Pubdate: Tue, 8 Apr 2003
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2003 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Thom Marshall
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Still Nothing.

It's been what now, about four months since the HPD crime lab ship hit the 

Four months since we learned that evidence processed by the lab is not 
reliable and yet was relied upon by Harris County prosecutors to win 
thousands of convictions in recent years.

Four months and still no reliable official investigation has been launched 
outside the control and influence of the police chief and DA. No whisper of 
a grand jury probe. No court of inquiry. Nothing from the state's attorney 
general. Nothing from the Legislature. Nothing from the governor.

What deafening silence from authorities here at home.

Private eye looks at situation Meanwhile, talk on the street is that a 
big-time investigative firm from another state is looking into the 
relationship between our police lab and our DA. The visiting private eye 
reportedly has not revealed the identity of a client who is doing hard time.

At least one person contacted speculates the firm actually may be here to 
lay groundwork for some sort of lucrative class-action deal.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston and chairman of the Senate Criminal 
Justice Committee, has suggested we might use a remedy similar to that 
which seemed to work in Tulia, where retired state District Judge Ron 
Chapman conducted an evidentiary hearing.

Chapman found the undercover task force cop who was responsible for the big 
drug bust to be so unreliable that, although the hearing dealt with only 
four of the people convicted, the judge is recommending to the state Court 
of Criminal Appeals that all 38 convictions be set aside.

Whitmire suggested we might "duplicate that process with the Houston lab."

But let's take a closer look at the Tulia deal to see what duplication 
might involve. The judge was part of it, but his role was more like a referee.

It was the team of lawyers representing all those wrongfully convicted 
people that brought about the rematch in Tulia's courthouse.

This defense team did months of investigation and interviews and 
development. Their documentation convinced the appeals court to order that 

These lawyers were so concerned about this abscess in our Texas justice 
system -- a boil that was allowed to fester for four long years -- that 
they worked for free.

And guess what? Most of them don't even live in our state.

Vanita Gupta, with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, 
said about a dozen different law firms from that city, from Washington, 
D.C., and from California joined Texas lawyer Jeff Blackburn of Amarillo in 
the efforts that resulted in the hearing and in Judge Chapman's 

Outsiders clean up our mess Gupta coordinated these outside volunteers and 
said she worked almost full time on the Tulia cases for a year and a half. 
She estimated all the time and expenses donated by all those lawyers would 
total more than a million bucks if they'd billed it.

The Tulia outcome was a major achievement for Gupta, a graduate of Yale and 
NYU law school. She is just 28 years old. Don't be surprised if one day she 
winds up on the Supreme Court.

While keeping up with developments in Tulia, I've come to admire her 
dedication and talents. But at the same time it makes me uncomfortable that 
she had to bring all those lawyers in to clean up a Texas mess.

So we might not want to duplicate the Tulia experience in Houston. But we 
can learn from it. And the lesson is that if we put off investigating our 
lab scandal long enough, we can expect outsiders to come do it for us.

Wouldn't that be embarrassing?
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom