Skip navigation

Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas, Bright, 2000

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas:
Why Full Habeas Corpus Review by Independent
Federal Judges Is Indispensable to Protecting
Constitutional Rights

Stephen B. Bright*

Texas Law Review, Volume 78, page 1806 (2000)
Copyright c 2000 Texas Law Review Association

* Director, Southern Center for Human Rights, Atlanta, Georgia; Visiting
Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School; Senior Lecturer, Emory Law School; B.A.
1971, J.D. 1975, University of Kentucky. The author is most grateful to Michelle
Drake, a student at Harvard Law School, for her assistance in preparing this


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Carrying out over two hundred executions in the last twenty years,1 Texas has
dramatically demonstrated that the Bill of Rights—particularly, the most
fundamental right, the right to counsel—cannot be left in the hands of partisan
elected judges. The Texas judiciary has responded to the clamor for executions by
processing capital cases in assembly-line fashion with little or no regard for the
fairness and integrity of the process. In doing so, it has shown the need for full
habeas corpus review by inde-pendent, life-tenured federal judges. However, the
once “Great Writ” of habeas corpus barely survives the restrictions put on it by the
Supreme Court and Congress. As a result, those most in need of the protection of
the Constitution—the “helpless, weak, outnumbered . . . victims of prejudice and
public excitement”2—often do not receive it, even in cases where their lives are at
Texas trial judges—some treating the appointment of counsel to defend poor
defendants as political patronage and some assigning lawyers not to provide zealous
advocacy but to help move their dockets3—have frequently appointed incompetent
lawyers to defend those accused of capital crimes.4 In 1999, trial judges successfully
persuaded the governor to veto legislation that would have made modest
improvements in the legal representation of poor defendants.5 The state’s highest
criminal court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, has upheld death sentences

1. After the reinstatement of the death penalty by the United States Supreme
Court, see Jurek v. Texas, 428 U.S. 262 (1976) (upholding Texas’s capital
sentencing scheme), Texas carried out its first execution on December 7, 1982.
REPORTER CURRENT SERVICE 1467 (Winter 2000) [hereinafter DEATH ROW
U.S.A.]. By mid-April, 2000, Texas had executed 211 inmates and had about 450
on death row waiting for execution. See Claudia Kolker, The Art of Execution,
Texas Style, L.A. TIMES, Apr. 11, 2000, at A1. The state with the second highest
number of executions, Virginia, had executed 76 since the reinstatement of capital
punishment. Id. Current numbers are available from The Death Penalty
Information Center, <>. See also Texas
Department of Criminal Justice, Executed Offenders (last modified Apr. 7, 2000)
<http://www.tdcj.state.tx. us/stat/executedoffenders.htm> (listing the 211 persons
executed by the State of Texas since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974).
2. See Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 241 (1940).
3. See Stephen B. Bright, Counsel for the Poor: The Death Sentence Not for
the Worst Crime but for the Worst Lawyer, 103 YALE L.J. 1835, 1855-57 (1994);
Mark Ballard, Appointed Counsel Must Now Win Judges’ OK, TEX. L AW., Aug.
28, 1995, at 21; Mark Ballard, Gideon’s Broken Promise, TEX. LAW., Aug. 28,
1995, at 1.
4. Bright, supra note 3, at 1855.
5. See Bob Ray Sanders, Judges Decreed Death for Indigent Defense Bill,
FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, June 23, 1999, at 1, available in 1999 WL

Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
even in cases in which defense lawyers slept through trial.6 In one such case,
however, a federal court did grant habeas corpus relief, finding that “sleeping
counsel is the equivalent to no counsel at all.” 7 In another case, after the Texas
courts had upheld a conviction and death sentence based only on affidavits, a
federal court held an evidentiary hearing, made credibility findings, and granted
relief to a condemned woman whose lawyer was actively represen-ting another
participant in the crime who testified against her.8

6. See infra notes 42-52 and accompanying text.
7. See Burdine v. Johnson, 66 F. Supp. 2d 854, 866 (S.D. Tex. 1999). The
Texas Attorney General appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit. Id., No. 92-21034 (5th Cir. Nov. 9, 1999).
8. See Perillo v. Johnson, 205 F.3d 775, 808 (5th Cir. 2000).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Many people condemned to die in Texas have no access to competent lawyers
to represent them in post-conviction challenges to their convictions and sentences.
During a four-year period when it was responsible for appointing lawyers to
represent the condemned in post-conviction review, the Court of Criminal Appeals
repeatedly appointed lawyers who were incapable of preparing petitions and filing
them on time.9 It then punished the inmates for the incompetence of their lawyers
by denying them relief over dissents that characterized the court’s review as a
“farce,” “travesty,” and “charade,” 10 and “border[ing] on barbarism.” 11 In one case,
a federal judge found that the appointment of an inexperienced lawyer with serious
health problems to represent a condemned man “constituted a cynical and
reprehensible attempt to expedite [the] execution at the expense of all semblance of
fairness and integrity” and sent the case back to the state courts for review.12

9. See infra notes 141-56 and accompanying text.
10. Ex parte Kerr, 977 S.W.2d 585, 585 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998) (Overstreet, J.,
11. Ex parte Smith, 977 S.W.2d 610, 614 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998) (Overstreet,
J., dissenting).
12. Kerr v. Johnson, No. SA-98-CA-151-OG (W.D. Tex. Feb. 24, 1999)
(order dismissing habeas corpus petition without prejudice).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
The importance of a fair process, effective advocacy, and thorough review by
independent courts is illustrated most clearly and compellingly by the many people
wrongfully condemned to death who—usually by mere happenstance—had the good
fortune to have competent lawyers, journalists, or others take an interest in their
case and prove their innocence. For example, Randall Dale Adams, sentenced to
death at a trial in Texas at which he was represented by a real estate lawyer, was
later exonerated when evidence of his innocence came to light during the making of
the film A Thin Blue Line.13 Volunteer lawyers and Rev. Jim McCloskey proved
that racial prejudice and the prosecution's failure to disclose exculpatory evidence
resulted in the conviction of an innocent man, Clarence Brandley.14 Also, volunteer
lawyers—Scott Atlas from Vinson & Elkins15 and Douglas Robinson from Skadden,
Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom—proved that their clients, Ricardo Aldape Guerra and
13. See RANDALL DALE ADAMS ET AL., ADAMS V. TEXAS 242-64, 280-333
(1991); MICHAEL RADELET ET AL., IN SPITE OF INNOCENCE 60-72 (1992) (both
describing how perjury and regional prejudice played a role in convicting Randall
Dale Adams of a murder for which he was later exonerated.
STYLE 307-09 (1991).
15. For a discussion of the success of Scott Atlas and a team of attorneys from
Vinson & Elkins in overturning the conviction and death sentence of Ricardo
Aldape Guerra, see Nicholas Varchaver, 9 mm Away from Death, AM. L AW., Mar.
1995, at 81, 85-86.


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Frederico Martinez-Macias, were innocent but had been convicted and sentenced to
death in violation of the Constitution.16 Both defendants obtained relief in federal
habeas corpus proceedings and were released.17 If any of those men had been
represented by lawyers who missed deadlines or failed to conduct an investigation,
like some lawyers assigned by the Texas courts,18 they would likely have been
executed, instead of released.

16. See id. at 87; Martinez-Macias v. Collins, 979 F.2d 1067, 1067-68 (5th Cir.
1992) (affirming the district court’s grant of habeas corpus relief to Martinez-Macias
based on inadequate representation at trial).
17. See Terri Langford, Former Death Row Inmate Leaves Prison and the
U.S.: 35-Year-Old Suspect Vows Never to Return to the United States, AUSTIN
AM.-STATESMAN, Apr. 17, 1997, at B11, available in 1997 WL 2820088
(describing the release of Ricardo Aldape Guerra after fifteen years on death row);
Man Freed After 9 Years on Death Row, DALLAS MORNING N EWS, June 25,
1993, at 14D, available in 1993 WL 9308485 (describing the release of Frederico
Martinez-Macias after a grand jury in El Paso decided there was not enough
evidence to retry him).
18. See infra Part I.


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Over eighty five people—including seven in Texas—have been released from
death row in the last twenty years after establishing their innocence.19 In two
separate cases in Illinois, journalism students and professors at Northwestern
University discovered the innocence of defendants condemned to die.20 But in
19. See Mike Dorning, Death Penalty Reforms Gain Backers in D.C., CHI.
TRIB., Mar. 31, 2000, at 1 (reporting that as of that date, 87 persons had been
released from death row in the 22 years since the nation resumed executions);
Sydney P. Freedberg, Ex Death Row Inmate Gets Walking Papers, ST .
PETERSBURG TIMES, Mar. 17, 2000, at A1 (reporting that Joseph Green became
the 21st person in Florida and the 87th person in the nation to be released from
death row after evidence surfaced that he was innocent).
(describing the investigation by the class that demonstrated the innocence of four
men, including two who were released after 18 years in prison); Pam Belluck, Class
of Sleuths to Rescue on Death Row, N.Y. T IMES, Feb. 5, 1999, at A16, available in
LEXIS, News Library, NYT File (describing how journalism students obtained a
confession from another person to the murder for which Anthony Porter had been
sentenced to death); Pam Belluck, Convict Freed After 16 Years on Death Row,
N.Y. TIMES, Feb. 6, 1999, at A7, available in LEXIS, News Library, NYT File


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Texas—which, unlike Illinois, does not have a statewide public defender system at
the trial level21—many death row inmates never have their case reviewed by a
competent lawyer, filmmaker, journalist, or journalism class. As a result, wrongful
convictions, constitutional violations, and other serious injustices may never come to
light and be remedied.
Yet, despite the role that federal habeas corpus review
has played in freeing the innocent and vindicating egregious violations of the right to
counsel and other constitutional protections ignored by state courts, the Supreme
Court has erected numerous barriers to federal habeas corpus review.22 The Court
has also adopted a standard for the effectiveness of counsel that some courts
construe as guaranteeing nothing more than a warm body with a bar card beside
the accused at the counsel table.23 Congress restricted habeas corpus review even
(describing the release of Anthony Porter after 16 years on death row).
(prepared for the State Bar of Texas) (reporting that Texas is one of the few states
with no state funding for indigent defense; instead, funding is provided at the county
level with significant differences from county to county in the level of funding).
22. See infra notes 213-20 and accompanying text.
23. See William S. Geimer, A Decade of Strickland's Tin Horn: Doctrinal and
Practical Undermining of the Right to Counsel, 4 WM. & MARY BILL OF RTS. J. 91


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
more in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which, among
other things, imposed a statute of limitations on petitions for habeas corpus relief.24

24. See Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 § 107, 28
U.S.C. §§ 2261-2266 (Supp. IV 1998) (amending 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241-2255).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
What is happening in Texas is not limited to that state; other states lack
independent judiciaries and adequate indigent defense systems. Judges are elected
in thirty-two of the thirty-eight states that have the death penalty.25 The removal of
judges perceived as “soft on crime” has made it clear to those remaining on the
bench that upholding the law in capital cases comes at their own peril.26 The quality
25. See Stephen B. Bright & Patrick J. Keenan, Judges and the Politics of
Death: Deciding Between the Bill of Rights and the Next Election in Capital Cases,
75 B.U. L. REV. 759, 779 (1995).
26. See id. at 760-66 (describing the removal of judges in Texas, California, and
Mississippi); Stephen B. Bright, Political Attacks on the Judiciary: Can Justice Be
Done Amid Efforts to Intimidate and Remove Judges From Office for Unpopular


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
of representation of those accused of crimes has long been a scandal in many
states.27 Some states do even less than Texas to provide lawyers for the condemned

