11.30.11

Part 1 of the Ken Anderson deposition released

Posted in Criminal Justice, District Attorney, Williamson County at 1:09 pm by wcnews

KXAN has the story, Anderson: Morton case “‘worst nightmare’.

The deposition, which Anderson had sought to prevent , came after recently tested DNA evidence showed that another man likely killed Christine in the family’s home in Williamson County. That man, Mark Norwood, is in custody and is also considered a suspect in an unsolved killing of an Austin woman around the same time.

Anderson was asked if after he left the district attorney’s office if he was aware of the issue of post-conviction DNA analysis in the Morton case.

“I was generally aware of it,” Anderson replied, adding that it was likely that he had heard about it from his successor, John Bradley.

Asked if Bradley consulted with him about the Morton case, Anderson said, “I don’t remember a lot of that.”

“I think it was more like if something happened, they would let me know and I was pretty much out of the loop,” he said.

Scheck also asked Anderson if he had ever advised Bradley on how to handle any litigation regarding Morton’s appeals.

“I can’t imagine I would have done that,” Anderson replied.

Scheck also pressed Anderson on suggestions that his office had kept from Morton’s defense team such evidence as the fact that the Mortons’ toddler son had seen “a monstor” attack his mother on the night she was killed

Anderson also pushed back against some of the questions, saying that it was unreasonable to expect him to recall in vivid detail event that occurred a quarter century ago.

“What I want to make clear is that you had showed me a bunch of documents, and I had reviewed some of the trial transcripts,” he said. “And I did the best I could based upon that information to give the answers to questions you were asking.

“But to answer an of those questions is that I have no recollection — specific recollection of things that happened 25,24,23 years ago.”

From that there are just qualified statements and no outright admissions or denials.  Here’s the link to Part 1.

The margins tax in context

Posted in Around The State, Bad Government Republicans, Commentary, Taxes, The Lege at 12:42 pm by wcnews

Whenever discussing the so-called margins tax in Texas, it must be spoken about in context. That context is – that it is working as designed. And what’s meant by that is this. It was known when the margins tax was created that it would create a huge budget shortfall. When that came to pass nothing was done to make up for that shortfall. To “fix” the shortfall that was created by the margins many needed programs, namely public education, were cut by billions of dollars.

This has long been the GOP’s modus operandi for the last 40 years  - cut taxes, create a deficit (shortfall), to use as an excuse to gut public spending that helps poor, working, an middle classes. That’s why Daddy Bush referred to St. Ronnie’s tax scheme in the 1980 GOP Primary as voodoo economics. The GOP has never had the courage to campaign outright against government programs that are valued by the people. They couch it all in talk of tax cuts, and big gument.

With that context in mind….In a response to the Texas Supreme Court upholding the margins tax the Editorial Board at the AAS wrote this, Margins tax isn’t best option, but it’s here.

Since its birth in 2006, the tax has evolved into a modified gross receipts tax. Filers can take some deductions, but those aren’t quite as broad as federal net income tax deductions. It is the major source of tax revenue that funds most state functions and was woefully short when legislators met in 2009 and 2011. In 2011, the two-year gap between income and expenditure requests was $27 billion — a figure that resulted in a round of cutting programs and personnel.

The Legislature long ago lost its affection for the margins tax but hasn’t been able — or willing — to devise ways to make this errant child “do right.”

The political climate for creating, imposing or raising taxes has never been welcoming, but the last election cycle was toxic for raising revenue. So, despite warnings about the dangers inherent in doing nothing from a variety of voices, including that of state Sen. Steven Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Senate finance committee, the Legislature did little more than cut and raise some fees. Local school districts were forced to raise taxes and cut services.

The time for explanations on why the tax doesn’t work like it’s supposed to have long passed. The fact is it hasn’t worked and won’t work without some major fixes.

The problem is that until facts are faced in Texas nothing is going to change. Without a commitment to raise revenue – mostly on the wealthy in this state, through a state income tax – little if anything is likely to change.

