Unconstitutional Culture

Posted in Commentary, Criminal Justice, Williamson County at 1:33 pm by wcnews

The KXAN report last night, “Tough on Crime”, was nothing new. All the report did was recycle the “hangin’ jurdge” image of Williamson County. It did little, if anything, to shine a light on what the real problems are with the criminal justice system in Williamson County. The problems are not an issue of being tough on crime, or doling out harsh sentences for the worst of criminals. It’s about having a fair, consistent, and constitutional criminal justice system, and that is what, too many times, is lacking in Williamson County. Not to mention the consequences of that on real people’s lives. There was nothing about the Texas Fair Defense Project (TFDP) lawsuit that has been brought against Williamson County for denying constitutional rights to indigent misdemeanants. It would have been good to hear DA John Bradley’s comments on that. But the report ended with what may be the most worthwhile part of the whole undertaking.

Some say an influx of well-educated high-tech workers into Williamson County is changing the climate, and the tough-on-crime mentality has peaked.

Maybe, but consider that when voters in Williamson County head to the polls this year, they will find Bradley’s name on the ballot without opposition.

That once again highlights the fact that that Williamson County has long been, and is still without, accountability for elected officials. And that accountability is what is needed for democracy to exist. In searching for Democrats to run for office in 2008 over and over again well qualified candidates did not to run for office, because of what might happen to them - personally, professionally, and politically.

Change in Williamson County won’t come because of the influx of “well-educated” people moving here, but primarily because of population growth. That’s the main reason that crime is lower in Williamson than in Travis - there’s many more people in Travis. Growing from a podunk, backwoods, suburb of Austin to a more urban populated county will be what ultimately brings change to Williamson County’s justice system. Small town, “run-em-out-of-town” justice being put under the microscope/increased scrutiny, and more than likely, more lawsuits, will force Williamson County will to change and mature.

The most interesting part of the KXAN report are the comments below the story on their web site. There are many people who, whether justified or not, feel they’ve been wronged by the criminal justice system in Williamson County. I get pleas for help all the time, and can only recommend that those needing help hire the best lawyer they can afford. And as the TCRP lawsuit shows those who can’t afford a lawyer often times don’t get one. This back an forth from the KXAN report helps illuminate this:

Georgetown lawyer Bob Phillips has been dealing with the district attorney’s office for more than 20 years.

“They know I won’t back down,” Phillips said. “They know that we’ll go to trial and fight ’em, and we won’t let them run roughshod over our clients, but I’ve never—”

“But that presumes that they might want to run roughshod over your clients,” Swift interrupted.

Yes, it does, and sometimes they do want to,” Phillips answered.

The problem in Williamson County is not the fact that they’re tough on crime. No one has a problem with the fact that rapists, murderers, child molesters, etc…, get tough sentences. Where the problem comes in is that many times the punishments are inconsistent, people are taken advantage of, and not allowed their constitutional rights. From the Texas Fair Defense Project:

In Heckman v. Williamson County, TFDP is representing a proposed class of indigent defendants who are systematically denied rights in the Williamson County courts at law, including the right to counsel under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the right to a public trial under the First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs also allege corresponding violations of the Texas Constitution and violations of the Fair Defense Act.

We allege that Williamson County‘s practices deny persons accused of crime the assistance necessary to investigate their cases and navigate the legal system. The County‘s policies also increase the likelihood of false convictions. Finally, the County‘s policy of closing its courts to members of the public shields the criminal process from scrutiny and undermines confidence in the fairness of the criminal justice system.

Again, that’s the part that wasn’t covered in last night’s article. But it’s not just the criminal justice system in Williamson County this unconstitutional culture has seeped into the governing fabric of the county. As evidenced by the unconstitutional actions of the Williamson County Commissioners Court and the Georgetown City Council. Both situations may take lawsuits to get them operating constitutionally again. Despite repeated statements by county and city leaders that the unconstitutional laws are being looked at and will be revised.

From the KXAN comments many would like to just write this off as don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Or that the harsh sentences in Williamson County make us all safer. Or that well…mistakes happen. What all of this has illuminated is the lengths many people will go to to rationalize harsh and unfair treatment of others as long as they’re not personally affected by the inconsistent and unconstitutional actions.

1 Comment »

  1. tweety said,

    February 8, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    One being on the side of the law in Williamson County, know all to well what happens to you when you stand up to the coruption within the walls of your own profession. The Powers will do everything they can to destroy you and your career. You know too much to remain. God help you if you bring a lawsuit against them. But being one who did, we are still here and God is on our side.

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