Decisions? 72 N.Y.U. L. REV. 308, 310, 313-15, 331-36 (1997) (describing the
successful campaign to remove Justice Penny White from the Tennessee Supreme
Court in a retention election because the court reversed one death penalty case,
followed by a warning from the governor that other judges should consider
“whether they're going to be thrown out of office” before ruling on a case).
27. See generally Bright, supra note 3 (describing the inadequacy of counsel in
capital cases); Bruce A. Green, Lethal Fiction: The Meaning of “Counsel” in the
Sixth Amendment, 78 IOWA L. REV. 433 (1993) (contending that a “narrower
definition of ‘counsel’ that encompasses only those licensed attorneys with the
requisite skill and knowledge to wage an adequate criminal defense” is needed);
Richard Klein, The Emperor Gideon Has No Clothes: The Empty Promise of the
Constitutional Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel, 13 HASTINGS CONST. L.Q.
625 (1986) (describing the failure to establish and adequately fund public defender
offices and other programs to implement the right to effective assistance of counsel
for poor people); Douglas W. Vick, Poorhouse Justice: Underfunded Indigent


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
in post-conviction review. For example, Georgia makes no provision for counsel in
a post-conviction review.28 The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the denial of state
habeas corpus relief in a capital case in which a bewildered man with an IQ in the
eighties had no lawyer at all and was forced to represent himself.29 Also, Alabama
pays only one thousand dollars to a lawyer appointed to defend a post-conviction
Defense Services and Arbitrary Death Sentences, 43 BUFF. L. REV. 329 (1995)
(“The failure of the states to provide the resources necessary to give effect to the
abstract values of fairness and reliability in individual capital cases offends the
Eighth Amendment.”); Special Report: Poor Man's Justice, AM. LAW., Jan.-Feb.
1993, at 45-87 (collecting thirteen articles describing the inadequacy of
representation for indigent defendants in various parts of the country).
28. See Gibson v. Turpin, 513 S.E.2d 186, 191 (Ga. 1999) (holding that “there
is no state or federal constitutional right to an appointed lawyer upon habeas
corpus”), cert. denied sub nom. Gibson v. Head, 120 S. Ct. 363 (1999).
29. See id.
30. ALA. CODE § 15-12-23 (Supp. 1999) (providing for compensation of


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas

$50/hour for court time and $30/hour for out-of-court time, up to a limit of
$1,000, and although the dollar amounts increase to $60/hour and $40/hour,
respectively, on October 1, 2000, the total limit remains the same).

TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Texas, however, provides particularly vivid and undeniable examples of the
need for full habeas corpus review. Not only have Texas judges tolerated injustices,
but in many cases, they have been responsible for them by appointing grossly
inadequate counsel.31 Texas has carried our far more executions than any other
state.32 Texas carried out its two hund-redth execution before any other state had
executed seventy-five.33 Remarkably, Texas has been held out as a “model” by
proponents of speedier executions, more restrictive review of capital cases, and
greater deference by federal courts to the decisions of state courts. In August
1999, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit convened a
conference for state judges in the three states comprising the circuit, at which
Michael McCormick, the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a
representative of the Texas Attorney General’s office, and Edith Jones, a judge on
the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, explained how capital cases were processed in
Texas.34 The following January, the Florida legislature, in a frantic three-day special
session—brushing aside concerns about the dangers of execution of the innocent
and the mentally retarded, racial discrimination, and legal representation for poor
people condemned to die—passed laws modeled after Texas law to speed up the
review of death penalty cases by imposing deadlines and timetables for the

31. See infra Part I.
32. See Death Penalty Information Center, Number of Executions by State
Since 1976 (last modified Mar. 23, 2000) <http://www. (stating
that since 1976, Texas has executed 211 people, followed by Virginia with 76,
Florida with 46, Missouri with 42, and the rest of the states with 25 or fewer).
33. See Texas, Oklahoma Execute Convicted Killers, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Jan.
13, 2000, available in Westlaw, ALLNEWSPLUS (reporting that Texas carried
out its 200th execution and that Virginia had the second highest number of
executions, 72).
34. See David Firestone, Judges Criticized Over Death-Penalty Conference,
N.Y. T IMES, Aug. 19, 1999, at A16 (reporting that the conference agenda included
“a detailed look at the process in Texas”); Bob Herbert, Death Takes a Holiday,
N.Y. T IMES, Aug. 19, 1999, at A21 (describing the invited guests at the conference
as “some of the most rabid death penalty advocates from that most rabid of death
penalty states, Texas”); Bill Rankin, Upcoming Judicial Forum Under Fire As
Slanted, ATLANTA CONST., Aug. 10, 1999, at A11 (describing criticism by
members of the defense bar of the leading roles played at the conference by
particularly outspoken and strident proponents of capital punishment); Jonathan
Ringel, Rough Times for Texans at Death Penalty Forum, FULTON COUNTY
DAILY REPORT , Aug. 23, 1999, at 1 (reporting allegations by defense lawyers that
invited guest speakers, Judge Edith Jones and Judge Michael McCormick, were the
most “egregious” examples of a conference featuring “too much discussion from
prosecutors and judges who wanted to speed the pace of capital cases”).

Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
processing of cases.35 (The Florida Supreme Court later unanimously declared
some provisions of the law unconstitutional.)36 Brad Thomas, Florida Governor Jeb

35. See Steve Bousquet et al., Florida Speeds up Death Row Appeals,
PITTSBURGH POST-G AZETTE, Jan. 8, 2000, at A4, available in 2000 WL
10872386 (reporting that Republican legislators at the special session criticized
judges who “discover ‘technicalities’ to delay death sentences and deny justice to
victims”); Marcia Gelbart, Limits Set on Appeals to Speed Executions, PALM
BEACH POST, Jan. 8, 2000, at 1A (reporting that Gov. Jeb Bush’s bill requires
inmates to meet strict deadlines for filing claims and limits the number of appeals
they can file “with the goal of putting [inmates] to death within 5 years of
conviction”); Sara Rimer, Florida Lawmakers Reject Electric Chair, N.Y. TIMES,
Jan. 7, 2000, at A13 (describing defeat of a proposed amendment to Gov. Jeb
Bush’s bill that would have allowed inmates to show that racial bias played a role in
their sentencing); Larry P. Spalding, The High Price of Killing Killers, PALM BEACH
POST, Jan. 4, 2000, at A1, available in 2000 WL 7592885 (quoting the bill’s
primary sponsor, Republican Victor Crist, as saying that Florida should be
“executing more people a year than [it] send[s] to Death Row, in order to catch
up”); Jim Yardley, A Role Model for Executions, N.Y. T IMES, Jan. 9, 2000, § 4, at
5 (reporting widespread criticism of Gov. Jeb Bush’s bill as a “hurried proposal”


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Bush’s top policy advisor on the issue, said that the goal of the legislation was to
make Florida “more like Texas,” explaining, “[b]ring in the witnesses, put [the
defendants] on a gurney, and let’s rock and roll.” 37 However, close examination of
what often passes for justice in Texas’s state courts demonstrates that the Texas
approach is anything but a model and that the restrictions on federal habeas corpus
review were a grave mistake.

Capital Trials in Texas: No Requirement that Defense
Counsel Be Awake, Prepared, Free of Conflicts, or
A d e q u a t el y C o m p e n s a t e d

that is “possibly unconstitutional” and “might result in executing wrongly convicted
36. Allen v. Butterworth, No. SC00-113, 2000 WL 381484, at *15 (Fla. Apr.
14, 2000).
37. See Yardley, supra note 35, § 4, at 5 (reporting Mr. Thomas’s comments
and quoting Democratic State Representative Chris Smith, who stated at the special
session that Texas should be “our role model for killing people”); William Yardley,
Bush’s Adviser Key in Push for Quicker Death Row Appeals, ST . PETERSBURG
TIMES, Jan. 6, 2000, at 5B (describing Thomas’s role in prompting Florida’s
overhaul of the death row appeals process).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Michael McCormick, the presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals,
has lamented that Texas “lost its sovereignty in `right to counsel' matters for
indigent defendants” the day the Supreme Court held in Gideon v. Wainwright 38
that states were required to provide counsel in felony cases.39 He has argued that a
case-by-case assessment of whether the accused needed counsel, which the United
States Supreme Court previously required, was “better reasoned and more true to
principles of federalism” 40 than Gideon and decried Gideon's “mischievous
results.” 41 How-ever, under McCormick's leadership the Texas Court of Criminal
Appeals has maintained what some would call “sovereignty”—and others might call
lawlessness—in rendering the right to counsel all but meaningless.
The Court has upheld at least three death sentences from Houston in which
the defendant's lawyer slept during trial. The Houston Chronicle described one
trial as follows:
Seated beside his client—a convicted capital murderer—defense attorney John Benn
spent much of Thursday afternoon's trial in apparent deep sleep. His mouth kept
falling open and his head lolled back on his shoulders, and then he awakened just long

38. 372 U.S. 335 (1963).
39. See Ex parte Jordan, 879 S.W.2d 61, 64 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994)
(McCormick, P.J., dissenting).
40. Id. at 63 (referring to Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455 (1942), which was
overruled in Gideon).
41. Id. at 63 n.1 (quoting Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353, 361-64 (1963)
(Harlan, J., dissenting)).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
enough to catch himself and sit upright. Then it happened again. And again. And
again. Every time he opened his eyes, a different prosecution witness was on the stand
describing another aspect of the Nov. 19, 1991, arrest of George McFarland in the
robbery-killing of grocer Kenneth Kwan. When State District Judge Doug Shaver
finally called a recess, Benn was asked if he truly had fallen asleep during a capital
murder trial. “It's boring,” the 72-year-old longtime Houston lawyer explained. . . .
Court observers said Benn seems to have slept his way through virtually the entire trial.


42. John Makeig, Asleep on the Job? Slaying Trial Boring, Lawyer Says, HOUS.
CHRON., Aug. 14, 1992, at A35, available in 1992 WL 8083373 (describing trial
proceedings in McFarland v. State, 928 S.W.2d 482 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996)).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
The judge presiding over McFarland's trial in Houston permitted the trial to
continue on the theory that “[t]he Constitution doesn't say the lawyer has to be
awake.” 43 The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed over the dissent of Judges
Charles Baird and Morris Overstreet.44 Judge Baird wrote, “[a] sleeping counsel is
unprepared to present evidence, to cross-examine witnesses, and to present any
coordinated effort to evaluate evidence and present a defense.” 45 He pointed out
that although McFarland had a second lawyer assigned to his case,
[n]either attorney interviewed a witness and neither attorney reviewed the extraneous
offenses that were to be later admitted. Benn decided which witness he would crossexamine and he informed [co-counsel] of his decision only after the State's examination.
Thus, [co-counsel's] preparation for cross-examination of his witnesses could not have
been effective because he did not know which witnesses he was to question. . . . Even
more disturbing, Benn could sleep during the direct examination and still elect to
conduct cross-examination.


The Court of Criminal Appeals also upheld the convictions and death sentences
imposed on Calvin Burdine and Carl Johnson, even though Joe Frank Cannon, the
lawyer appointed by the trial court to defend them at separate trials, slept during
their trials.47 Cannon, known by his own account for hurrying through capital trials
like “greased lightning,” had at least ten clients sentenced to death.48
43. Id.
44. See McFarland, 928 S.W.2d at 525-28.
45. Id. at 527.
46. Id. at 527-28.
47. See Ex parte Burdine, 901 S.W.2d 456, 456 (Tex. Crim. App. 1995)
(denying defendant’s state habeas corpus appeal despite a finding by the trial court
that he was denied effective assistance of counsel because his lawyer slept through
the trial); see also David R. Dow, The State, the Death Penalty, and Carl Johnson,
37 B.C. L. REV. 691 (1996) (describing the Johnson case, in which the Court of
Criminal Appeals did not publish its opinion).
48. See Paul M. Barrett, Lawyer's Fast Work on Death Cases Raises Doubts


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)

About System, WALL ST . J., Sept. 7, 1994, at A1 (describing Cannon’s “sloppiness
on vital legal procedure”), available in 1994 WL-WSJ 343264.

Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Although the Texas court upheld Burdine’s conviction, a federal court,
concluding that “sleeping counsel is equivalent to no counsel at all,” granted habeas
corpus relief to Burdine.49 The court found that Cannon “dozed and actually fell
asleep during portions of [Burdine’s] trial on the merits, in particular during the
guilt-innocence phase when the State’s solo prosecutor was questioning witnesses
and presenting evidence.” 50 In finding that Cannon had slept, the court relied on
testimony that he had also slept during the trial of Carl Johnson.51 However,
Johnson never received relief; he was executed in 1995.52 Another of Cannon’s
clients, Larry Norman Anderson, was put to death by Texas after the Fifth Circuit
Court of Appeals found that evidence that Cannon had a reputation for
incompetence and “habitually trie[d] capital cases in a perfunctory manner” was not
relevant to his performance in Anderson’s case.53
Frederico Martinez-Macias was represented at his capital trial in El Paso by a
court-appointed attorney paid only $11.84/hour.54 Counsel failed to present an
available alibi witness, relied upon an incorrect assumption about a key evidentiary
point without doing the research that would have corrected his erroneous view of
the law, and failed to interview and present witnesses who could have testified in
rebuttal of the pro-secutor's case.55 Martinez-Macias was sentenced to death. He
avoided execution only because he had the good fortune to receive pro bono
49. See Burdine v. Johnson, 66 F. Supp. 2d 854, 866 (S.D. Tex. 1999).
50. Id. at 859.
51. Id. at 859.
52. See Dow, supra note 47, at 694-95 (relating the history of Carl Johnson’s
death penalty case and his ultimate death by lethal injection).
53. Anderson v. Collins, 18 F.3d 1208, 1215 (5th Cir. 1994). Anderson was
executed by Texas on April 26, 1994. DEATH ROW U.S.A., supra note 1, at 16.
54. See Martinez-Macias v. Collins, 979 F.2d 1067, 1067 (5th Cir. 1992)
(affirming grant of habeas corpus relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel).
55. See Martinez-Macias v. Collins, 810 F. Supp. 782, 786-87, 796-813 (W.D.
Tex. 1991), aff'd, 979 F.2d 1067 (5th Cir. 1992).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
representation from a Washington, D.C., firm, which proved in federal habeas
corpus proceedings that “the justice system got only what it paid for,” 56 woefully
deficient representation that prejudiced Martinez-Macias. After he was granted
habeas corpus relief, an El Paso grand jury refused to re-indict Martinez-Macias
and he was released after nine years on death row.57

56. Martinez-Macias, 979 F.2d at 1067.
57. See Gordon Dickinson, Man Freed in Machete Murder Case, EL PASO
TIMES, June 24, 1993, at 1.


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Federal habeas corpus relief was the only thing that kept Pamela Lynn Perillo
from being executed in Texas, even though her lawyer had a con-flict of interest
because of his active representation of the state’s star witness against her.58 The
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld her conviction and death sentence on the
basis of an affidavit from her lawyer without even requiring an evidentiary hearing.
However, a federal court, after conducting a hearing, found that her lawyer,
disbarred for lying to a client in another case, was not credible and that the conflict
adversely affected his conduct of Perillo's defense, including his cross-examination
of his client who testified against Perillo.59
Perillo illustrates the remarkable casualness with which defense counsel is
assigned to represent defendants facing the death penalty in Houston. The trial
judge initially appointed an attorney who had never tried a capital case.60 That
attorney asked another lawyer with whom he “ran several machine shops” to assist
in the defense.61 The judge appoin-ted the lawyer, who had defended the state’s key
witness against Perillo, a co-participant in the crime, at a separate trial.62 The lawyer
continued to represent the witness in obtaining immunity in testifying against
another participant, knew that the client-witness had given new and damaging
testimony about Perillo at that trial that was inconsistent with testimony the witness
had given at her own trials, and encouraged the witness to meet with the survivors
of the victim.63 The lawyer even went over the prior testimony given at the two
earlier trials by the witness, who was staying at the lawyer’s home, and “mapped
out” the cross-examination he would conduct the next day at Perillo’s trial.64 The
lawyer failed to impeach the testimony of his client-witness, thereby, according to
58. See Perillo v. Johnson, 205 F.3d 775, 780 (5th Cir. 2000) (affirming a
district court’s grant of habeas relief because defendant’s lawyer previously
represented the state’s witness in the same crime and continued to represent her in
other matters).
59. See id. at 783.
60. See id. at 786.
61. See id.
62. See id.
63. Id. at 786-87.
64. See id. at 788.


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
the District Court, not pursuing “a plausible defensive strategy that could have had
significant impact with respect to Perillo’s punishment.” 65

65. Id. at 796.


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
This was too much even for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth
Circuit,66 which, in applying the standard for effective assistance of counsel
established in Strickland v. Washington,67 has generally upheld convictions and
death sentences even in cases of conflicts of interest68 and scandalously poor
representation.69 Judge Alvin Rubin, concurring in the denial of habeas relief in one
capital case, observed that “[t]he Constitution, as interpreted by the courts, does not
require that the accused, even in a capital case, be represented by able or effective
counsel,” 70 and noted that, as a result, “accused persons who are represented by
‘not-legally-ineffective’ lawyers may be condemned to die when the same accused, if
represented by effective counsel, would receive at least the clemency of a life
sentence.” 71 In one such case, a Texas lawyer, later suspended from practice,72
presented no evidence about his client at the penalty phase of the trial and then
made no closing argument, instead saying, “You are an extremely intelligent jury.
You've got that man's life in your hands. You can take it or not. That's all I have to
say.” 73 A United States District Court granted habeas corpus relief, but the Fifth
66. See supra note 58 and accompanying text.
67. 466 U.S. 668, 687-96 (1984) (holding that in order to prove ineffective
assistance of counsel, a defendant must first show that counsel’s performance was
deficient, and second, that this deficiency prejudiced the defense).
68. See, e.g., Moreland v. Scott, 175 F.3d 347, 348-49 (5th Cir. 1999) (finding
no conflict and upholding conviction and death sentence where defense counsel,
who was running for district attorney, advised client to reject a plea offer which
would have resulted in a sentence of 50 years on the theory that the case would be
reversed on appeal and, upon being elected district attorney, counsel would give him
a more favorable plea offer); Beets v. Scott, 65 F.3d 1258, 1279 (5th Cir. 1995) (en
banc) (reversing district court’s order and a panel opinion, see 986 F.2d 1478, that
found a violation of Beets's right to counsel because her lawyer obtained a media
contract for her story and failed to withdraw and testify as a defense witness);
Russell v. Lynaugh, 892 F.2d 1205, 1216 (5th Cir. 1989) (upholding a conviction
and death sentence despite defense attorney’s representation of a state witness on
previous occasions in criminal matters); Kirkpatrick v. Butler, 870 F.2d 276, 284
(5th Cir. 1989) (upholding conviction and death sentence even though the defense
attorney was an “attorney to and fishing buddies with” the victim’s family and failed
to bring out evidence that the defendant may have acted in response to a sexual
advance by the victim).
69. See, e.g., infra notes 72-74.
70. Riles v. McCotter, 799 F.2d 947, 955 (5th Cir. 1986) (Rubin, J.,
71. Id. (emphasis in original).
72. See Suspensions, 56 TEX. B.J. 73, 73 (Jan. 1993) (stating that Jon R. Wood
was suspended for entering his client into an agreed judgment without the consent
of his client).
73. Romero v. Lynaugh, 884 F.2d 871, 875 (5th Cir. 1989).

TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Circuit, characterizing counsel's nonargument as a “dramatic ploy,” 74 reversed and
the defendant was executed. The court also reversed a district court's finding of
ineffective assistance for failure to present any mitigating evidence, including the
defendant’s mental retardation, abuse by his parents, and serious alcohol and drug

74. Id. at 877 (denying habeas relief, even though the attorney presented no
mitigating evidence and only made a few perfunctory remarks at the sentencing
75. See Williams v. Cain, 125 F.3d 269, 279 (5th Cir. 1997).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
In another case, two judges of the court rejected a claim of ineffective
assistance of counsel76 despite 230 findings of fact by the state trial court regarding
ineffective representation, including the lawyer’s failure to object to the state’s use of
peremptory challenges to exclude black venire mem-bers, to obtain critical portions
of transcripts of the codefendant’s trial, to consult with an independent ballistics
expert, to preserve legal issues for review, and to give an effective closing argument
at the penalty phase.77 The state trial judge recommended that habeas corpus relief
be granted because of the poor representation, but the recommendation was
rejected by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in a five-to-four per curiam
decision.78 In dissenting from the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that the lawyer’s poor
performance did not violate the right to counsel, Judge DeMoss observed, “[i]f the
state court findings in this case do not satisfy both the ‘ineffectiveness’ and
‘prejudice’ prongs of Strickland, then in my view there is no such animal as an
‘ineffective counsel’ and we should quit talking as if there is.” 79 The Fifth Circuit
refused even to order a hearing on a claim that a defense lawyer was intoxicated
during a capital trial,80 and has found no violation of the right to counsel in other
cases where defense counsel failed to present any mitigating evidence at the
sentencing phase of the trial.81 The Fifth Circuit’s view that the right to counsel
means so little appears to be inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s recent decision
in Williams v. Taylor,82 holding that the failure to present mitigating evidence at the
penalty phase of a capital trial constituted ineffective assistance.83 However, it is
76. Westley v. Johnson, 83 F.3d 714, 721-24 (5th Cir. 1996) (holding that,
although Westley’s counsel was deficient in at least two areas of his defense, the
deficiencies “did not operate to Westley’s prejudice at his trial”).
77. Id. at 727-29 (DeMoss, J., dissenting).
78. Id. at 728 (DeMoss, J., dissenting).
79. Id. at 729 (DeMoss, J., dissenting).
80. Russell v. Lynaugh, 892 F.2d 1205 (5th Cir. 1989).
81. See, e.g., Ransom v. Johnson, 126 F.3d 716, 723 (5th Cir. 1997) (finding
the failure of counsel to present any evidence of mitigation, including Ransom’s
terrible abuse as a child, “very troublesome,” but holding that it did not violate the
Sixth Amendment); Rector v. Johnson, 120 F.3d 551, 564 (5th Cir. 1997) (holding
that defense counsel was not ineffective despite failure to present any mitigating
evidence including “child abuse, family instability, a poor educational background,
low IQ, gunshot injuries, and that his mother was severely and chronically mentally
ill”); Faulder v. Johnson, 81 F.3d 515, 519-20 (5th Cir. 1996) (holding that counsel
was not ineffective for failure to present any mitigating evidence at the sentencing
phase even though his reason for doing so was that he was unaware of his right to
present the evidence).
82. 120 S. Ct. 1495 (2000).
83. Id. at 1497-98 (holding that Williams’s constitutionally protected right to
effective counsel was violated by his trial attorney’s failure to prevent mitigating

TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
apparent both from decisions in which the Fifth Circuit has found ineffectiveness
and from many in which it did not that the Texas courts are assigning incompetent
lawyers to represent the poor in capital cases and providing no remedy for breakdowns in the adversarial system resulting from poor representation.