The main reason – other than it’s working as designed – that the court didn’t strike down this law is because it likely would have forced a special session to remedy this law. And it’s hard to imagine our current legislature being able to produce anything better then this disaster. Kuff has more, Supreme Court upholds margins tax.

11.29.11

A tremendous opportunity to create a new Democratic Party in Texas

Posted in Around The State, Commentary at 5:34 pm by wcnews

Here’s an interesting post from Colin County’s Democratic Blog News, The Texas Democratic Party Needs A New Direction. Below are a few excerpts with comments after.

Today, the Texas Democratic Party finds itself in a state of near disarray – deserted by erstwhile conservative Democrats, unable to field new candidates who can win elections, and unable to attract donations to fund party operations.

The Democrat party’s last high profile candidate, Bill White, a conservative and the former mayor of Houston, ran unsuccessfully for governor of Texas in 2010. White lost to the conservative Republican incumbent, Rick Perry by a wide margin of 55 to 42 percent. Incumbent conservatives, like [State Rep. Aaron] Peña continue to abandon the party and it increasingly struggles to attract new candidates to run under the Democratic brand. The Party struggles to attract donations as demonstrated by the treasurer’s report to the State Democratic Executive Committee this month that the party has a negative balance of ($27,236) for the quarter.

Perhaps the idea that the party’s voter base, outside of Austin, is pervasively very conservative – an idea still active espoused by long time Democratic political strategists – is no longer right. Perhaps the idea that the party and it’s candidates must continue to subscribe to conservative policy strategies, shunning all progressive/liberal policy positions, is a strategy that no longer works – even in Texas.

It is, perhaps, time for party leaders to seriously consider whether the party finds itself struggling to raise money and attract new candidates, not because it’s not conservative enough, but because the party and its candidates remain too stubbornly stuck in the party’s southern conservative past. [Emphasis added]

It is definitely time for the Texas Democratic Party to discuss within its ranks the need for the party to engage in a conversation with its base constituencies to understand how to rebuild the party from the grassroots.

All of that sounds pretty much right.  One quibble is that the party is not so much in disarray, as irrelevant and heading towards obsolescence.  Not that that’s better.  But certainly it is long past time for Texas Democrats to shift away from running as bidness friendly, tax cutting, gument haters that aren’t Republicans.

Critics argue that the Texas Democratic Party mindset remains stuck in its southern conservative past, often neglecting minority constituencies, sometimes taking Latino support for granted, and dismissing its base progressive/liberal constituencies out-of-hand. Some critics argue that in today’s highly polarized political environment conservative voters will always support the conservative Republican over a conservative Democrat, and progressive/liberal Democratic voters will not vote for conservative Democrats.

Such criticisms form part of a larger critique attributing the Democratic Party’s decline over the past two decades to the party’s overconfidence, failure to fully comprehend the changing demographic and political dynamics in Texas, and, particularly, failure to listen to the grassroots Democrats of today.

The a Texas Democratic Party, once divided into small liberal and large conservative factions, has shed most of its old southern conservative faction to the Republican Party. Today, minority and progressive/liberal Texans predominately make up the active base of the Texas Democratic Party. That modern base of constituencies seems reluctant to fund or work for or vote for a Democratic Party that appears to dismiss their interests in favor of a conservative policy agenda.

The ultimate questions that need to be answered are what needs to happen to make Democrats competitive again in Texas?  It would certainly seem that no longer catering to conservative Demcrats, and doing everything to create a new coalition, loosely based on what a recent CAP report referred to as, “the rising electorate of communities of color, the Millennial generation, professionals, single women, and seculars”. While still including traditional liberal and progressive groups, that don’t fit into those categories.

But this current time should be seen as an opportunity to create a new Democratic Party in Texas.  The Democratic Party that once ruled Texas, is no longer, if anyone still thinks that please disavow yourself, and anyone you know of that notion. The only way that it can be rebuilt is by Texans who believe that a party should fight for quality public education, civil rights for all, economic fairness, good jobs that pay a fair wage, health care as a right, and the survival of Social Security, just to name a few.

This is a process, and will not happen overnight.  The first thing we need are people to run for office that believe in these values and will fight for them.

