Legal Ethics

Former DA jailed after judge issues scathing opinion in rare Texas court of inquiry

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An unusual court of inquiry held to probe the conduct of a former Texas district attorney has concluded with a blistering opinion by the presiding judge.

Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson was briefly booked into jail Friday before being released on $7,500 bail after District Judge Louis Sturns determined that there was probable cause to support charges that Anderson had violated state law and acted in contempt of court by lying to a trial judge decades ago to win a conviction in a murder case, the American-Statesman reports.

The convicted man, Michael Morton, served nearly 25 years before he was exonerated.

“This court cannot think of a more intentionally harmful act than a prosecutor’s conscious choice to hide mitigating evidence so as to create an uneven playing field for a defendant facing a murder charge and a life sentence,” Sturns said.

His ruling represents the first step toward a potential prosecution of Anderson, who is now a sitting state court judge. Sturns issued a separate show-cause order requiring Anderson to appear in court to defend a criminal contempt citation, for which he could be sentenced to a maximum $500 fine and six months in jail if he is convicted.

Anderson’s lawyer, Eric Nichols, said his client will appeal on statute-of-limitations grounds. He also argues that the facts do not support Sturns’ finding and says he believes the court of inquiry went beyond the scope of its authority.

Sturns apologized to Morton, on behalf of the state’s judges, before issuing his ruling.

He found that Anderson concealed two critical items of evidence that could have helped Morton avoid conviction at trial. First, a police interview transcript showed that Morton’s young son had witnessed the murder and said his father wasn’t home when it occurred. Second, a man had parked a green van near the Morton home and several times walked into a wooded area behind the house.

See also: “Critical murder case evidence was withheld by then-DA, defense lawyer tells court of inquiry”

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