Texas State Sen. Rodney Ellis tells the Los Angeles Times that the special “court of inquiry” that sent former Williamson County, Tx. District Attorney Ken Anderson to a brief jail term “sends out a message to prosecutors around the country that if you don’t play by the rules, you will be held accountable.” Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project of Texas, who helped free Michael Morton in the case in which Anderson was convicted, says, “I am guardedly optimistic that we’ll see more courts of inquiry.”
Texas legislators this year extended the deadline for filing misconduct grievances from four years after the offense to four years after a wrongfully convicted prisoner is released. Although it has been on the books in Texas since 1965, the court of inquiry was used mostly to hold elected officials accountable. The Morton case may change that. The State Bar of Texas is considering half a dozen other complaints filed against prosecutors this year. The stakes are high in Texas, Blackburn said. The state has executed 508 prisoners since lethal injection began in 1982, including 16 this year. An Innocence Project study last year found 91 cases of prosecutorial errors in Texas from 2004 to 2008; in 19 cases, courts found the errors “harmful” and reversed the convictions. “Prosecutors have really had a gut check on this in the last few years,” said Robert Kepple of the state prosecutors’ association.