as not too smart in conversation. Really, his only qualifications for office in ’06 were his strong connections to the local and state Democratic party and his height. But he has managed to do quite a good job, much to the surprise of the criminal bar in Dallas. He delegates serious cases to skilled prosecutors. He’s been attacked for his unprofessional behavior at Commissioners’ Court, but he was fighting to preserve his budget, and I think the prosecutors believe that he’s looking out for them. And his office has a pretty good conviction rate.

    So even though I attribute his reelection to zombified straight ticket voters, I’m happy to see him back for 4 more years.

  11. #11 |  Andrew | 

    Good to know life’s not all oleanders and sucker punches in Texas…

  12. #12 |  oscar | 

    It looks like Beth Dixon, the judge in NC, won last night. She had been the subject of a post or two recently for not tossing the arrest of a woman for taping the police from her front porch.

  13. #13 |  lunchstealer | 

    Also from Colorado, looks like former prosecutor Ken Buck is also going down to useless team-blue tool Mike Bennett.

    He’s taken a lot of heat for some poor decisions (failing to prosecute date rape in one case, and disclosing divisions within the prosecutor’s office to the defense in another) but he hasn’t seen much criticism for being too aggressive. Anybody know anything about Buck? I mean, it doesn’t matter, but it was a question I was never able to answer.

  14. #14 |  JS | 

    I thought Dallas was always a republican stronghold? Well I’m glad to hear it’s not then.

  15. #15 |  JS | 

    Irving Washington “So even though I attribute his reelection to zombified straight ticket voters,”

    Really nice turn of phrase there too Irv!

  16. #16 |  lunchstealer | 

    Dallas county is pretty blue. Probably the second most liberal part of Texas after Travis county.

  17. #17 |  lunchstealer | 

    +1 to Darth Fabulous. Those insane Dallas restrictions on alcohol sales have long been annoying.

  18. #18 |  Sky | 

    In regard to Mississippi and in particular Judge Jim Kitchens (of Forrest Allgood fame)…was re-elected yesterday.

    Jim Kitchens 18,843 57%
    William Starks 14,200 43%

  19. #19 |  Gerald A | 

    “rabid law and order conservatives” is a rather broad brush. I would consider myself one. Just don’t confuse me with the anti-drug crowd, a whole ‘nother animal.

    From my perspective, there is no such thing as a victimless crime, if there is no victim, there is no crime, and the state can’t be a victim.

    The power of the state is a very big stick to use against it’s citizens, and the prosecutors are the ones swinging it. Until they are held accountable there will always be some jerk who abuses it. Withholding exculpatory evidence should be a criminial offense and strip them of all immunity.

  20. #20 |  the innominate one | 

    These anecdotes almost give me faith in democracy.

    Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

  21. #21 |  K9kevlar | 

    Fanfuckingtastic! Divided government allows us to look forward to higher taxes, less freedom, and even more regulation of our daily lives. With UNITED governenment we would have had to deal with higher taxes, less freedom, and even more regulation of our daily lives. Future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

  22. #22 |  Buddy Hinton | 

    This is off-topic, but police seemed to have deleted their video in the Danroy Henry slaying:

  23. #23 |  supercat | 

    //rabid law and order conservatives//

    I consider myself a “law and order” conservative, but would aver that anyone who does not support prosecution of government agents who commit crimes supports neither law nor order. I wonder why so many so-called “law-and-order” people aren’t?

  24. #24 |  Frederick T. | 

    While on the subject of questionable prosecutors in Colorado, consider voting DA Carol Chambers out of office in 2012


    “Susan Greene’s story [Denver Post 9/27/09] of District Attorney Carol Chambers’ office withholding exculpatory evidence in the first-degree murder trail of David Bueno is chilling. For our justice system to work, those who work with the system must follow the rules. Apparently Chambers doesn’t see it that way.”


  25. #25 |  JS | 

    supercat “I consider myself a “law and order” conservative, but would aver that anyone who does not support prosecution of government agents who commit crimes supports neither law nor order. I wonder why so many so-called “law-and-order” people aren’t?”

    That’s a really good question. I don’t know either but I have a friend who is a minister on staff at a huge Baptist church, which seems more republican than Christian. Anyway, the people there have an almost reverent worship of anyone in a government issued uniform, both cops and military. I’m not sure why this is, maybe because they are white and affluent and afraid that if it weren’t for cops all these evil minorities would invade their neighborhoods? Same with the military-they really seem to believe that if we weren’t over there killing muslims they would be sailing up the potomac by now. Maybe that kind of moral panic plays a part in the law and order conservative mentality and explains why they tend to see the cop or soldier as almost incapable of doing wrong.

