Some diseases are incurable. People recognize that harsh reality.
The Williamson County District Attorney’s Office is apparently suffering from a potentially incurable affliction: prosecutorial misconduct. Its symptoms are varied, but include: lack of intelligence, foolishness, denseness, arrogance, hubris, immorality, maliciousness, dishonesty, deceitfulness…. and more.
John Bradley and Ken Anderson
Former DAs John Bradley and Ken Anderson spread the affliction throughout the district attorney office and brought it squarely to the public’s attention.
Introducing Jana Duty
This opened the DA’s doors to Jana Duty.
In 2012, Duty told voters of Williamson County that she would be a new kind of district attorney. She spent nearly $112,000 to oust Bradley, sending him packing to the Palau Islands, which is somewhere out there in the Pacific. A majority of the voters breathed a sigh of relief when Bradley kissed the soil of the Palau Islands and Duty was sworn into DA’s office. The Williamson and Travis County sheriff’s associations were also pleased because they had supported Duty and were tired of Bradley.
Duty ran a two issue campaign: first, she would rid the county of the “good ole boy” system (and we assume that was the Bradley/Anderson system); and, second, she would fight taxes.
To her credit, she said nothing to the voters about being honest or law-abiding. She simply implied with these two issues that she was not infected with the misconduct affliction.
History of Professional Discipline
But Duty’s professional history belied that assumption.
She was elected, unopposed, as a Williamson County Commissioner in 2008.
And what did she do?
The first thing was to release “confidential information” discussed in an executive session of the Commissioner’s Court, and, according to the Austin Statesman, was reprimanded by the State Bar for having “committed professional misconduct” with that disclosure.
That reprimand did not deter her. She went on to continuously stir up “political infighting” and conflict between the county judge and commissioners.
Duty clearly had that misconduct affliction, too. No other way to look at it.
But one thing can be said about Duty – she embraced misconduct like a twelve-year embracing a banana split.
More than Twenty Grievances
By the Spring of 2011, county commissioners with whom she worked had filed more than 20 grievances against her with the State Bar, “accusing her of violating rules governing professional conduct concerning competent representation, confidentiality of information, and truthfulness in statements to others,” the Statesman reported.
To the casual onlooker, the sheer number of grievances would smell of local politics, and they probably did contain such a component.
The State Bar dismissed all the complaints, except the one concerning the confidentiality problem.
Compelled to Violate Ethical Rules
Duty told Williamson County residents that she was “morally and legally” compelled to violate the rules of professional conduct, and that the complaints against her for doing so were “politically motivated.”
We would assume that the voters in Williamson County were aware of Duty’s professional history when they went to the polls in 2012 to elect their district attorney.
They had two choices: a man with a proven record of prosecutorial misconduct and a woman who felt morally compelled to violate the rules of professional conduct and lie about it.
Hard choices, no doubt.
The voters chose Duty.
Given a choice between the two evils, Duty was probably the best bet for the voters. They knew Bradley would land on his feet somewhere, if not in Texas then in Palau.
But it was truly unrealistic to think Duty could survive four years as district attorney without succumbing to that dreaded misconduct affliction. It was in her professional blood—and there were no transfusions that could cure it.
More Professional Misconduct
Finally, her career of professional misconduct came to a head last year when the DA violated a court “gag order” by speaking to a television station about a capital murder case. She was held in contempt of court and spent 10 days in jail for this blatant disregard for the court rules.
The State Bar was once again forced to respond to yet another of the scores of ethical complaints filed against DA Duty who, by this time, had some voters sending cruise ship tickets to Palau begging John Bradley to return to Williamson County.
State Bar Places DA on Probation
On June 1 of this year, the State Bar placed Duty on probation for 18 months for her misconduct in the capital murder case.
The miscreant DA had become a festering boil the Bar could no longer ignore.
Two longtime Williamson County residents had also finally had enough of Duty’s incompetence and misconduct. They filed a lawsuit to have her removed from office.
Lawsuit Filed to Remove DA from Office
“Duty’s serial violations of court orders and the laws of the State of Texas, her history and pattern of dishonesty and untruthfulness, and her dereliction and abandonment of her responsibilities of the office of the District Attorney have compromised the integrity and the effectiveness of the office … and the Williamson County criminal justice system,” the lawsuit charged, as reported in the Austin Statesman.
This marks the third time in recent years that citizens have attempted to remove a problem DA from office. The other two attempts involved Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg (who spent time in jail for a DWI conviction) and Dallas County DA Susan Hawk (who suffered a mental health breakdown while in office).
Harris County citizens in 2008 tried to remove former DA Charles “Chuck” Rosenthal from office after it was exposed he had engaged in an improper romantic relationship with a DA staffer.
The courts dismissed the lawsuits to remove Lehmberg and Hawk while Rosenthal resigned before any court action could be taken on the petition to remove him.
Removing a district attorney from office is not an easy venture.
In 2007, the Court of Appeals in In Re Guerra set forth the legal process involved:
“According to the Texas Constitution, ‘The Legislature shall provide by law for the trial and removal from office of all officers of this State, the modes for which have not been provided in this Constitution.’ County officers are subject to this constitutional provision. Accordingly, the Legislature has enacted the rules governing the trial and removal of a district attorney. These rules are promulgated in chapter 87 of the Texas Local Government Code.
“Under chapter 87, a district judge may remove a county officer (e.g., a district attorney) from office for incompetency, official misconduct, or intoxication. A removal proceeding begins by filing a written petition in a district court of (1) the county in which the officer resides, or (2) the county where the alleged cause of removal occurred, if that county is in the officer’s judicial district. This petition may be filed by any resident of this state who has lived for at least six months in the county in which the petition is to be filed and who is not currently under indictment in the county. The petition must (1) be addressed to the district judge of the court in which it is filed, (2) set forth the grounds alleged for the removal of the officer in plan and intelligible language, and (3) cite the time and places of the occurrence of each act alleged as a ground for removal with as much certainty as the nature of the case permits.
“After a petition for removal is filed, the person filing the petition must apply to the district judge in writing for an order requiring that the officer be served with citation and the petition. If the judge refuses to issue the order for citation, the petition will be dismissed, and no appeal or writ of error can be taken from the judge’s decision. If the judge grants the order for citation, the clerk will then issue the citation with a certified copy of the petition. The citation will order the officer to appear and answer the petition. After the issuance of the order requiring citation of the officer, the district judge may temporarily suspend the officer and may appoint another person to perform his duties.”
Hopefully, the district judge will conduct an open and honest hearing on this matter, and if appropriate, remove Duty from office. She lost her bid for reelection in March, but her term in office does not end until January 2017. Duty does not appear fit to serve as the chief law enforcement officer in Williamson County; in fact, one could question her fitness to practice law in this state.
New Blood Transfused into DA’s Office
Shawn Dick, a private attorney who beat Duty in the Republican primary and has no opponent in the general election, promised Williamson County residents that he would restore “honesty and integrity” to the district attorney’s office. We will take him at his word but with some skepticism given the history of that county’s affliction of misconduct in the DA’s office. He will take office in January 2017.
Just maybe, honesty and integrity is the vaccine needed to cure that horrible misconduct affliction.
But maybe not.
44 percent of the voters in Williamson County cast their ballots for Duty – that’s a lot of people who favored incompetency, criminality, mendacity, and stupidity over honesty and integrity in the district attorney’s office.