Record of obfuscation, delay and at Texas Forensic Science Commission Raises Concerns
Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) today rejected statements that opposition to John Bradley’s nomination as Chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission was a matter of partisanship and emphasized Mr. Bradley’s record of failed leadership on the commission.
“Opposition to John Bradley is not about partisanship or personality, it is about his performance on the Texas Forensic Science Commission,” said Ellis. “John Bradley has a 16-month record of obfuscation, delay and failure. The record clearly demonstrates Mr. Bradley has used his position to seize power over, and thwart the will of the expert Commission, hide the Commission’s work from the public, greatly increase the Commission’s bureaucratic bloat, slow its previously impressive progress to a crawl, and otherwise prevent the Commission from accomplishing the legislature’s intent. “That’s not politics, that’s reality.”
The Texas Forensic Science Commission was created by the Legislature in 2005, in the wake of the Houston crime lab scandal and a string of other serious forensic problems that had come to light in Texas. These problems, and how they were being handled, had shaken nearly everyone’s faith in forensic evidence and the possibility of wrongful convictions – as well as missing the real perpetrators of crime. In order to restore and maintain public faith in forensic evidence, and the criminal justice system generally, the legislature created the Commission as an expert, independent and lean entity to be sure these problems were properly addressed.
The previous Forensic Science Commission Chairs took their roles seriously, and did all they could. The first chair was severely hampered by the fact that the Commission, when first formed, had received no funding. When the funding finally arrived, however, in 2007, the second Chair, quickly and responsibly (with a representative of the Attorney General’s office providing legal advice at every step of the way) led the Commission into establishing its operating policies and procedures, virtually all of which were formed by consensus and unanimous votes of the Commission. The unpaid members of the Commission accomplished a tremendous amount of valuable work in a short amount of time; they were just the kind of lean and effective operation that people want from government.
In 2009, just as the Commission was poised to begin completing its first investigation — a review of the evidence used to convict and sentence to death Todd Willingham — Mr. Bradley was appointed Chair of the Commission.
Mr. Bradley’s first move upon appointment was to unilaterally cancel the Forensic Science Commission’s long-planned meeting (agenda attached) to discuss the publicly available expert report on the Willingham/Willis investigation. This action denied the Commissioners the ability to question the expert about his findings, to identify other perspectives which they and the public deserved to hear from on the matter, and to be able to move forward with that investigation – which to date, some 17 months later, has still not been completed.
According to press reports, Mr. Bradley then ordered all Commissioners to delete their Commission- related e-mails , and declared that he wouldn’t let the Commission meet until he had time to learn more about it.
Since being appointed, Chairman Bradley has made numerous efforts to limit the commissions scope1 and ability to look into forensic wrongdoings in Texas (asking for the narrowest interpretation of the Commission’s ability to investigate as possible, then asking for an AG’s opinion for the same). Seemingly spending more time and effort to avoid investigations into forensic problems, than to further the Commission’s purpose–improving the reliability of forensic evidence in Texas courtrooms.
Not one investigation has been completed by the Commission.
Mr. Bradley displayed a shocking lack of objectivity in his work by declaring to the press that “Willingham is a guilty monster,” a clearly inappropriate statement from the Chair of a state Commission tasked to provide independent, expert investigations of allegations of forensic negligence or misconduct.
Chairman Bradley – seemingly in clear violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act – prohibited a camera crew from attending the beginning of his first called meeting under his leadership, until he was told he was required to do so.
Chairman Bradley also orchestrated – seemingly, again, in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act – that the Commission’s work on its investigations be shielded from the public by creating committees for such work, in order not to have a quorum and be able to keep the public from understanding what’s going on behind closed doors in those investigations.2
In 2010, Mr. Bradley refused to appear before the House Public Safety Committee reviewing the Forensic Commission, drawing criticism from Republican and Democratic members of the committee.
“The record is clear: since Mr. Bradley has taken the reins, rather than move the commission forward to look into allegations, find the truth, and repair problems in our broken justice system, the Commission has invested most of its time and energy finding ways to avoid looking into problems and looking for loopholes to block the commission from doing what it was created to do,” said Ellis. “That is why the Senate should reject Mr. Bradley’s nomination.”