August 20, 2007
Special master for HPD crime lab urged again

When Michael Bromwich released his final report on the HPD Crime Lab, he urged there be a special master appointed to oversee what cases involving potentially tainted serology reports needed to be reviewed. His recommendation was opposed by Mayor White, Chief Hurtt, and DA Rosenthal. Bromwich has now repeated his call, in testimony before the House Urban Affairs Committee.

"The appointment of a special master may not be the exclusive remedy," said former U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich. "However, after extensive discussion with our team of investigators, it was the best solution we could offer."

Bromwich's statement came during hearings by a joint session of the House's urban affairs and general investigating and ethics committees concerning the recommendations Bromwich and his team issued in June at the conclusion of a $5.3 million investigation into widespread problems at the lab.


Hurtt said today the police department is attempting to go through Bromwich's recommendations and see which ones fit.

"We understand the urgency of getting this done," Hurtt said. "We're committed to getting it done.''

Hurtt and Rosenthal again rejected the idea of appointing a special master.

Rosenthal said his office has already contacted the judges in almost 200 cases where problems with evidence analysis may have affected the outcome.

He said those judges will appoint attorneys for defendants who want one, and they will go through the evidence.

Patrick McCann, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, suggested to the legislators that the city, the district attorney and the council of judges in the region should consult each other and decide on the appointment of a special master.

"Right now, HPD gives its information to the DA. The DA gives its information to the judges and the judges only know the cases they have,'' said McCann. "I think the committee today has discovered that there is no central tracking.''

McCann wrote an op-ed to that effect back in June; more on the final report is here. I thought this was a good idea then, and I still think it's a good idea now. It just makes more sense to have an independent agent, whose sole purpose is to see this through to the end, be responsible for it. I think an adequate job can be done without a special master, but I think the people who were directly affected by this deserve better than a merely adequate job. We owe them that much.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 20, 2007 to Crime and Punishment

"...people who were directly affected by this deserve better than a merely adequate job. We owe them that much."

We have the governmental structure to handle this. Bromwich should run for a local elected office to get the work done.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on August 20, 2007 7:05 PM

I think the people who were directly affected by this deserve better than a merely adequate job.

That's a nice rhetorical flourish, but what do you mean by it?

If all the cases are identified and brought to the attention of the proper authorities, that strikes me as adequate. Out of curiosity, what would you define as "better than a merely adequate job"? A faster turnaround? The mere fact that it is an appointed person doing the identifying? Or what, exactly?

Posted by: Kevin Whited on August 21, 2007 9:00 AM

I thought I'd made that clear already, but to reiterate: They deserve to have someone who is not beholden to the state whose job it is to review all of the questionable cases and take action as appropriate. A special master fits that description. I support the appointment of a special master.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 21, 2007 9:37 AM