Monday, December 29, 2014

A Final Christmas Pardon Humbug from Governor Perry (Except if you are a TAMU Regent in 2003)

The trial was memorable for me on several fronts. I had been doing criminal defense work for a relatively short amount of time. More signifcantly, the felony official misconduct case pitted a powerful former Chairman of the Texas A&M University (TAMU)  Board of Regents, Houston attorney Ross Margraves, Jr., and his respected Houston criminal defense lawyer, David Berg, against Brazos County's elected District Attorney Bill Turner.

I remember thinking Turner showed fortitude in picking a fight with the biggest kid on the block in pursuing Margraves, especially in a town where all things are TAMU-centric. Most thought the case itself, however, a little weak. Texas Monthly had the same assessment in a story done after the trial. The case was moved on change of venue to Lee County (Giddings) which promptly convicted  Margraves in October, 1996.

The case was initially reversed on appeal on a legal insufficiency point by the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston, but a divided Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the Court of Appeals found the Houston COA was wrong, effectively reinstating the jury decision. The State Bar of Texas, never took any disciplinary action against Margraves' law license despite the felony conviction. Yep, the SBOT investigated, it must have, but never took any action against him or his license.

Governor Perry, TAMU grad and long time supporter of TAMU granted a full pardon to Margraves in 2003. Did not hear or read about it? Well, that is because Margraves' pardon was granted at the same time as the pardons for 35 people convicted in the ill fated Tulia drug sting were announced. 2003 was the high water mark for pardons for Governor Perry with 220. 

Do not think for a moment Governor Perry's decision to pardon Margraves with the Tulia defendants was a coincidence. There was hardly as word in media reporting at the time about the Margraves pardon,

I bring the Margraves pardon up because he was one of the (relatively) few to benefit from Governor Perry's use of his prerogative to pardon and grant clemency. Governor Perry's last day is Wednesday. Barring a last minute change of heart, it appears the four pardons he granted in October will be his last. At least, unlike President Obama on the federal side, Governor Perry has not made public pronouncements promising an express line for non-violent offenders to receive clemency or pardon consideration. 

In December, 2010, Scott Henson wrote an story published in the Dallas Morning News about the Christmas ritual of pardons. I am less concerned about the Christmas timing than the comparative statistics Henson cites in the story. Compared to that bastion of mercy, Georgia, Governor Perry's pardon and clemency record was abysmal. I cannot believe it has become better in comparison in the intervening years. 

Pardon is a powerful remedial tool wielded only by the executive branch of government. It allows for expunction of the arrest and prosecution, restoration of civil rights, including voting and jury service. In the event of a pardon of a felony conviction, it would also include the restoration of the right to own and possess weapons, not insignificant here in Texas. It should be wielded more at both the federal and state level. History supports it.

 I am thinking Governor Abbott will be playing the same clemency tune as his predecessor, but we shall see. 

A postscript on where they are now:

Ross Margraves, Jr. was appointed after his pardon by the TAMU Board of Regents to the TAMU-Galveston Board of Vistors,whose mission is to "..advise the CEO of Texas A&M Galveston on all matters pertaining to the organization, welfare, and advancement of Texas A&M University at Galveston." His term expires in 2014. 

David Berg has continued to have a successful law practice centered in Houston. He, however, is still phobic on all things Brazos County. Asked to comment on a $27 million dollar verdict from a Brazos County jury against McDonald's Corporation earlier this year, Berg was quoted by Bloomberg News:
 'The jury turned into a lynch mob...[Clearly] they were very angry. But I don't think the families will be able to hold onto all of that verdict.'
 Bill Turner retired in 2012 after 30 plus years as Brazos County District Attorney.

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