Monday, September 08, 2008

Judge Holland's Shockingly High Recusal Rate Warrants Full Investigation into Alleged Affair with D.A.

From Texas Defender Service:

Judge Holland's Shockingly High Recusal Rate Warrants
Full Investigation into Alleged Affair with D.A.

New Data Supports Charles Dean Hood's Claim that
Judge and Prosecutor at His Trial were Romantically Involved

(Austin, Texas) Attorneys for Charles Dean Hood filed an Application for Writ
of Habeas Corpus and Motion for Stay of Execution (attached) today in the
Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas with new data indicating that his rights to
an impartial judge and a fair trial were violated in his capital murder trial.
During her tenure as a judge on the CCA (from 1997 to 2001), Verla Sue Holland
recused herself from four out of every five cases from Collin County, where
she is alleged to have had a romantic relationship with District Attorney
Thomas O'Connell. Hood is scheduled for execution on September 10.

Data recently collected by the Texas Defender Service reveal that Judge
Holland recused herself from nearly 80 percent of the cases coming from Collin
County, where D.A. O'Connell was prosecuting cases and she previously served
as trial judge. In comparison, Judges Price and Keasler who - like Judge
Holland - served on the district court bench before they were elected to the
CCA, recused themselves in less than one percent of the cases that came from
Dallas County, where they previously sat. Court records show:

-- Judge Holland recusal rate: 78.6% (381 recusals out of 485 Collin County

-- Judge Price recusal rate: 0.42% (28 recusals out of 6,641 Dallas County

-- Judge Keasler recusal rate: 0.50% (37 recusals out of 7,396 Dallas County

"Judge Holland's recusing herself at a rate nearly 160 times more than her
fellow jurists cries out for an explanation, especially in light of the
evidence Mr. Hood has previously presented in support of his judicial bias
claim. The simplest explanation is the most plausible one: Judge Holland
recused herself at such an off-the-charts rate, because she had previously
been romantically involved with [D.A. O'Connell]," Hood states in today's
habeas application.

Hood's petition requests a stay of execution and a remand to the convicting
court for further proceedings, including depositions or an evidentiary hearing
where Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell would be subject to questioning under
oath. If Hood's claim is proven, his rights to an impartial judge and a fair
trial were violated and his conviction and sentence are null and void.

Hood's attorneys also filed a Motion to Recuse eight of the nine judges on the
Court of Criminal Appeals from hearing Hood's habeas corpus petition because
they served with Judge Holland and their personal knowledge of the facts may
create the appearance of impropriety.

Also today, Judge Greg Brewer of the 366th Judicial District Court in Collin
County is expected to hold a hearing on Hood's civil petition seeking
permission to depose Mr. O'Connell and Judge Holland. Both parties have been
ordered to appear and be prepared to give sworn depositions, but scheduled
hearing remains uncertain, because in an attempt to avoid giving depositions
under oath, Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell have asked a federal court to
remove Judge Brewer's jurisdiction over the case.

Last week, thirty former federal and state judges and prosecutors delivered a
letter to Governor Perry urging him to grant a 30-day reprieve to Hood to
allow time for a court to conduct a meaningful review of the allegations of a
secret romantic relationship between Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell.
Following the delivery of the letter, the Texas Attorney General's office
filed a brief in support of Hood's request for a hearing, noting that the
integrity of the Texas criminal justice system is at stake.

The nearly 500-member Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers and
three dozen of the nation's leading legal ethicists have stated that the
relationship between Judge Holland and Mr. O'Connell constitutes a violation
of Hood's constitutional rights and called for an investigation and expedited

On June 3, 2008, a former Collin County assistant district attorney filed an
affidavit stating that "[i]t was common knowledge" that Judge Holland and Mr.
O'Connell were having an affair, including at the time of Hood's trial. This
affidavit marked the first time a former employee of the D.A.'s office was
willing to speak on the record and under oath about the relationship.


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