evidence such as child abuse, mental retardation, prison records, and lack of


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Although a poor defendant may pay with his life for the poor representation
he receives, he has no voice in the selection of court-appointed counsel. A poor
person accused of a crime is powerless to enforce the right upon which all others
depend, the right to counsel.84 Kenneth Dwayne Dunn’s death sentence was upheld
despite the fact that he objected to the counsel appointed to represent him at trial.85
After his first death sentence was overturned because the court failed to adequately
transcribe the trial proceedings, the judge reappointed Dunn’s attorneys.86 At first,
Dunn attempted to represent himself, but the court appointed the same lawyers
who had represented him at his first trial as standby counsel, despite Dunn's
objection that he had filed a malpractice suit against them and did not want them to
represent him because of this conflict of interest.87 Then, he asked not to represent
himself but to be represented by different counsel.88 Again, the court appointed the
same lawyers.89 Over the dissent of Justice Charles Baird, the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals upheld Dunn’s second death sentence.90
The poor quality of
indigent defense in Texas has been well documented and widely recognized.91
However, Texas judges, in order to maintain control over their dockets and receive
campaign contributions from appointed lawyers,92 have been extremely hostile even
to modest attempts to limit their powers of appointment. In 1999, the Texas
legislature unanimously passed a bill that created the mere possibility of public
defenders' offices, and required indigent defendants to be appointed attorneys

84. Stephen B. Bright, Neither Equal Nor Just: The Rationing and Denial of
Legal Services When Life and Liberty Are at Stake, 1997 N.Y.U. A NN. SURV. A M.
L. 783, 793-96 (1997) (describing the unsuccessful efforts of an indigent defendant
to have his incompetent lawyer replaced).
85. See Dunn v. State, 819 S.W.2d 510, 515-18 (Tex. Crim. App. 1991).
86. See id. at 517.
87. See id. at 518.
88. See id.
89. See id.
90. See id. at 526.
91. See, e.g., SPANGENBERG G ROUP, supra note 21, at ii (describing the
situation in Texas as “desperate”); Ballard, Gideon’s Broken Promise, supra note 3,
at 18-21; Debbie Nathan, Wheel of Misfortune, TEX. OBSERVER, Oct. 1, 1999
(describing the lottery system in Bexar County, Texas for assigning counsel to
indigent criminal defendants); Bob Sablatura, Appointment of Defenders Varies in
Court; Some Judges Create Own Systems; Critics Call for Independent Office,
HOUS . CHRON., Oct. 18, 1999, at A9, available in LEXIS, News Library, HCHRN
file (discussing the problems of permitting judges to appoint counsel for indigent
criminal defendants).
92. See Ballard, Gideon's Broken Promise, supra note 3, at 18; Ballard,
Appointed Counsel, supra note 3, at 18.

TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
within twenty days of arrest.93 Texas judges mobilized to convince Governor
George W. Bush to veto the bill.94 Despite resounding denunciations, Governor
Bush vetoed the bill.95 Thus, the Texas judiciary, instead of protecting the right to
counsel, has played a key role in perpetuating the systematic denial of competent
and effective representation.

93. See Tex. S.B. 247, 76th Leg., R.S. (1999), available in Texas Legislature
BILLTYPE=B&BILLSUFFIX=00247&SORT=Asc>; John Moritz, Public
Defenders Measure Defended by State Senator, Judges Who Oppose the Bill Say
They Should Choose Counsel for Indigent Suspects, FORT WORTH STARTELEGRAM, June 5, 1999, at 4, available in 1999 WL 6238340; Joe Stinebaker,
Officials Size Up Bill Limiting Judges from Appointing Lawyers, HOUS . CHRON.,
June 2, 1999 at A1, available in 1999 WL 3999789 (explaining that the bill would
have given Texas commissioner courts the power to appoint attorneys for indigent
defendants and possibly to set up public defender offices).
94. See A. Philips Brooks, Bush Veto on Legal Aid Bill Draws National
Scrutiny, AUSTIN AM.-STATESMAN, June 22, 1999, at A6, available in 1999 WL
7416622; John Council, Judicial Furor: Criminal Judges Irate Over Bill Stripping
Them of Appointment Power, TEX. L AW., June 14, 1999, at 1 (noting that Bush’s
office “received numerous calls from judges throughout Texas . . . who have voiced
their concerns [about] the legislation”); Melinda Prentice & Adolfo Pesquera,
Indigent Defense Bill Sparks Call for Veto, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-N EWS June 5,
1999, at B1, available in LEXIS, News Library, San Antonio Express-News file
(“State District judges . . . sent Bush a letter saying the bill is unconstitutional and
calling on him to veto it.”); Sanders, supra note 5 at 1 (stating that district judges
were “determined to see [the bill] die at the hands of Gov. George W. Bush”
because they were unhappy that the legislation “would give county commissioners
the responsibility to determine how attorneys would be appointed for the poor . . .
[and would] give county auditors the authority to decide how court-appointed
attorneys would be paid”); Kathy Walt, Supporters Urge Bush to Sign Bill; Judges
Seek Veto, HOUS . CHRONICLE, June 5, 1999, at A31 (“Criminal district judges in
Harris County voted unanimously earlier this week to authorize Administrative
Judge George Godwin to urge Bush to veto the measure.”).
95. See Bob Herbert, Texas Justice: It's an Oxymoron But Gov. Bush Doesn't
Mind, N. Y. TIMES, June 24, 1999, at A27, available in LEXIS, News Library,
NYT File (“George W. Bush put his vaunted compassion on hold Sunday night
and vetoed a bill that would have modestly improved the abysmal quality of legal
representation available to indigent defendants in Texas.”); Viveca Novak, The Cost
of Poor Advice, TIME, July 5, 1999, at 38 (“Texas’s reputation as a state without
tender mercies for the accused is nowhere more apparent than in how it deals with
defendants too poor to hire lawyers.”).

Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas

Post- Conviction Review: The Role of the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals in Appointing Incompetent Lawyers and
Punishing Clients

A poor person accused of a crime is constitutionally entitled to a lawyer only
for trial96 and for one direct appeal.97 But several important avenues of review exist
beyond one appeal: for example, state post-conviction review, where a condemned
inmate may raise issues that could not have been presented at trial or on direct
appeal, such as the denial of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel at trial98 or the
failure of the prosecutor to disclose exculpatory evidence.99 Beyond that, a deathsentenced inmate can seek habeas corpus review in the federal courts.100 A deathsentenced inmate has a statutory right to counsel for federal habeas corpus,101 but

96. See Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 341-45 (1963) (holding that the
Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments require a state defendant to be provided with
counsel at trial).
97. See Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353, 355-58 (1963) (holding that the
Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment only
require states to provide indigent defendants counsel for their initial appeal).
98. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 667-96 (1984).
99. See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 84-85 (1963).
100. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Supp. IV 1998). For a discussion of the role that
habeas corpus has played in vindicating constitutional rights, see infra notes 210-11
and accompanying text.
101. See 21 U.S.C. § 848(q) (1994); see also McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849,
856-57 (1994) (holding that 21 U.S.C. § 848 provides inmates with a right to legal
counsel in seeking federal habeas corpus review).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
counsel can present only claims that have been presented to and decided by the
state courts.102

102. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b) (Supp. IV 1998).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
For several years, federally-funded resource centers, also called post-conviction
defender organizations, in Texas and other states employed attorneys who specialized in capital post-conviction litigation. Those programs provided representation
in some cases and recruited attorneys in others.103 The Texas Resource Center was
attacked by politicians, who thought tax dollars should not be spent on defending
murderers,104 and prosecutors, who felt the Resource Center attorneys were
representing their clients too zealously.105 Congress eliminated all funding for
resource centers in 1996,106 and the Texas Resource Center closed shortly
The Texas legislature amended its post-conviction review law in 1995, and
provided that the complex task of representing those under death sentence in postconviction proceedings be assigned to individual lawyers.108 From 1995 to 1999, the
legislature gave the Court of Criminal Appeals the responsibility for “appoint[ing]

103. See Roscoe C. Howard, Jr., The Defunding of the Post Conviction
Defense Organizations as a Denial of the Right to Counsel, 98 W. VA. L. REV.
863, 906-913 (1996).
104. See David Elliot, State Senator Sues Legal Resource Center, AUSTIN AM.STATESMAN, Sept. 23, 1993, at B3, available in 1993 WL 6803110 (reporting
Texas State Senator Jerry Patterson’s frustration with “11th hour appeals” and the
Resource Center’s representation of Richard Lee Beavers, who had previously
volunteered for execution but changed his mind and filed an appeal); Kathy Walt,
Death Row Lawyers Win Bid to Keep Lid on Books, HOUS . CHRON., June 22,
1995, at A1, available in 1995 WL 5909378 (reporting on Senator Patterson’s
accusation that the Resource Center hired “public relations experts to mount
campaigns for their clients” and used “taxpayer dollars to recruit witnesses who are
pressured to perjure themselves on the witness stand”).
105. See Howard, supra note 104, at 913 (reporting that the Texas office had
been criticized as “obstructionist,” but that its director described the criticism as
“the reaction to a vigorous defense bar in capital cases”); Mark Ballard, Trial
Captivates Death Row Bar, TEX. LAW., Apr. 26, 1993, at 1, 30 (reporting on
allegations that the head of the Texas Resource Center suborned perjury and her
lawyer's response that the subpoena issued to her was part of a “witch hunt”); Susan
Warren, Taking Offense at Death Row Defense, HOUS . CHRON., Nov. 7, 1993, at
A20, available in 1993 WL 9632102 (reporting on prosecutors’ frustration with the
Resource Center’s filing of what veteran capital defense attorney Will Gray called
“frivolous trash,” and accusing the center of manipulating appeals through the
106. See Howard, supra note 103, at 912-15.
107. See Christy Hoppe, McVeigh’s Texas Lawyers Known for Their Battles
Against Death Penalty, DALLAS MORNING N EWS, June 9, 1997,at 1A, available in
1997 WL 11498836.
108. See TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. art. 11.071, § 2(a) (Vernon Supp. 2000).

TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
competent counsel” to represent the condemned.109 As the Dallas Morning News
charitably put it, the court did “a less-than-stellar job.” 110 The court’s lack of
concern about the qualifications of the lawyers it appointed was apparent from the
outset when, while conscripting forty-eight attorneys to handle cases, it appointed a
longtime federal prosecutor to represent one of the condemned.111 The court was
not even aware that the lawyer was an assistant U.S. attorney and thus could not
represent a death-sentenced inmate.112
Equally disturbing was the Court of Criminal Appeals' assignment of 14 capital
post-conviction cases to two of its former law clerks, initially paid $265,000, which
was 13 percent of the first $1.9 million paid to lawyers by the court.113 The two
109. Id. at § 2(c)-(d) (emphasis added).
110. Editorial, Death Penalty Reforms are Needed for the System to be Fair,
DALLAS MORNING N EWS, Dec. 20, 1998, at 2J, available in 1997 WL 23044432.
111. See Janet Elliott, Habeas Surprise: Court Orders 48 to Take Death Cases,
TEX. LAW., Dec. 2, 1996, at 1.
112. Id.
113. See Ex-Court Clerks got $265,000 for Death Row Inmates' Cases,
DALLAS MORNING N EWS, Oct. 4, 1997, at 26A, available in 1997 WL 11525334;
Kathy Walt, Lawyers Who Aid Condemned Paid $265,000/State Payments by Far


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
former clerks had no experience in such proceedings.114 Even the most experienced
lawyers could not take on so many clients under death sentence and provide
adequate representation to all of them.

Largest to Any Attorneys, HOUS . CHRON., Oct. 3, 1997, at 33, available in 1997
WL 13064743.
114. See Walt, supra note 113.


