New York Times Exposing Love Affair Between Texas Judge and State Attorney During Death Penalty Trial

This week, Adam LIptak of the New York Times has taken the great light that is the New York Times, using it to shine into dark corners of corruption, and revealed as story that's been talked about in defense circles are awhile.  And his efforts can't be noticed without also pointing out the efforts of Texas Monthly's editor Michael Hall, who started receiving letters from a Death Row inmate named Hood and took notice of them. 

However, it's the New York Times that's really helping spread this shocking story, better late than never.  We all need to know about this evildoing. 

Seems that over in Texas (yes, Texas), during a trial where a man was facing the sentence of death, the judge (Verna Sue Holland) was having an affair with the prosecutor (Thomas S. O'Connell, Jr.).  This love affair apparently went on for years, and was the subject of much courthouse gossip.

Imagine the stress this placed upon defense counsel for Charles Dean Hood, who was being tried in Judge Holland's court for a capital offense.  Imagine their feelings now, since the United States Supreme Court has his petition for writ of cert  before it, with the amicus brief of "former judges, state officials and prosecutors" numbering 21 in all, filing their support of his petition as friends of the court. 

Charles Dean Hood sits today on Texas' Death Row, having facing more than one last minute stay of execution already.  Judge Holland has retired.  The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule. 

Here's a curious fact:  Judge Verna Sue Holland served for 16 years as a justice on the highest criminal court in Texas, their Court of Criminal Appeals.  You know the one.  That's the same court that Sharon Keller presides over as Chief Justice today (at least for now). 

Allegedly Improper Communications Between Judge and Broward County Prosecutor Gets Death Row Inmate Omar Louriero a New Trial

Omar Loureiro will be tried a second time for the murder of a Lighthouse Point man who he had gone home with from a local bar: right now, he's setting on Death Row for this crime.

In 2007, Loureiro was tried for first degree murder in the case, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Two years later, he's going back in the courtroom - and it's all because of the actions of the judge and the prosecutor in his first murder trial. (The new trial date hasn't been set.)

Testimony that Judge and Prosecutor Discussed the Case Over Dinner

Bottom line, there was testimony by Broward County prosecutor Sheila Alu that she had dinner with both Judge Ana Gardiner and prosecutor Howard Scheinberg, where they talked about the case, days before Loureiro was convicted. In fact, Alu testified that they had joked about the case.

Judge and Prosecutor Tell Their Side

The judge and prosecutor Scheinberg gave testimony, too - they admitted to an "appearance of impropriety," because they ran into each other at the restaurant while the trial was ongoing, but they denied discussing, much less joking, about Mr. Loureiro's trial. Critically, both also revealed in their testimony that they talked on the phone (cellphones, not office landlines) about the Louriero case sometime between this restaurant event and Mr. Louriero's sentencing several months later.

The Appearance of Impropriety is the Standard

Looks bad, especially since all attorneys everywhere recognize that phrase "appearance of impropriety" all too well. It's engrained early on that attorneys (and judges) are to err on the side of caution - we're not to give even a suggestion that anything inappropriate is taking place.

The Recent Texas Judge and Prosecutor Case Comparison

Of course, things can get much worse than this. Much worse. Over in Texas, it was revealed last year that a trial judge and the district attorney assigned to her courtroom had been carrying on a secret love affair for many years - and no one knew (though there was much courthouse gossip suggesting it) until one of the prosecutor's assistants blew the whistle on the two, which resulted in at least one Texas Death Row conviction being overturned thus far.

Charles Hood's conviction was overturned last month with the court ruling he had received an "unfair trial" due to the relationship between the judge and the prosecutor during his murder trial - and this, without any direct evidence that the judge and the district attorney ever spoke about the case directly.

 
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