Jeff Blackburn, an attorney who has helped spring dozens of Texans from prison for crimes they did not commit, is under scrutiny for privately profiting off some of the exonerated by claiming a portion of the state restitution paid to them, reports the Dallas Morning News. Blackburn is chief counsel of the nonprofit Innocence Project of Texas. Accepting fees from exonerees for services not directly connected to his position is not illegal. But a public watchdog group says it appears improper, and a state legislator says he may file a bill to prohibit such profits.
Blackburn is being sued by one exoneree who says he shouldn’t have to pay. Blackburn declined to discuss his work other than to say he was “shocked” at the lawsuit filed in state court by Steven Charles Phillips, a Dallas County man wrongly imprisoned for 25 years for a string of sex crimes. Phillips’ lawsuit alleges that Blackburn used his position with the Innocence Project to hand-pick cases that would represent the greatest potential compensation funds. The lawsuit says he then referred the exonerated men to a lawyer colleague, with whom he divided what the lawsuit estimates to be about $8 million for fees from 13 clients exonerated in recent years.