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
The court assigned Ricky Kerr to a young lawyer who in his four years in the
practice had never been involved in the trial or appeal of a capital case in any way.115
The lawyer suffered severe health problems that kept him out of his office in the
months before he was to file a habeas corpus application on behalf of Kerr.116 The
lawyer so misunderstood habeas corpus law that, as he later admitted, he thought
he was precluded from challenging Kerr's conviction and sentence117—the very
purpose of a habeas petition. He filed what one member of the Court of Criminal
Appeals called a “non-application,” 118 which failed to raise any issue attacking the
After he and his family were unable to contact his lawyer, Kerr wrote a letter
to the court complaining about his lawyer and asking the court to appoint another
lawyer to prepare a habeas petition.119 Even though prosecutors did not object to a
stay,120 the Court of Criminal Appeals denied Kerr's motions for a stay of execution
115. See Janet Elliott, Habeas System Fails Death Row Appellant, TEX. L AW.,
Mar. 9, 1998, at 1, 25; Christy Hoppe, Critics Say Case Shows Danger in Limiting
Death-Row Appeals: Speeding Execution Criticized After Error by Inmate's
Lawyer, DALLAS MORNING N EWS, Mar. 9, 1998, at 1A, available in 1998 WL
116. See Walt, supra note 113.
117. See Ex parte Kerr, 977 S.W.2d 585, 585 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998)
(Overstreet, J., dissenting); Elliott, supra note 115, 116 at 25 (reporting how Robert
McGlohon, Jr., the appointed counsel, mistakenly believed “he could not attack the
validity of Kerr’s conviction in the habeas appeal because Kerr’s direct appeal . . .
was not yet final”).
118. Kerr, 977 S.W.2d at 585 (Overstreet, J., dissenting).
119. See Elliott, supra note 115 at 25.
120. See id.


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
and for the appointment of competent counsel.121 Judge Morris Overstreet, warning
that the court would have “blood on its hands” if Kerr was executed, dissented in
order to “wash [his] hands of such repugnance,” 122 saying:

121. See Kerr, 977 S.W.2d at 585 (Overstreet, J., dissenting).
122. Id.


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
For this Court to approve of such and refuse to stay this scheduled execution is a farce
and travesty of applicant's legal right to apply for habeas relief. It appears that the
Court, in approving such a charade, is punishing applicant, rewarding the State, and
perhaps even encouraging other attorneys to file perfunctory “non-applications.” Such
a “non-application” certainly makes it easier on everyone—no need for the attorney, the
State, or this Court to consider any potential challenges to anything that happened at


Even the prosecutors who sought Kerr's execution acknowledged that the lawyer
assigned to him “failed to comply with the letter and the spirit” of Texas's law
allowing post-conviction review.124 The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers
Association noted that in the court's Kerr decision, the court had made it clear
“that the duty of defense counsel . . . is discharged by doing absolutely nothing.” 125
Other lawyers appointed by the court have also filed patently inade-quate
pleadings. For example, the petition filed by the lawyer the court appointed to
represent Johnny Joe Martinez was described by Judge Charles Baird as follows:
The instant application is five and one half pages long and raises four challenges to the
conviction. The trial record is never quoted. Only three cases are cited in the entire

123. Id.
124. Elliott, supra note 115 at 26 (quoting the chief appellate lawyer for the
district attorney's office handling the case).
125. TCDLA Urges Members to Pass on Accepting Habeas Cases, TEX.
L AW., June 22, 1998, at 4 (citing the resolution passed by the Board of Directors
of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association on June 6, 1998) [hereinafter
TCDLA Urges Members].


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
application, and no cases are cited for the remaining two claims for relief. Those
claims comprise only 17 lines with three inches of margin.


126. Ex parte Martinez, 977 S.W.2d 589, 589 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998) (Baird,
J., dissenting).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Although a state bar committee report found that handling a capital post-conviction
case requires, on average, somewhere between four hundred and nine hundred
hours of attorney time,127 records indicated that the lawyer assigned to Martinez
spent less than fifty hours preparing the application.128 The lawyer did not seek any
reimbursement for travel or investigatory expenses or seek funds for expert
assistance.129 Martinez wrote to the Court of Criminal Appeals, informing the court
that his attorney was failing to investigate his claims and asking to be assigned new
counsel.130 The court denied Martinez's petition over a dissent by Judge Baird that
urged the court to remand the case to the trial court to determine whether
Martinez was adequately represented.131
The court also denied what it treated as an “[a]pplication for writ of habeas
corpus” filed by the lawyer it assigned to represent Bryan Wolfe,132 even though the
pleading filed “appear[ed] to be a motion for discovery.” 133 Again, Judge Baird
127. See Elliott, supra note 115 at 26 (reporting the results of a 1993 study
commissioned by the State Bar of Texas, finding the median number of attorney
hours to be 400 and the mean to be 900).
128. See Martinez, 977 S.W.2d at 589, n.2 (Baird, J., dissenting).
129. See id.
130. See Elliott, supra note 115.
131. See Martinez, 977 S.W.2d at 590 (Baird, J., dissenting).
132. Ex parte Wolfe, 977 S.W.2d 603, 603 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998) (Baird, J.,
133. Id. Judge Baird described the application as follows:
The instant application appears to allege ineffective assistance of
trial counsel, but also includes a wish list of discovery, research, and
hearings necessary to represent applicant. No cases are cited. No
analysis of the law is presented. Indeed, even the State recognizes
this `application' appears to be a motion for discovery.


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
urged his colleagues to remand the case for a determination of whether the inmate
was properly represented, and they refused.134


134. See id.


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
In another case, Andrew Cantu resorted to representing himself after the first
two lawyers assigned by the court withdrew and a third failed even to show up to
interview him.135 The first lawyer assigned to represent him had represented his codefendant. The second had represented the state as an assistant attorney general in
capital habeas corpus cases. At a hearing held five months after the third lawyer
was assigned to represent Cantu, the lawyer admitted he had not visited Cantu,
claiming that he did not know Cantu's location.136 (Texas had only one death row at
that time, which was located near Huntsville.)137 The lawyer also admitted that he
had made no effort to contact an investigator or an expert and was not familiar with
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996,138 which established a
one-year statute of limitations for filing a federal habeas corpus petition.139 Cantu
was executed on February 16, 1999, without any state or federal review of the
issues in his case.140
The court has also appointed attorneys who failed to file any petition within
the 180-day deadline established by statute,141 and then strictly enforced the
deadlines to preclude any post-conviction review.142 In refusing to consider one
untimely application from a lawyer it assigned, the court noted that the “screamingly obvious” intent of the Texas legislature in setting a time limit for the filing of
post-conviction petitions was “to speed up the habeas corpus process.” 143 Judge
Baird took issue with the majority's conclusion that “speed should be our only

135. See Paul Duggan, On Death Row, Not Even Dying Is Certain, WASH.
POST, Dec. 20, 1998, at A22, available in 1998 WL 22542235.
136. See State v. Cantu, 104th Dist. Ct. of Taylor County, Tex., No. 10,172-B,
Transcript of Hearing of Aug. 15, 1997, at 26 [hereinafter Cantu Transcript].
137. Bruce Tomasco, Change of Address: Death Row’s New Home Offers
Fewer Amenities for its Tenants, DALLAS MORNING N EWS, June 9, 1999, at 25A,
available in 1999 WL 4127009.
138. Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (codified in scattered titles of U.S.C.)
(Supp. IV 1998).
139. See id. §§ 101, 105 (amending 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)). See Cantu
Transcript, supra note 136, at 27-28 (recording the lawyer’s testimony at the
140. See Cantu-Tzin v. Johnson, 162 F.3d 295 (5th Cir. 1998) (holding that
because the habeas petition was time-barred, the district court was not required to
appoint counsel pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 848(q)(4)(B)), stay denied, 525 U.S. 1132
141. TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. art. 11.071, § 4(a) (Vernon Supp. 2000).
142. See Ex parte Smith, 977 S.W.2d 610, 610 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998)
(dismissing the peti-tion because it was filed nine days late); Ex parte Colella, 977
S.W.2d 621 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998) (dismissing the petition because it was filed
thirty-seven days late). See also infra notes 143-56.
143. Smith, 977 S.W.2d at 611.

Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
concern when interpreting the statute,” and argued in dissent that the court had
failed “to accept our statutory responsibility for appointing competent counsel.” 144
By strictly enforcing deadlines, the Court of Criminal Appeals sweeps
questions regarding unjust convictions or sentences under the rug. One of the most
egregious examples is the case of Henry Skinner.145 Two days before Skinner's
application for post-conviction review was due to be filed, his lawyer filed a motion
in the Court of Criminal Appeals to extend the deadline. On the day the
application was due, the court ruled that the motion for an extension should have
been filed in the trial court.146 The motion was filed the following day in the proper
court, which ultimately held it untimely and refused to hear Skinner's claims.147


Id. at 613-14 (Baird, J., dissenting).
Ex parte Skinner, No. 20,203-03 (Tex. Crim. App. Dec. 2, 1998).
Id. at slip op. 1 (order).
Id. at slip op. 1-2 (order).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
The court upheld the trial judge's ruling that Skinner was barred from the
post-conviction process because his lawyer had missed the deadline by one day. In
dissent, Judge Baird pointed out that the dismissal of the application meant that no
court would review the quality of representation provided to Skinner by a former
district attorney who had twice prosecuted Skinner, had cocaine problems, and had
a questionable relationship with the presiding judge.148 Judge Baird observed:
Counsel [appointed to defend Skinner at trial] was the former district attorney
who had prosecuted [Skinner] on at least two prior occasions. . . . Moreover, when trial
counsel served as district attorney, it was well known he had a cocaine problem.
Newspaper reports indicated trial counsel, on his way to a fund raiser for [the judge who
appointed him to defend Skinner], was involved in an accident and later admitted to the
hospital for a drug overdose. Because of trial counsel's known drug addiction, there
was a substantial investigation by the Attorney General's Office regarding missing funds
from the district attorney's office. After leaving office, trial counsel was assessed a
$90,000 bill from the I.R.S. A few months later, trial counsel was appointed to the
instant case and ultimately paid almost $90,000. These facts demand a substantive
evidentiary hearing before an impartial tribunal.


The Court of Criminal Appeals has also used strict adherence to the Texas
post-conviction statute to avoid correcting its own mistakes on direct appeal. In
1993, the court explicitly overruled the holding it had used to affirm Troy Farris's
1990 conviction and death sentence.150 However, despite recognizing that it decided

148. Id. at slip op. 5-6 (Baird, J., dissenting).
149. Id. at slip op. 5 (dissent).
150. See Riley v. State, 889 S.W.2d 290, 298 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993) (overruling Farris v. State, 819 S.W.2d 490 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990)).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
the issue incorrectly in Farris, the court refused to reconsider the issue when Farris
presented it on habeas,151 and Farris was executed on January 13, 1999.152

151. See John Council, Writs and Wrongs: Farris Case Bolsters Concerns
Over Subsequent Habeas Petitions, TEX. LAW., Feb. 15, 1999, at 17.
152. See Michael Graczyk, Texas Executes Inmate for Deputy’s 1983 Slaying,
AUSTIN AM.-STATESMAN, Jan. 14, 1999, at B2, available in 1999 WL 7399514.


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
The court refused to hear another case because the lawyer failed to file within
the 180-day deadline.153 In dissent, Judge Morris Overstreet said the court's action
“borders on barbarism because such action punishes the applicant for his lawyer's
tardiness.” 154 The Austin American-Statesman thought the court crossed the line.
In an editorial, the paper said “[b]arbarism is an appropriate description” of the
court's refusal to hear the petition.155 The paper observed that the court's
“disgraceful” action would “only heighten the state's deadly reputation and make its
judiciary appear to be barbaric.” 156
During the four years it was responsible for appointing counsel, the Court of
Criminal Appeals not only appointed its cronies, the inexperi-enced, and the
incompetent to represent those facing death; it also discouraged capable lawyers
from taking capital cases and devoting the time necessary to do an adequate job by
limiting compensation to the lawyers appointed and denying necessary expert and
investigative assistance.
Despite the finding by a committee of the Texas Bar that an average of 400 to
900 hours of an attorney's time is required to handle a post-conviction case,157 the
Court of Criminal Appeals adopted a limit on fees that compensated counsel for
only 150 hours at $100/hour.158 The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
warned potential appointees:
[T]he Court's limitations [on fees] will place you in the untenable position of having to
choose between competently representing your client and performing about 250-750
hours of uncompensated work or, if your practice precludes such a huge number of pro
bono hours, not being able to competently represent your client. . . . You should also

153. See Ex parte Smith, 977 S.W.2d 610, 610 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).
154. Id. at 614 (Overstreet, J., dissenting).
155. A Disgraceful Vote, AUSTIN AM.-STATESMAN, Apr. 27, 1998, at A1,
available in 1999 WL 3608552.
156. Id.
157. See supra note 127 and accompanying text.
158. See Cynthia Hujar Orr & E.G. “Gerry” Morris, Dear 11.071 Appointed
Counsel:, VOICE FOR THE DEFENSE, Apr. 1998, at 23, 24 n.1 (published by the
Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
be aware that the Court has been routinely cutting vouchers without explanation, and
seemingly without regard to the necessity
of the work performed. Some attorneys have had vouchers reduced by more than $10,000.