Further Reading:
Things to Tax.
Too Big to Fail and Economic Inequality.
The 99%’s Deficit Proposal: How to create jobs, reduce the wealth divide and control spending.
Restore the Basic Bargain.

11.28.11

Grievances filed against Bradley, Anderson, and Davis by lawyer accountability group

Posted in Criminal Justice, District Attorney, Williamson County at 3:03 pm by wcnews

Also the release of former DA Ken Anderson’s deposition transcript has been delayed for another day or two, Via YNN, Anderson deposition delayed; TCLA files grievances against Morton prosecutors.

The transcript from former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson’s deposition has been delayed again. It will now be released either Tuesday or Wednesday, instead of Monday as originally scheduled.

In the document, Anderson answers questions about the Michael Morton case. Anderson, now a district judge in Williamson County, was the lead prosecutor in the 1987 trial that wrongly convicted Morton of his wife’s murder, and sent him to prison for 24 years.

[...]

Monday, members of the Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability announced they have filed disciplinary grievances against the prosecutors who helped wrongly convict Morton.

They include Anderson, current Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, and former prosecutor Mike Davis.

The suit claims the three lawmen may have violated Texas ethics rules.

The grievances can be read here.  Here’s an excerpt from their press release:

Collectively, Anderson, Bradley, and Davis appear to have violated one or more of the following ethical standards governing the conduct of Texas lawyers (the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct).

In 1987, a jury convicted Michael Morton of murdering his wife, Christine. Morton was sentenced to life in prison. After serving almost 25 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit, Mr. Morton was released in October 2011 after DNA testing exonerated him. Published reports suggest that the Morton prosecution team withheld key evidence from the defense during the murder trial, misrepresented the testimony of certain key witnesses during closing arguments, and failed to comply with a court order.

All of these actions likely caused Mr. Morton’s wrongful conviction—and kept the true murderer on the street.

“What is clear is that the prosecution in the Morton case dramatically failed to meet the burden imposed by court rules, statutes, and the Constitution, to disclose evidence tending to negate guilt,” said Julie Oliver, Executive Director, Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability. “In Texas, for far too long disciplinary enforcement against prosecutors who engage in unethical conduct has been lax or non-existent.”

Article 2.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure best states the critical message of this case: “It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys, including any special prosecutors, not to convict, but to see that justice is done.” This disciplinary case, if investigated thoroughly and prosecuted vigorously, can help make that critically important ethical rule a functional reality in our criminal justice system. Justice in Texas requires no less.

“We are filing these grievances today so that public scrutiny of the investigation will be assured, vigorous, and ongoing,” said Julie Oliver. “Effective lawyer discipline requires such public vigilance and involvement.”

Read more from Grits and Wilco Watchdog on this.

TPA Blog Round Up (November 28, 2011)

Posted in Around The State, Commentary at 10:19 am by wcnews

The Texas Progressive Alliance welcomes the opening of candidate filing season (SCOTUS willing) as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Noted “redistricting analyst” Off the Kuff analyzed the new court-drawn Congressional map.

Lightseeker takes on the question of where OWL is now and what its future might hold. Check it out: OWS Meets Mass Democracy – The Need for OWS Narrative [updated].

WCNews at Eye On Williamson posts on the recent failure (or was it?) of the so-called “supercommittee”, Failure was a success.

Bay Area Houston wonders about Rep Joe Driver’s felony and his $57,000/yr pension.

BossKitty at TruthHugger – cannot stomach the ongoing civilian casualty toll in wars America participates in. Money talks, accountability walks. Quit electing politicians who answer to the military-industrial lobby and want to throw the rest of us under the bus. US and NATO Allies too sloppy for war.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme is ashamed of the Texas Democratic Party. The only thing going for the party is that they’re not Republicans.

Just one year ago, Texas Republicans were laughing all over themselves celebrating their super-majority in the House with the defections of Aaron Pena and Allan Ritter. They’re not laughing any longer after two federal judges redrew the maps that erased all of their gains from 2010. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs notes that political fortunes can rise and fall just like the stock market, especially when pigs turn into hogs.

