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Prosecutor’s explanation for dismissal of potential juror gets him fired

Posted Jun 12, 2014 7:16 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Texas prosecutor is out of a job because of his explanation for dismissing a potential juror who was a member of the NAACP.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg fired assistant DA Steve Brand on Wednesday, saying his remarks were racially insensitive, report KVUE and the Austin American-Statesman (sub. req.).

Brand told the judge during jury selection last month that he used a peremptory challenge because he didn’t want activist jurors. Brand noted the juror in question said she wanted to be on the jury, was a member of the NAACP, and had a link on her Facebook page to the Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide to safe travel for blacks during the Jim Crow era.

Brand said the strike was not made because of race. “It’s because in part she appeared to be an activist, and that’s what we don’t want,” he said. “Just as if she was white, we wouldn’t want a white activist or a white supremacist.”

He also explained why the link to the safe-travel book caused concern. “Because had the situation been reversed,” he said, “if it was a white person with something, saying, ‘Hey, here’s a website to look at on why white people should stay out of certain neighborhoods,’ that would cause me concern, and I would strike that person for that reason.”

Defense lawyer Jon Evans succeeded in his challenge to Brand’s decision to strike the juror. The judge who sided with him ordered selection of a new jury. The defendant pleaded guilty before the new jury selection process began.

Evans told the Austin American-Statesman that Brand is a good prosecutor and the firing was an overreaction. Brand’s lawyer, Tom Nesbitt, said his client is a highly regarded lawyer who has never been accused of racially insensitive or intolerant conduct.

Nesbitt said Brand had cooperated in a recent Texas Rangers investigation and “the more likely cause of his termination was retaliation.” Nesbitt did not comment further on the investigation.

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