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The Brief: November 10, 2009

If Williamson County DA John Bradley is sick of the spotlight, then he got appointed to the wrong commission. Of course, many people would argue that regardless.

THE BIG CONVERSATION

If Williamson County DA John Bradley is sick of the spotlight, then he got appointed to the wrong commission.  Of course, many people would argue that regardless.  

After New Yorker coverage and the Anderson Cooper 360 treatment, many could probably recount the story in their sleep: two days before the Texas Forensic Science Commission was to review a report critiquing the science behind the arson investigation that led to the conviction and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, there came from Gov. Rick Perry’s office a sudden need to replace three of the commission’s members.  Bradley was appointed the new chairman.

Today, Bradley will testify before the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee and lay out the commission’s status report and intentions. The message Bradley brings will likely not appease those who believe his primary function on the commission is to stall the Willingham investigation.  He will argue that the commission is currently lacking in the staff, resources, structure, and clarity of purpose necessary to conduct investigations into allegations of faulty science. Exhibit A: the commission only has one full-time staffer.

Bradley has committed to completing the Willingham investigation, but, in a recent editorial, asked that the public “be patient” until the commission is fully functioning.  This pace might not satisfy committee members like State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who also sits on the board of the New York-based Innocence Project that brought the case before the commission. Ellis recently told the Tribune that Bradley should focus on “carrying out the commission’s mandate, not finding ways to delay investigations.”  Ellis will hold a press conference with Innocence Project co-Director Barry Scheck immediately following the hearing to "address outstanding issues."

Criminal Justice chairman State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, sees room for opportunity. According to Whitmire, forensic science is currently treated like “the stepchild of the criminal justice system — only getting the attention that’s left over.” As he presides over the hearing, Whitmire will be looking for Bradley to “emphasize” and “elevate” the importance of forensic science.

“You know, this whole controversy,” Whitmire says, “maybe something good will come of it.  We’ll get a commission with some teeth.”

CULLED

 • The memorial service for the victims of the recent Fort Hood tragedy will be held today at 1 p.m in front of III Corps Headquarters at Fort Hood.  Up to 5,000 people are expected to show up. Many a politician will be in attendance, including President Barack Obama.  Texas Gov. Rick Perry and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison have taken noticably different approaches in the aftermath of the tragedy. Politico called Hutchison “the most visible official in the wake of the tragic shooting.”  Perry, meanwhile, has generally remained solemnly in the background, though he attended televised services Sunday and Monday.  Today, both will be in attendance.

• Sunset Commission is staffed and ready for business.  Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, announced his appointments to the legislative committee that gives state agencies the thumbs up or thumbs down were announced Monday afternoon.  Without further ado, they are — as reported by the Tribune’s Ross Ramsey — “Reps. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. San Antonio attorney Lamont Jefferson, who's with the Haynes and Boone law firm, will serve as the House's public member.  Reps. Linda-Harper Brown, R-Irving, and Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, will remain on the commission. The panel is chaired by Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy; Bonnen will serve as vice-chairman.”  Work is expected to start this month.

• After coming in third in last week’s election, Peter Brown will not be the next mayor of Houston — but could he still be a game changer?  Brown will announce his endorsement in the runoff election today at 1:30 p.m.  Will it be Annise Parker or Gene Locke? Place your bets.

• How do you keep people interested when the race you are currently running in isn’t officially happening?  Houston Mayor and U.S. Senate hopeful Bill White has a plan.  Today, when his campaign says go, people who text “JJW” to T-E-X-A-S will become eligible for the chance to attend an intimate Jerry Jeff Walker concert at Mr. Walker's home.

• Texas is set to carry out its 21st execution of 2009 later this evening. Yosvanis “El Cubano” Valle, the 34-year-old leader of the prison gang known as La Raza Unida, has been in prison for a decade since his 1999 murder of drug dealer Jose “Yogi” Junco.  He told the Houston Chronicle he is “not scared to die,” but declined to reveal what his last words will be.

• For those who prefer state agencies in their infancy — before they grow big and awkward — it’s worth noting that today marks the new Texas Department of Motor Vehicle’s first appearance at a public hearing.  They will testify before the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee at a hearing held at the University of Texas at El Paso.

The Federalist Papers! Who wouldn’t want to read the Federalist Papers!” – Texas Education Agency commissioner Robert Scott on the joys of works in the public domain.

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