There is prosecutorial misconduct, and then there is egregious, intentional prosecutorial misconduct. The misconduct that former Galveston County Assistant District Attorney Jon Hall engaged in the case of Joshua Bledsoe was egregious.
In a July 20 post, Grits for Breakfast reported that, based on its sources, Mr. Hall has a history of either concealing or withholding Brady evidence. Before joining the Galveston County District Attorney, Hall was a prosecutor with the Brazoria County District Attorney’s Office for 9 years, eleven months (according to his LinkedIn page). He left that office in 2009, the same year he started prosecuting cases in Galveston County. He left that office in October 2012—under what circumstances we do not know.
Thus, Jon Hall was an experienced prosecutor, having spent nearly 14 years prosecuting criminal case. That’s why we say his misconduct in the Joshua Bledsoe case was egregious.
The Bledsoe case began on January 16, 2010 when the manager of a Dollar General store called a 911 dispatcher with the Texas City Police Department to report the robbery of the store. She informed the dispatcher that two men entered the store, one short, the other tall. One had a pistol, the other did not. The manager informed the dispatcher that the store’s cashier, Tina Mullins, could not tell if the robbers were white, Hispanic or black because they wore ski masks.
Shortly after Bledsoe’s arrest, Ms. Mullins participated in a “photo lineup” during which she identified Bledsoe as one of the robbers. She told the police she had been able to see enough through the eye cutouts in the masks to know the subjects were black. This was contrary to what had been conveyed on the 911 tape—a tape which the police gave to the district attorney’s office with its case file. Prior to the trial, Bledsoe’s attorney Jyil Rekoff filed discovery motions concerning the circumstances surrounding the photo lineup procedures. In April 2010, District Court Judge Susan Criss entered an order directing the district attorney’s office to furnish this information to defense counsel. The 911 dispatcher tape clearly fell within the scope of the judge’s order.
Ms. Mullins testified at Bledsoe’s subsequent trial at which she identified Bledsoe as one of the robbers. Defense counsel was unaware of the 911 tape at the time Ms. Mullins testified. ADA Hall had not disclosed it, the judge’s April 2010 order notwithstanding. As the State was about to rest its case, defense counsel was able to listen to the 911 tape and then provided it to Judge Criss the next morning. The judge was not pleased. ADA Hall had permitted Ms. Mullins to testify and identify Bledsoe knowing the 911 tape contained information that she had been unable on the night of the robbery to even say if the robbers were white, Hispanic or black because they wore masks.
Judge Criss then took the extraordinary step of playing the 911 tape for the jury before having them removed from the court so she could conduct a hearing outside their presence. During this contentious hearing, Judge Criss sought an explanation from ADA Hall as to why the information on the 911 tape had not been disclosed to either the court or defense counsel prior to Ms. Mullins’ testimony. Hall tried to defend his failure to disclose by telling the court he was under the impression Mr. Rekoff had been provided the tape. The judge was not impressed. She reminded the ADA that there had been numerous pretrial hearings at which the tape could have been disclosed. Under the judge’s persistent questioning, it became evident that ADA Hall had deliberately withheld the 911 tape because it contained information that completely contradicted Ms. Mullins’ photo line-up identification, as well as her in court identification, of Bledsoe as one of the robbers.
After the State rested its case, Mr. Rekoff requested, and the court granted, a directed verdict of acquittal. In fact, Judge Criss instructed the jury to return that verdict. ADA Hall protested the judge’s action, filing a motion for a mistrial on the ground that the judge had prejudiced the jury by playing the 911 tape and commenting on it before the jury. The judge denied the motion outright. She promptly ordered Bledsoe released from custody.
On July 16, 2013, the Houston Chronicle reported that Bledsoe had filed a $3 million federal lawsuit, charging that Hall had deliberately fabricated evidence, withheld “critical” evidence, and intentionally “mischaracterize[ed] some critical evidence.” The lawsuit demanded damages because the ADA’s actions had caused Bledsoe to spend 10 months in jail for a crime he did not commit.
In his July 20 post, Grits quoted a source who said the State Bar was investigating Hall’s misconduct in the Bledsoe case. “The State Bar IS going after [Hall’s] license,” the source said. “They suffered a setback in a discovery hearing. They are appealing and I think they will win. [Mr. Bledsoe’s] arrest was expunged. The DA used that as an excuse to say they cannot turn over their file, which contains evidence of the prosecutor’s [alleged] misdeeds.” Apparently, Hall joined a law suit against the Commission for Lawyer Discipline stating that his Constitutional Rights were being violated because the grievance was proceeding on the basis of illegally obtained evidence, arguing that the DA’s file and court records concerning the Bledsoe’s case were expunged.
Grits also reported about a deposition of attorney Rekoff during which he provided “a detailed account of the events in question and accusing [Hall] of similarly withholding a 911 recording from defense counsel in an earlier case. Both the judge and defense attorney in open court said this wasn’t the first time Mr. Hall – who was a prosecutor in Brazoria County for ten years before moving to the Galveston’s DA office – allegedly failed to disclose evidence in their cases.”
The public record is sparse about whether Jon Hall ever engaged in prosecutorial misconduct before the recent allegations, but the public record, as evidenced by Judge Criss’ actions against the ADA, is clear that he engaged in egregious misconduct in the Bledsoe case. And accepting Grits’ source as being reliable, it appears the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office is trying to provide its former employee with protection from State Bar sanctions.
Whether or not Jon Hall should lose his license to practice is a matter we will leave with the State Bar. But we will say there should be disciplinary consequences for his egregious misconduct in the Bledsoe case. However, If Mr. Hall did in fact engage in intentional prosecutorial misconduct, and has done so before, he should never be allowed to “seek justice” as a prosecutor again.
Kudos should be given to Judge Criss for doing the right thing in the Bledsoe case. Judges all too often become jaded after dealing with crowded criminal dockets. They can lose their neutrality and fall into the trap of believing that all the defendants are guilty, of something, and that the prosecutors can be trusted on blind faith to help their docket’s along. Criss’ bold action demonstrates her commitment to fair play and her disdain for those who would pervert justice.