The Association passed a resolution finding that the Court of Criminal
Appeals had “made it clear . . . that it will not afford a citizen sentenced to death
any meaningful review, and further that it will often refuse to pay necessary
investigative and other expenses, forcing the appointed counsel to, in effect, finance
the proceedings themselves.” 160 The organization urged its members not to ask for
or accept appointments to capital cases under these constraints.161

159. Id. at 23.
160. TCDLA Urges Members, supra note 125, at 4.
161. See id.


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
In 1999, the legislature removed the appointing authority from the Court of
Criminal Appeals and gave it to the trial courts.162 The legislature directed the
Court of Criminal Appeals to create guidelines for trial courts to use in appointing
counsel.163 The Texas legislature also provided for attorney fees of $100/hour in
post-conviction proceedings and established a $25,000 limit on total expenditures
for post-conviction proceedings, including investigation and experts.164
There is little reason to believe that these changes will improve the quality of
representation that poor people receive in post-conviction proceedings. The Court
of Criminal Appeals showed no concern for the quality of lawyers it appointed in
the four years it was responsible for assigning counsel. Thus, there is little reason
to imagine that the court will issue guidelines that will ensure adequate
representation. If anything, giving trial courts the authority to appoint state habeas
counsel may make things worse. As previously shown, trial judges zealously
guarding their authority to appoint lawyers at trial are responsible for the
indefensible quality of representation in many cases.165
By assigning incapable lawyers to defend the poor at trial and equally
incapable lawyers to represent the condemned in the post-conviction process, Texas
provides only a blurry appearance of fairness. But too often, the reality is no
reliable adversarial process at all. While the legislature, the bar, the governor, and
others all share the blame for the poor quality of representation in capital cases in
Texas, the state's judges—who have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution,
including the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel—have not only tolerated bad
representa-tion, but, by appointing incompetent lawyers, frequently have been
directly responsible for it. The role of judges in appointing bad lawyers and swiftly
processing capital cases has further diminished the reputation of the Texas
judiciary, which has long been tarnished by campaign contributions to judicial candidates from groups that have cases before the courts.166
162. See TEX. CODE CRIM. PROC. ANN. art. 11.071, § 2(c) (Vernon Supp.
163. See id. § 2(d).
164. See id. § 2A(a) (stating that expenditures beyond $25,000 are a county's
responsibility); see also Kurt Sauer, Bill Would Move Power to Habeas Courts,
TEX. LAW., Apr. 26, 1999, at 2; John Council, Reforms to the Habeas Reforms,
TEX. LAW., Feb. 15, 1999, at 17 (discussing potential modifications to the habeas
165. See supra notes 91-95 and accompanying text.
166. See John Cornyn, Ruminations on the Nature of Texas Judging, 25 ST .
MARY'S L. REV. 367, 378 (1993) (stating, from the standpoint of a Texas Supreme
Court justice, that “[t]he gravest concern that inheres in the elective system . . . is
that judicial candidates are compelled to raise campaign funds: money and judges
simply do not mix”); Robert D'Agostino, The Decline of the Law in the Texas

Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas

Supreme Court, 2 BENCHMARK 171, 171 (1986) (describing how the Texas
Supreme Court “ignored precedent, invalidated on Texas constitutional grounds
long-accepted legislative enactments, interpreted Texas statutes so as to render
them meaningless, and glossed over and misinterpreted fact findings of trial courts,
all in pursuit of desired results”); Orrin W. Johnson & Laura Johnson Urbis,
Judicial Selection in Texas: A Gathering Storm?, 23 TEX. TECH L. REV. 525,
545-52 (1992) (discussing the rising campaign costs in Texas judicial elections). See
generally Stephen J. Adler, The Texas Bench: Anything Goes, AM. LAW., Apr.
1986, at 1 (describing the nuances of partisan judicial elections in Texas at a time
when such races were heavily influenced by plaintiffs’ lawyers).

TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
III. The Partisan Election of Judges: The Triumph of Politics
Over the Rule of Law
One can reasonably ask how judges who have taken an oath to uphold the
Constitution and laws of the United States and Texas, including the right to
counsel, could play such a role in denying the protections of the Constitution to
those most in need of them. How can a judge be so indif-ferent to injustice? A
large part of the answer is that Texas has partisan judicial elections.167 Some judges
run and are elected with an agenda, more like a legislator than a judge.168 Other

167. TEX. CONST. art V, §§ 2, 4, 6-7; Cornyn, supra note 166, at 379 n.40
(stating that the nine states that “select members of their highest courts by partisan
elections are: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania,
Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia”). See also Johnson & Urbis, supra note 166,
at 543 (stating that Texas is one of the few remaining states in which judges at all
court levels are selected in partisan elections).
168. See infra notes 207-09 and accompanying text. See, e.g., Janet Elliott &
Richard Connelly, Mansfield: The Stealth Candidate—His Past Isn’t What It Seems,
TEX. L AW., Oct. 3, 1994, at 1, 32 (reprinting a campaign advertisement of a Texas


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
judges, once in office, appoint lawyers to criminal cases as political patronage, more
like a political boss than a judicial officer.169 Once in office, any vote that might be
perceived as “soft on crime” or as delaying executions—no matter how clear the law
requiring it—carries with it the risk that the judge will be voted out of office in the
next election.

Court of Criminal Appeals candidate that lists a series of pro-death penalty
169. See infra notes 199-200 and accompanying text; Bright & Keenan, supra
note 25, at 802-03; see also supra note 92 and accompanying text.


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
In 1980, Michael J. McCormick, then the executive director of the Texas
District and County Attorneys Association, challenged in an election a judge on the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who, according to McCormick, “was not
considered friendly to prosecutors.” 170 McCormick ran on a “law enforcement
philosophy,” spoke out against the court’s doctrine of reviewing fundamental error
in jury charges—which he said was “thriving” on the court—and won the election.171
There was no danger during the next 20 years he served on the court that
anyone would accuse McCormick, who became presiding judge in 1989,172 of not
being friendly to prosecutors. Four years after his election, McCormick, his briefing
attorney, and his research assistant published a law review article critical of the
fundamental error doctrine, attributing hundreds of reversals in two years to it, and
advocating “a retreat from rote appellate reversals of otherwise valid convictions.” 173
The following year, the Court adopted the position advocated by Judge
McCormick in his campaign and law review article and by the State in a petition for
rehearing, and abandoned the fundamental error doctrine, deciding that instead an
appellate court was to decide if an error was “so egregiously harmful as to require
reversal.” 174
McCormick’s “law enforcement philosophy” as a judge ranged from criticizing
the United States Supreme Court’s decision requiring states to provide lawyers for

170. John Sirman, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Michael J.
McCormick, 62 TEX. B.J. 271, 274 (1999).
171. Id.
172. Id.
173. Michael J. McCormick et al., Fundamental Defect in Appellate Review of
Error in the Texas Jury Charge, 15 ST . MARY’S L.J. 827, 827-28 (1984).
174. Almanza v. State, 686 S.W.2d 157, 174 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
poor people accused of crimes175 to opposing bills in the Texas legislature that
would have banned capital punishment for the mentally retarded and required that
inmates be mentally competent to be executed.176

175. Ex parte Jordan, 879 S.W.2d 61, 62 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994)
(McCormick, P.J., dissenting) (criticizing Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335
176. Janet Elliott, McCormick Critical of Ban on Death Sentences for the
Retarded, TEX. LAW., May 31, 1999 at 4 (reporting that “McCormick actively
worked to kill a bill that would have banned capital punishment of the mentally
retarded” and “even opposed” a bill following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling
prohibiting execution of the incompetent).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Even former prosecutors and judges friendly to prosecutors are subject to
removal from the court if they make an unpopular decision. After the Court of
Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction in a particularly notorious capital case,
Rodriguez v. State,177 a former chairman of the state Republican Party called for
Republicans to take over the court.178 The next year, Stephen W. Mansfield
challenged the author of the Rodriguez decision, Charles F. Campbell, a former
prosecutor who served twelve years on the court, for his position. Mansfield
campaigned on promises of greater use of the death penalty, greater use of the
harmless-error doctrine, and sanctions for attorneys who file “frivolous appeals
especially in death penalty cases.” 179
Before the election, it came to light that Mansfield had misrepresented his
prior background, experience, and record.180 Mansfield admitted lying about his

177. 848 S.W.2d 141 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993).
178. See Elliott & Connelly, supra note 168, at 32.
179. Id.
180. See Do It Now, FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, Nov. 12, 1994, at 32,
available in 1994 WL 4033647 (calling for the reform of the judicial election
system in Texas and for an immediate challenge to Mansfield's election because he
had “shaded the truth of virtually every aspect of his career”); Q & A with Stephen
Mansfield: “The Greatest Challenge of My Life,” TEX. L AW., Nov. 21, 1994, at 8
(printing a post-election interview with Mansfield in which he retracts a number of
statements made before and during the election).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
birthplace (he claimed to have been born in Texas, but was born in Massachusetts),
his prior political experience (he portrayed himself as a political novice despite
having twice unsuccessfully run for Congress), and the amount of time he had spent
in Texas.181 It was also disclosed that he had been fined for practicing law without a
license in Florida,182 and that “contrary to his assertions that he had experience in
criminal cases” and had “written extensively on criminal and civil justice issues,” he
had virtually no such experience.183

181. See Janet Elliott, Unqualified Success: Mansfield's Mandate—Vote Makes a
Case for Merit Selection, TEX. LAW., Nov. 14, 1994, at 1 (stating that Mansfield’s
suspect past and poor qualifications make him a “poster boy” for advocates of
nonpartisan judicial elections); Q & A with Stephen Mansfield, supra note 180, at 8.
182. See John Williams, Election `94: GOP Gains Majority in State Supreme
Court, HOUS . CHRON., Nov. 10, 1994, at A29, available in 1994 WL 4602404.
183. See Elliott & Connelly, supra note 168, at 32 (reporting that Mansfield’s
writings consisted of a guest column in a local paper regarding a capital murder
conviction, and two articles that appeared in a journal for charter life underwriters);
Elliott, supra note 181, at 1 (reporting that Mansfield was unable to verify campaign
claims regarding the number of criminal cases he had handled).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Nevertheless, Mansfield received fifty-four percent of the votes in the general
election.184 Texas Lawyer declared him an “unqualified success.” 185 It was later
discovered that Mansfield had failed to report ten thousand dollars in past-due child
support when he applied for his Texas law license in 1992.186 Judge Mansfield was
arrested on the University of Texas campus on Thanksgiving Day, 1998, and
charged with scalping the complimentary football tickets that judges receive.187 He
was repri-manded by the state's judicial conduct commission.188
184. See Elliott, supra note 181, at 1 (pointing out that this result was similar to
other partisan elections around the state).
185. See id.
186. See Child Support Allegations Threaten Judge Seat, FORT WORTH
STAR-TELEGRAM, Dec. 10, 1994, at 29, available in 1994 WL 4037619 (outlining
the allegations of back child support by Mansfield’s ex-wife and his subsequent
denial of the allegations).
187. See Janet Elliott & John Council, Scalping Allegation Lands Mansfield in
Hairy Situation, TEX. LAW., Dec. 14, 1998, at 1 (outlining the controversies that
have plagued Judge Mansfield); Claire Osborn, Judge Charged with Trespassing at
UT, AUSTIN AM.-STATESMAN, Dec. 5, 1998, at B2, available in 1998 WL
3633981 (outlining the circumstances surrounding Judge Mansfield’s arrest at the
University of Texas).
188. See Pete Slover, Judge Reprimanded After Arrest Over Ticket Selling
Incident, DALLAS MORNING N EWS, May 14, 1999, at A31, available in 1999 WL
4120830 (reporting Judge Mansfield’s reprimand by the Texas Conduct


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Although some called Judge Mansfield an embarrassment to the court,189
Texas lawyer Kent Alan Schaffer put things in perspective in an open letter to
Judge Mansfield in which he suggested that the judge “leap over the bench and into
the well of the court” one morning during argu-ments and beseech his colleagues:
Who among you dares to call me an embarrassment to this court? I suppose it is
not an embarrassment when we appoint inexperienced lawyers to handle death penalty
writs and then refuse to pay them for the work they perform, or when we engage in
intellectual game playing in order to uphold wrongfully obtained death penalties. None
of you are embarrassed when we put someone to death or uphold some severe sentence
because of a missed deadline, or when we pretend that a lawyer is not ineffective, just
because he slept through trial. Yet I get caught scalping a few lousy football tickets and
suddenly, I am the embarrassment.

