Sep 10, 2008

Sex Appeal

Charles Dean Hood was sentenced to death in Texas for committing a double murder.  ("Hood" is certainly an unfortunate surname for a person facing criminal charges.) On the eve of his execution, Hood may gain a reprieve based on a "sex appeal". Hood's lawyers have uncovered evidence that while Judge Verla Sue Holland was presiding over Hood's trial and D.A. Thomas O'Connell Sr. was assisting in his prosecution, they were carrying on a secret love affair.      

If Holland and O'Connell were indeed litigating by day and fornicating by night, they grossly disregarded their ethical responsibilities and wasted a lot of Texas taxpayers' money if Hood (and possibly many other convicted criminals whose cases they participated in) have to be re-tried. 

The American Bar Association Code of Judicial Conduct (which admittedly does not have the force of law) admonishes judges not to engage in conduct that "would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge's ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality and competence is impaired." While this language may be vague and hortatory, certainly the perception (if not the reality) of partiality arises when a judge and a prosecutor are literally in bed together.

As for D.A. O'Connell, Standard 3-1.3 of the American Bar Assoiation Criminal Justice Standards states in part that, "A prosecutor should not permit his or her professional judgment or obligations to be affected by... personal interests."

If the evidence of the affair is accurate, Holland's and O'Connell's behavior is irresponsible and unfathomable. After all, Hood was charged with capital murder, not spitting on the sidewalk. Legal ethics required either Holland or O'Connell to leave the case. Since they did not do so, they apparently felt a greater responsibility to their secret love affair than to their professional obligations. The episode undercuts the claim that while the U.S. system of justice cannot guarantee correct outcomes, it can guarantee a fair process.