  26. #26 |  Berck | 

    Re: Colorado Judges. It would have been good if you’d mentioned the history of those two judges BEFORE the election. Had I known anything about the judges, I would have voted against retention, but despite spending over an hour trying to find out *anything* about them, I couldn’t find anything terribly useful, so I voted to retain. I obviously wasn’t looking in the right place or hard enough, but a tip from the Agitator sure would have been nice…

  27. #27 |  mtc | 

    Glad to see you picked up the Gilmore and Blair story Radley. I voted no on retaining both yesterday, and it was nice to see the citizens of Northern Colorado choose to punish their misdeeds as prosecutors by a pretty healthy margin. As somebody said in the comments on one of the local newspaper sites, unemployment in Larimer County just went up by two, and for a change that isn’t bad news!

    Very strange (good?) day for me as a voter yesterday. Every single candidate/judge I was voting *against* lost (Blair and Gilmore, Buck, Tancredo and Markey). Prop 19 failing was pretty disappointing, but that was out of my hands. Loveland, one of the cities in Blair and Gilmore’s district, voted 2:1 to reject a measure to allow dispensaries to keep operating inside the city, but that just means more economic activity and tax revenue for the city I live in (Fort Collins). Thanks Loveland!

  28. #28 |  Windy | 

    WA State had a great judge retained on our Supreme Court, too — Justice Richard B. Sanders. His rulings have always been pro-liberty and if judges were allowed to declare their preferred political party affiliation, there would be an L behind his name.

    On a happy note WA voters repealed a ridiculously convoluted tax on certain foods and beverages (including bottled water and organic health food bars) the legislature passed recently, and voted down an initiative to create a state income tax (which the legislature would be allowed, by WA Constitutional law, to extend to more income levels and increase the percentage after two years). They also restored the 2/3 majority requirement for increased taxes and fees.

    On a much lower note, WA voters appear to have returned both sold out whores Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen to congress. WA voters also refused to allow privatization of liquor sales and voted to allow judges to deny more people bail.

    A mixed bag, for sure. I am also disappointed at the failure of CA voters to pass Prop 19.

  29. #29 |  Laura Victoria | 

    #13 and #26. I don’t see how anyone could have missed the stuff on Blair and Gilmore. It was in the Coloradoan almost daily, and a google of their names brings up the whole case, including my blog posts on the pair of legal lowlifes. The Denver Post covered them as well. Well, all’s well that ends well.

    As to DA Ken Buckwho lost the Senate race after totally undpredicted heavy dem turnout, he is actually a very good DA. In fact, he is special prosecutor in the Tim Masters case involving then-DAs Blair and Gilmore. He obtained a grand jury indictment for multiple counts of perjury against the lead detective in the case for lying in the first trial on the witness stand. It is the first prosecution of a cop for perjury in the history of Colorado (and we Agitatortots all know they ain’t too common in the rest of the country either).

    It should also be noted that the prosecutors’ absolute immunity was on its way to being pierced in a federal civil suit, and the county and the city settled with Masters for $5 mil a piece, for a total settlement of $10 million for the 10 years he spent in prison.

    Ironically (kinda) the Commission of Judicial Performance does this big evaluation system of its judges, but then they go around and give “Retain” recommendations over 99 percent of the time. These two got retains despite the discipline on the basis that they only look at conduct committed while on the bench, not conduct committed before they were appointed – even though they were caught while on the bench and it was their failure to self-report themselves to the bar that caused the delay. Plus, as judges they showed no regret or remorse the way a good defendant is supposed to. Judge Gilmore also had a prior public reprimand for another incident of withholding evidence.

    Great media coverage by the Coloradan newspaper made this possible. Unlike most hometown papers that give local DAs and judges a pass, the Coloradan did not. It helped that the underlying murder case was itself so notorious, and it was their (cheating) convictions that basically got the pair their judicial appointments.

    Both of their experience is pretty much limited to being DAs and Blair’s resume consists of the University of North Dakota, a school so shitty it is barely holding on to its accreditation by the ABA. These two don’t seem like the types to be welcomed by criminal defendants with the ad tag, “former Larimer County judge.” I’ll be following their every move once they are out of office in January, and hope to help drive them to jobs as burger flippers.

    Thanks for covering this Radley.

  30. #30 |  Charlie O | 

    #14 JS. It has changed somewhat with the white flight to the northern suburbs.

  31. #31 |  fwb | 

    The general public and most DAs confuse prosecutor with persecutor. It IS the job of the DA to seek JUSTICE not just notches on his/her belt.

    Here in NM we have a problem in that an evil persecutor DA was just elected governor.

  32. #32 |  Sunday Discussion | The Agitator | 

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