189. See Elliott & Council, supra note 187, at 11-12 (arguing that the
University of Texas arrest raises new questions of Judge Mansfield’s ethical fitness
for the Court of Criminal Appeals).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
In case after case, you strip people of their freedom and liberty and ensure that
the laws are used as the government's weapons against the people, rather than the
people's protection against the government. . . . You wrestle the Goddess of Liberty to
the ground and ram her own sword though her just heart while the citizens of this state
watch in horror. And then you call me an embarrassment because I was trying to make
a few extra bucks on Thanksgiving Day.


Shaffer assured Judge Mansfield, “if this court has any reason to be embarrassed,
ticket scalping, trespassing or leaving your little Pomeranian dogs in your car are so
far down the list that they are hardly worth mentioning.” 191
Judges Baird and Overstreet—the dissenters in cases where the defense lawyer
slept, failed to present any issues, or missed the filing deadline—are no longer on the
Court of Criminal Appeals. Judge Baird was defeated in the election of 1998.192
Judge Overstreet unsuccessfully sought another office.193 With their departure, the
190. Kent Alan Schaffer, An Open Letter to Judge Stephen W. Mansfield,
VOICE FOR THE DEFENSE, Jan.-Feb., 1999, at 6-7, reprinted in TEX. L AW., Mar.
1, 1999, at 22.
191. Id.
192. See Bruce Nichols, GOP Candidates Sweep 3 Seats: Appeals Court Will
Be All Republican for the First Time, DALLAS MORNING N EWS, Nov. 4, 1998, at
35A, available in 1998 WL 13115456.
193. See id. (stating that Judge Overstreet gave up his seat on the Court to run
unsuccessfully for the position of Attorney General).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
previous defeat of other Democrats on the court, and Presiding Judge McCormick's
switch to the Republican Party, the Republican goal of taking over the court was
achieved. For the first time in its history, all of the judges on the court were
Republicans; just six years before, all the judges had been Democrats.194 In the
absence of Judges Baird and Overstreet, no one remains on the court to raise a
voice of dissent as the court dispatches the condemned to the execution chamber
without any hesitation or concern that poor representation may keep serious
injustices from coming to the court's attention.

194. Id.


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
Independence is not tolerated on the trial bench in some Texas judicial
districts. For example, rulings against Houston’s powerful district attorney attracted
an opponent and led to the defeat of Judge Norman E. Lanford, a Republican, in
1992. Lanford suppressed evidence based upon an illegal arrest of a man accused
of killing a police officer.195 A prosecutor who specialized in death cases, Caprice
195. Lanford became the center of controversy after he ruled that there had
been an illegal arrest and ordered the acquittal of a man accused of killing a police
officer. See Barbara Linkin, Controversial Judge Lanford to Leave Bench, HOUS .
POST, June 13, 1992, at A25.


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Cosper, defeated Judge Lanford in the Republican primary.196 Lanford accused
District Attorney John B. Holmes of causing congestion of Lanford's docket to
help bring about his defeat.197 In the November election, Cosper was elected after
radio advertisements on her behalf attacked her Democratic opponent for having
once opposed the death penalty.198
196. Eric Hanson, Election ‘92, 6 Criminal Judges Re-elected, Newcomers
Win in 4 Civil Courts, HOUS . CHRON., Nov. 5, 1992, at 33, available in 1992 WL
11455667 (as corrected Nov. 6, 1992, available in the same citation).
197. The Texas Lawyer reported that “[c]ourthouse records, which show a
dramatic increase in the number of cases on Lanford's docket in the months prior
to the March 10 primary, lend credence to his claim that prosecutors stalled cases
in a calculated effort to provide ammunition for the judge's opponent.” Mark
Ballard, Gunning for a Judge; Houston's Lanford Blames DA's Office for His
Downfall, TEX. LAW., Apr. 13, 1992, at 1.
198. See Alan Bernstein, Campaign Briefs, HOUS . CHRON., Oct. 26, 1992, at
A14, available in 1992 WL 11453883 (explaining the death penalty debate between
the two candidates); Criminal Court Races: Northcutt, Cosper, 4 Incumbents


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)

Deserve to Win, HOUS . POST, Oct. 24, 1992, at A28.

Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Once elected, many Texas judges behave as other politicians do, doling out
favors and appointments to their supporters. In a survey of Texas judges, over half
said that judges they knew based their appoint-ments to defend indigent defendants
in part on whether the attorneys were political supporters or had contributed to the
judge’s political campaign.199 A quarter of the judges admitted that their own
decisions in appointing counsel were influenced by these factors.200 In another
199. Michael K. Moore, The Status of Indigent Criminal Defense in Texas: A
Survey of Texas Judges (prepared for the State Bar of Texas Committee on
Services to the Poor in Criminal Matters) Survey Question 7g, h, (visited May 9,
2000) < moore/indigent/ judge_ results.httm> (reporting
that only 43.8% of judges responded that the judges they knew “never” considered
whether the attorney was a political supporter, and only 46.6% responded that
judges they knew “never” considered campaign contributions). Judges in the survey
were specifically asked to discount their experiences in capital cases, but there is no
reason to believe that their motivations for appointment decisions would vary
depending on the type of case. See id., instruction box on page 1 of survey.
Indeed, the experience of people like Judge Lanford indicates that the political
repercussions of being perceived as sympathetic to persons facing the death penalty
may provide even more of an incentive to appoint attorneys who will not zealously
defend their clients. See infra note 209 and accompanying text.
200. Id., Survey Question 8g, h (reporting that 71.6% of judges polled said that
they “never” considered whether the attorney was one of their political supporters,
and 75.7% said they “never” considered whether the attorney had contributed to


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
survey of Texas judges, forty-eight percent admitted that campaign contributions
are a “very” or “fairly” influential factor in their courtroom decisions.201 Lawyers'
and court personnel's perception is that the influence of campaign contributions on
elected judges' decisions is even more significant, with seventy-nine percent of the
lawyers and sixty-nine percent of the court personnel saying they believe campaign
contributions affect judges' decisions.202

their campaign).
201. See Osler McCarthy, Campaign Gifts Sway Judges, 48% Say in Poll,
AUSTIN AM.- STATESMAN, June 10, 1999, at B1, available in 1999 WL 7415316
(outlining the results of a survey conducted by the Texas Supreme Court and the
Texas State Bar).
202. See id.


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Using appointments as a reward for campaign contributions is not the only
way in which Texas judges misuse their power to appoint lawyers to defend the
poor. Almost half of the judges with criminal jurisdiction admitted in a survey that
an attorney's reputation for moving cases quickly, regardless of the quality of the
defense, was a factor that entered into their appointment decisions.203 In addition to
deciding who will represent an indigent defendant, Texas judges also decide when
an indigent defendant will become represented by counsel.204 Many counties in
Texas deter-mine indigence on the basis of whether a defendant can post bail.205
Hence, the power to appoint an attorney also carries with it the power to ensure
that a given defendant remains in jail. Some observers have said that the time for
203. See Moore, supra note 199, Survey Question 7d (reporting that only
51.1% of judges polled said that the attorney’s reputation for moving cases,
regardless of the quality of the defense, was “never” a factor they considered).
204. See generally Ballard, Gideon's Broken Promise, supra note 3 (discussing
the process of appointing counsel for indigents in Harris County).
205. See Moore, supra note 199, Survey Question 11 (65.4% of defense
attorneys questioned on the appointment practices in their counties responded that
whether or not the client was in jail was the criterion used for determining indigency


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
appointment of counsel is manipulated to encourage defendants to plead guilty in
exchange for being sentenced to the time they have already served in order to
obtain their release.206

206. See Ballard, Gideon's Broken Promise, supra note 3, at 19 (indicating that
“an indigent defendant spends so much time in jail awaiting action on his case that
he jumps at the chance to plead to a lesser offense, just to get out”).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Running for judicial office on a “law enforcement philosophy” or a pro-capital
punishment platform, while perfectly appropriate for candidates for sheriff, the
legislature, governor, or other non-judicial offices, is not appropriate for judges, who
have a constitutional responsibility to hold “the balance nice, clear and true between
the State and the accused.” 207 It is equally inappropriate for judges to use their
offices to reward their supporters, expedite their dockets, or coerce guilty pleas.
Judges are charged with upholding the rule of law, including the protections of the
Bill of Rights, “undisturbed by the clamor of the multitude.” 208 However, in Texas,
as in other states with elected judiciaries, judges ignore public attitudes and their
political supporters at the peril of losing their positions in the next election.209 As
the defeat of Judge Campbell in Texas and judges in other states demonstrates, a
single decision can result in a judge being tagged as “soft on crime” and voted out
of office. As a result, the rule of the law is often trumped by political realities.
I V . T h e O n c e G r e a t W r it : I s T h e r e a n y H a b e a s L e f t i n t h i s
The Texas judiciary has amply demonstrated the need for full review of
convictions and death sentences by independent, life-tenured federal judges who are
not in danger of being voted out of office for an unpopular, but legally required,
decision. However, habeas corpus review—the process by which a person convicted
in a state or federal court may petition the federal courts for review of a conviction
or sentence on the grounds that it was obtained in violation of the Constitution—has
been drastically restricted by the Supreme Court and Congress.
The Supreme Court once described federal habeas corpus as “the com-mon
law world's ‘freedom writ’ by whose orderly processes the production of a prisoner
in court may be required and the legality of the grounds for his incarceration

207. Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510, 532 (1927).
HISTORY 303 (1926) (quoting Judge William Cranch’s opinion in United States v.
Bollman, 24 F. Cas. 1189, 1192 (C.C.D.C. 1807) (No. 14,622)). See also MODEL
CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT Canon 3B(2) (1990) (stating that a judge “shall not
be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor or fear of criticism”).
209. Stephen B. Bright, Political Attacks on the Judiciary: Can Justice Be Done
Amid Efforts to Intimidate and Remove Judges From Office for Unpopular
Decisions?, 72 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 308, 313-15, 316-18 (1997) (describing the defeats
of Justice Penny White of the Tennessee Supreme Court and Justice James
Robertson of the Mississippi Supreme Court after unpopular decisions in capital
cases); Bright & Keenan, supra note 25, at 760-61 (describing defeat of Chief
Justice Rose Bird and two other members of the California Supreme Court after
campaigns against them based on their votes in capital cases).

TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
inquired into, failing which the prisoner is set free” 210 and declared that “‘there is no
higher duty than to maintain it unimpaired,’ and unsuspended, save only in the
cases specified in our Constitution.” 211

210. Smith v. Bennett, 365 U.S. 708, 712-13 (1961) (quoting Bowen v.
Johnson, 306 U.S. 19, 26 (1939)).
211. Id. See also Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 401 (1963) (describing the
historic role of habeas corpus in protecting constitutional rights).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
As previously described in this Article, the intervention of the federal courts has
prevented a number of executions in Texas, including those of people innocently
convicted, after the Texas courts had upheld the convic-tions and sentences.212

212. See supra notes 7-8 and accompanying text.


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
However, the Supreme Court no longer celebrates the role of habeas corpus
in vindicating the constitutional rights of those who face a loss of life or liberty.
The Court, concluding that federalism, finality, and comity were more important
than vindication of constitutional rights, began to restrict habeas corpus review in
the 1970s. The Court adopted and rigorously enforced strict rules of procedural
default,213 excluded Fourth Amendment claims from review,214 made it more difficult
for a habeas petitioner to obtain an evidentiary hearing to prove a constitutional
violation,215 adopted an extremely restrictive doctrine regarding the retroactivity of
constitutional decisions,216 made it easier for courts to find any constitutional

213. See, e.g., Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 740 (1991) (refusing a
habeas action because the state court’s decision was based solely on adequate
procedural grounds independent of federal law); Dugger v. Adams, 489 U.S. 401,
408 (1989) (holding that federal habeas review was unavailable to a defendant who,
without good cause, failed to object to a questionable jury charge as was required to
preserve error under the state’s procedural rules); Smith v. Murray, 477 U.S. 527,
533-34 (1986) (stating that, in the absence of a showing of cause, failure to properly
raise a claim on direct appeal will result in dismissal of a federal habeas action that
is based on the foregone appellate claim); Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 135 (1982)
(holding that failure to comply with the state’s procedures for making a claim and
inability to demonstrate cause for the default bars assertion of a federal habeas
challenge); Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72 (1977) (applying the adequate and
independent state grounds doctrine to federal habeas actions and requiring a federal
habeas petitioner to show both “cause” and “prejudice” to escape the effects of a
procedural default); Francis v. Henderson, 425 U.S. 536, 542 (1976) (concluding
that an attack on a state court conviction in which a failure to object caused default
of a claimed constitutional violation requires a showing not only of cause but also of
actual prejudice); Timothy J. Foley, The New Arbitrariness: Procedural Default of
Federal Habeas Corpus Claims in Capital Cases, 23 L OY. L.A. L. REV. 193, 209-12
(1989) (criticizing the Court for injecting a “whole new level of arbitrariness” into
capital cases by enforcing strict procedural default and “having actual executions
turn on whether the defendant was unlucky enough to have a lawyer who failed to
make the appropriate objection at the appropriate time”).
214. See Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465 (1976) (barring federal review of the
constitutionality of searches and seizures if state courts provided a “full and fair”
hearing on the issue).
215. See Keeney v. Tamayo-Reyes, 504 U.S. 1 (1992) (changing the standard
for obtaining an evidentiary hearing to the harder-to-prove cause-and-prejudice
216. See Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 315-16 (1989) (holding, without
briefing or oral argument, that in collateral review retroactivity is to be treated as a
threshold question and that new rules generally should not be applied retroactively).

Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
violation harmless,217 and erected barriers to the filing of a second habeas petition.218
Justice Harry Blackmun observed
that the Court’s “crusade to erect petty procedural barriers in the path of any state
prisoner seeking review of his federal constitutional claims” had resulted in a
“Byzantine morass of arbitrary, unnecessary, and unjustifiable impediments to the
vindication of federal rights.” 219 In one capital case in which the Court refused to
217. See Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 637 (1993) (replacing the
standard which required reversal unless the court was confident beyond a
reasonable doubt that error was harmless with a standard of substantial and
injurious effect on the verdict).
218. See McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 494-95 (1991) (holding that the
petitioner’s inability to know certain evidence at the time of the first petition fails to
establish cause for a writ if other potentially discoverable evidence existed that could
have supported the claim).
219. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 758-59 (1991) (Blackmun, J.,


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
examine a constitutional violation, Justice John Paul Stevens complained that the
Court has “grossly misevaluate[d] the requirements of ‘law and justice’ that are the
federal court's statutory mission under the federal habeas corpus statute” and
instead “lost its way in a procedural maze of its own creation.” 220

220. Smith v. Murray, 477 U.S. 527, 541 (1986) (Stevens, J., dissenting). See
also Dugger v. Adams, 489 U.S. 401, 412-13 (1989) (Blackmun, J., dissenting)
(asserting that the Court was “arbitrarily impos[ing] procedural obstacles to thwart
the vindication of what apparently is a meritorious Eighth Amendment claim”).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Congress restricted habeas corpus review even more by adopting the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.221 The Act imposes a
statute of limitations on petitions for habeas corpus relief for the first time in the
nation's history,222 thus closing the courthouse doors to Albert Cantu223 and others
221. See Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 § 107(a), 28
U.S.C. §§ 2261-2266 (Supp. IV 1998) (amending 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241-2255).
222. See id. §§ 101, 105, 106, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244, 2255 Supp. IV 1998
(amending 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1) to establish a one-year statute of limitations). A
statute of limitations of 180 days is provided for states that meet certain standards
for providing counsel in capital post-conviction proceedings. See id. § 107, 28
U.S.C. § 2263 (Supp. IV 1998).


TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
like him if their lawyers miss the deadline for filing. Another unprecedented
provision of the Act restricts federal courts from granting relief unless the decision
of the state court “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of,
clearly established Federal law.” 224 The Act also limits when a federal court may
conduct an evidentiary hearing 225 and prohibits second or “successive” petitions for
habeas corpus relief except in very narrow circumstances.226

223. See supra notes 134-39 and accompanying text.
224. See AEDPA § 104(3), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) (Supp. IV 1998); Williams
v. Taylor, 120 S. Ct. 1479, 1505-11 (2000).
225. See id. § 104(4), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2) (Supp. IV 1998); M. Williams v.
Taylor, 120 S. Ct. 1479, 1487-91 (2000).
226. See id. §§ 105, 106, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2255, 2244(b) (Supp. IV 1998) (limiting
any successive habeas corpus petition to constitutional violations that result in
conviction of an innocent person or involve a new rule of law that applies
retroactively to cases on collateral review).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
Because their habeas corpus proceedings commenced before April 24, 1996,
when the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was signed into law and
became effective,227 the Act did not apply to federal habeas review of the cases of
Ricardo Aldape Guerra and Frederico Martinez-Macias, in which constitutional
violations resulted in convictions and death sentences for crimes they did not
commit;228 Calvin Burdine, whose lawyer slept through his trial;229 and Pamela Lynn
Perillo, whose court-appointed lawyer was actively representing the state’s key
witness against her.230 If the Act had applied, the State might have argued that the
federal courts could not grant relief because of the deference they are now required
to give decisions of the state court—that is, because the decisions of the Texas
courts denying relief in those cases were not “unreasonable” applications of the law.
Just as the poor are entitled only to “not-legally-ineffective” representation231 under
the lax standard of Strickland v. Washington,232 they are entitled only to not
unreasonably incorrect application of the law in cases where their lives are at
A great federal judge from Texas, Irving Goldberg, pointed out that in
restricting habeas the courts were trading “the most precious legacy of Lord Coke,
the power to discharge from custody even one imprisoned by order of the King . . .
for a mess of pottage, a gruel composed of ques-tionable notions of efficiency and
vague notions of federalism.” 234 He expressed sadness “that there is rarely any
escape from the executioner's activities under the lethal blows rained upon the
Great Writ, which seems to become less great as the years pass.” 235

227. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 323 (1997) (holding that the Act
applies only to habeas petitions filed after its effective date).
228. See supra notes 15-18, 54-57 and accompanying text.
229. See supra notes 47-52 and accompanying text.
230. See supra notes 58-65 and accompanying text.
231. Riles v. McCotter, 799 F.2d 947, 955 (5th Cir. 1986) (Rubin, J.,
232. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688-89 (1984) (establishing a
lax standard that inquires only whether the representation was reasonable
considering the circumstances and prevailing professional norms, limits judicial
scrutiny by being “highly deferential” to counsel’s performance, and requires
defendants to overcome the “strong presumption” that their lawyer’s actions “might
be considered sound trial strategy”).
233. T. Williams v. Taylor, 120 S. Ct. 1495, 1521 (2000).
234. Galtieri v. Wainwright, 582 F.2d 348, 375 (5th Cir. 1978) (Goldberg, J.,
235. Bass v. Estelle, 696 F.2d 1154, 1162 (5th Cir. 1983) (Goldberg, J.,

TEXAS L AW REVIEW, Volume 78 (2000)
In restricting the power of federal courts to correct constitutional violations in
criminal cases, the Supreme Court and Congress have sacri-ficed fairness for finality
and reliability for results. It has become more important to proceed with
executions than to determine whether convictions and sentences were obtained
fairly and reliably.236 Such a system produces the results that many desire—
convictions and death sentences—but it does not produce justice. While it is
unlikely in the current political climate with so much demagoguery on the issue of
crime237 that Congress will restore habeas corpus, the Texas judiciary demonstrates
the need for full habeas corpus review and the grievous error that Congress and the
Court made in curtailing it.
V. Conclusion
Texas has neither an independent judiciary nor an adequate system for
providing representation to the poor. As a result, the process by which poor people
are condemned to death is often a farce, a mockery, and a disgrace to the legal
system and the legal profession. The Texas judiciary, responding to the perceived
will of the state’s voters, instead of protecting rights, is not only ignoring constitutional violations, as so many elected judges must do in order to stay in office. It is
actively engaged in denying rights to people by providing them grossly inadequate
legal representation. An accused may stand virtually defenseless facing the death
penalty as his lawyer naps at a trial that is in no way adversarial, and then be denied
any post-conviction review because his lawyer misses a deadline or fails to raise any
issues. The courts, as Judge Overstreet warned, have blood on their hands.

236. See generally Stephen Reinhardt, The Anatomy of an Execution: Fairness
v. “Process,” 74 N.Y.U. L. REV. 313 (1999).
237. See Stephen B. Bright, The Politics of Crime and the Death Penalty: Not
“Soft on Crime,” but Hard on the Bill of Rights, 39 ST . LOUIS U. L.J. 479, 483500 (1995).


Elected Judges and the Death Penalty in Texas
The lethal virus that infects the Texas judiciary is not limited to the Lone Star
State. Adequate legal representation is a serious problem in many jurisdictions
throughout the United States in both capital and non-capital cases.238 Judges have
been voted off courts in other states239 and the newly constituted courts have
abruptly changed course and found ways to affirm cases that previously would have
been reversed.240
Perhaps the day will come when state court judges will be able to follow the
law without regard to political considerations and the passions of the moment.
Perhaps members of the legal profession and others in leadership positions will
someday be successful in obtaining independent state courts and strong and
independent indigent defense programs. But that day is a long way away. Until it
comes, full habeas corpus review by independent federal judges is essential to
guarantee that the protections of the Bill of Rights, including the most fundamental
right, the right to counsel, are not denigrated and disregarded—as they frequently
are in the state courts of Texas—but are fully enforced in order to ensure the
fairness and integrity of cases in which life and liberty are at stake.

238. See supra note 27.
239. See supra notes 25 and 209.
240. See, e.g., C. Elliot Kessler, Death and Harmlessness: Application of the
Harmless Error Rule by the Bird and Lucas Courts in Death Penalty Cases—A
Comparison & Critique, 26 U.S.F. L. REV. 41, 84, 89 (1991) (finding that following
the removal of Chief Justice Rose Bird and two other members of the California
Supreme Court in 1986, the court “reversed every premise underlying the Bird
court's harmless-error analysis,” displaying an eagerness that reflects “a desire to
carry out the death penalty” more than “jurisprudential theory”).