Neil at Texas Liberal noted that Occupy Houston printed a newspaper. Occupy Houston and Occupy efforts across the nation are working hard and staying creative to make certain that the movement is here for the long haul.

WhosPlayin wrote about a Tea Party candidate for City Council in Lewisville who is running on a platform of “rule of law” and “transparency”, but who utterly failed at both in his campaign finance reports. But hey, at least this mistake is not as bad as his $56 million overstatement of the City’s debt.

11.24.11

Happy Thanksgiving

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:46 am by wcnews

I’m thankful for a few days off to spend with family, hope you are too.

State Bar finds County Attorney Jana Duty committed professional misconduct

Posted in County Attorney, District Attorney, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 11:12 am by wcnews

Williamson County’s County Attorney Jana Duty was found to have committed professional misconduct by the State Bar or Texas. It should be mentioned that she was found to have committed misconduct in only one of the 24 instances she was charged with.  The Statesman has the story, Williamson County Attorney Jana Duty reprimanded by State Bar.

The State Bar of Texas issued a reprimand to Williamson County Attorney Jana Duty this week related to her release of confidential information from an executive session of the county Commissioners Court, according to a court document.

The reprimand does not restrict Duty in her duties as county attorney, and the agreement reached between Duty and the State Bar means there will be no public trial, as Duty had previously sought.

Duty said Wednesday that the information she released was included in a lawsuit she filed to try to remove County Judge Dan Gattis from office and that she had justifiable reasons for doing so. That lawsuit, which was dismissed in January, alleged that Gattis had improperly hired outside attorneys to represent the county without the approval of the Commissioners Court.

The State Bar found Tuesday that Duty “committed professional misconduct,” according to a court document. The grievance was one of 24 complaints that the commissioners had initially filed against Duty with the State Bar in the spring. They accused Duty of violating State Bar of Texas rules governing professional conduct concerning competent representation, confidentiality of information and truthfulness in statements to others.

As the article goes on to state this is just another chapter in the sage that’s been going on between Duty and the county commissioners “for more than a year”. This should be the end of this chapter.  But the next chapter will likely start in a few weeks.  That’s when Duty is likely to file for DA to run against incumbent John Bradley, in the local GOP Primary.

Should be quite a race.  One has just been found to have committed professional misconduct, and the other kept a man behind bars for a crime he did not commit,for at least an extra six years, at a cost to the state of nearly $500,000.

11.23.11

The interim Congressional map is out, splits Williamson County

Posted in Around The State, District 31, Redistricting, Williamson County at 12:32 pm by wcnews

It looks like the new House district 106 is drawn out of Williamson County, District 31 represented by John Carter, and into District 10, represented by Mike McCaul.

Check it out, Interim congressional map released.

11.22.11

Williamson County and statewide redistricting, where they stand

Posted in Around The State, Redistricting, The Lege, Williamson County at 6:09 pm by wcnews

There will be a ripple effect in Williamson County from the federal courts rejection of the Congressional, state House, and state Senate redistricting plans passed earlier this year by the GOP dominated Texas Legislature. The effect is that county redistricting, changes to County Commissioner and voting precincts, that we’re passed in October are now on hold.

The voting precincts redistricting map was supposed to be sent to the U.S. Department of Justice on Oct. 1 for review and approval. However, a federal court order pushed back the deadline for precinct redistricting maps until pending litigation with the Texas House and Congressional redistricting maps is settled.

The Department of Justice blocked the proposed Texas House and Congressional redistricting maps because they might violate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that any redistricting map “not have a discriminatory purpose and will not have a discriminatory effect.”

House District 149, which is currently in Houston but redrawn to cover part of Williamson County, is among the new districts being reviewed as to whether they violate federal civil rights voting laws.

If the Texas House redistricting map is redrawn and changes are made to proposed Williamson County House districts, the county voting precincts redistricting map would have to be redrawn to accommodate the changes.

Redistricting usually happens to reflect new census data released every 10 years.

The possible changes at the Commissioner Precinct level are already causing some local internal GOP strife.

As for the statewide, it should be noted that while GOP heads are exploding over so-called “activist judges”, they only have their own party to blame as Kuff so succinctly points out.

Blah blah blah mean ol’ Republican-appointed activist judges…Clearly we need some other activist judges to step in and correct the error made by some other activist judges who did something we don’t like. Even if that means moving back the primaries, which wouldn’t be disruptive at all. The irony of this is that the court-drawn map is likely to be friendlier to Straus’ re-election as Speaker than the one the Lege drew. But certain ritualistic obligations must be met.

That just goes to show how bad the GOP plans were that even Republican judges threw them out. That’s right Texans can’t forget, (Remember 2003?!), that the Texas GOP will use any means necessary – they have no shame when it comes to redistricting – to get what they want. There is no price to high for them when it comes to this, Backgrounder: Getting a stay at the Supreme Court.

These lines are not final and are likely to be tweaked a little more, again from Kuff.

I fully expect that there will be some changes to the interim map, but I do not expect them to be more than tweaks like what the NAACP-Jefferson plaintiff-intervenors have offered. You’ve got to figure we’ll know soon enough. For that matter, you’ve got to figure there’s a Congressional map in there somewhere. I don’t mean to rush you, Your Honors, but, um, tick tock.

That’s right we still haven’t seen their Congressional maps, any day now. Here’s Harvey Kronberg’s latest at YNN on this issue, Court says Legislature sidestepped Voting Rights Act.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter MALC Chairman and state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio)  sent regarding GOP Speaker Joe Straus’ comments.

As you know, after months of trial proceedings in two venues, a majority-Republican federal court in San Antonio, and a majority-Republican cour in Washington, D.C., have both raised questions regarding the propriety of the House map under Federal Law and the United States Constitution.

I will remind you Chariman Solomons refused to debate these principles throughout redistricting, choosing instead to defer to the Federal Courts. Now you attack Federal Judges for doing the job you refused to do when you had the opportunity. In short, you created this reality by deliberately ignoring the Voting Rights Act and I will not allow you to use Federal Judges as scapegoats for you failings.

It is disappointing that you would attace the independent judiciary. It is even more troubling that you would seek to publicly pit Members of the House against one another during this process. Most Members do not know the role you, your staff, and certain allies outside the House played during the redistricting process — but we are willing to have that debate publicly, if necessary. The better choice would be for you to respect the work of the Courts and the rule of law, and end your stubborn opposition to protecting the voting rights of all Texans.

And last but not least an Op-Ed from former state Rep. Jim Dunnam, Court gives Texas as new chance.

Failure was a success

Posted in Around The Nation, Had Enough Yet?, Media, Taxes, The Budget at 11:40 am by wcnews

The so-called “supercommittee” failed and I feel fine.

The biggest success of the conservative movement of the last 40 plus years has been their ability to wreck government and the people’s faith that government can help them. The framing our country’s fiscal arguments have evolved to a point where it is now taken for granted that all government spending is bad. Complicit in this, is the inability of the other side/Democrats to stand up, over the years, and vociferously defend the good that government does.

That being said it’s startling what was on the table for this committee. This is a really good take on the total farce that this committee was, Superfail! 7 Amazing Supercommittee Headlines You’ll Never See.

The Republican and Democratic co-chairs said today that “we end this process united in our belief that the nation’s fiscal crisis must be addressed.” That’s how this exercise in misplaced priorities ends: With a “bipartisan” statement about the urgency of our “fiscal crisis” – deficits – rather than our massive and much more immediate economic crisis of jobs and stagnating wages. And with that, the media onslaught begins. Now we’ll see hundreds of new headlines screaming that the Committee “failed.”

What we won’t see are headlines explaining what really happened: That this failure was inevitable; that it reflects the wishes of most people, Republicans as well as Democrats; that Occupy Wall Street played a large part in the outcome; that Republicans never intended to compromise and Democrats shot themselves in the foot; that this “failure” will be good for most businesses – and for the rest of us too; or that a misguided and right-leaning consensus turned leaders of both parties into cheerleaders for ill-timed budget cuts even as the economy continued to burn down all around them.

Here are seven more accurate – and more eye-catching – headlines you won’t see in your major media outlets.

Here are the 7 headlines (click the link above to read full explanations of each):

  • OCCUPY MOVEMENT WINS MAJOR VICTORY
    Unpopular ‘Supercommittee’ Deal Stymied by Popular Opinion
  • GOP VOTERS HOLD “EXTREME” VIEW OF CUTS – EXTREMELY “LIBERAL,” THAT IS
    “Left” Anti-Supercommittee Views Supported by Almost 3 Out of 4 Republicans
  • GOP ‘COMPROMISE’ HOAX SPREAD BY PRESS, PUNDITS
    Supposed “compromise” was actually more extreme than ever
  • DEMS DEMAND TO GO ON RECORD AS EAGER TO CUT SOCIAL SECURITY, MEDICARE
    Party Leaders Deny Defending Popular Programs, Insist They Were Prepared to Gut Them
  • WASHINGTON MOURNS MISSED CHANCE TO ENSURE A ‘LOST DECADE’
    Leaders lament lost opportunity to inflict ten years of economic misery
  • BUSINESS LEADERS CELEBRATE SUPERCOMMITTEE FAILURE
    They’re grateful that cuts won’t be enacted and make things worse, say executives.
  • IN SURPRISE DEVELOPMENT, TERRIBLE IDEA DIDN’T WORK OUT
    Pundits, Washington leaders express shock and dismay at failure of unpopular committee to agree on widely-hated cuts

What that shows is that the only thing this committee was super about was being superbly out of touch with reality.  Overwhelmingly what the American people want are taxes raised on the wealthy, that money used to create jobs in our country, and help our economy recover. Doing nothing was the best result for this committee, and would be the best thing for our country going forward, The do-nothing plan: now worth $7.1 trillion.

In the past, I’ve talked about the “do-nothing plan” for deficit reduction: Congress heads home to spend more time with their campaign contributors, and the Bush tax cuts automatically expire, the 1997 Balanced Budget Act’s scheduled Medicare cuts kick in, the Affordable Care Act is implemented, and the budget moves roughly into balance. It’s not an ideal way to balance the budget, but it helps clarify that the deficit is the result of votes Congress expects to cast over the next few years. If, instead of casting those votes, they do nothing, or pay for the things they choose to do, the deficit mostly disappears.

Here’s a NYT editorial today that shows enough Democrats we’re willing to give away the farm that all that was needed was for one Republican to sign-on and a deal could have been done.

The only reason the committee failed was because Republicans refused to raise taxes on the rich, and, in fact, wanted to cut them even below their current bargain-basement level.
[...]
But, had a single Republican on the panel endorsed even a modest increase in upper-income tax rates, Republicans could have won trillions in cuts from entitlements and discretionary spending.

Watch Bernie Sanders explain why no deal was the best thing, Wolff Blitzer just doesn’t understand.

SANDERS: I want to make sure that in the midst of recession, when tens of millions of people are desperately hanging on, that you don’t cut those people at the knees so that they become even more desperate. The issue now, Wolf, let’s be clear, the richest people in this country are doing phenomenally well, large corporation, record- breaking profits. You do not balance the budget in a civilized democratic society on the backs of the most vulnerable. You ask those people who are doing well whose effective tax rates are lower than in that case to start paying their fair share of taxes.[...]

As digby says, it’s really hard for Blitzer to grasp the idea that, since Social Security really doesn’t have anything to do with the deficit, there’s no reason to slash it in deficit reduction. Then there’s his utter incredulity over Sanders’ intractability on Social Security.

Government must help the American people, especially in times like this. But the Democrats no longer want to say that and fight for the poor, working, and middle class Americans.
Further Reading:
Woman Gets Jail For Food-Stamp Fraud; Wall Street Fraudsters Get Bailouts.
Debunking the conservative argument about the rich and taxes, in three easy charts.
No, `both sides’ aren’t equally to blame for supercommittee failure.
And a video:

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