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Friday, April 23, 2010

Write Forensic Science Commission to Demand All Subcommittee Meetings are Public and Not Held in Secret Behind Closed Doors

If you believe that all subcommittee meetings of the Texas Forensic Science Commission should be public and not private, secret closed door meetings, then please join us in writing commission Chair John Bradley (photo left) and other members urging them to make the meetings public and to post notices on their website of when and where the subcommittee meetings will take place.
The address is:

Texas Forensic Science Commission
Sam Houston State University
College of Criminal Justice
Box 2296
816 17th Street
Huntsville, Texas 77341-2296

Fax: 1-888-305-2432
E-mail: info@fsc.state.tx.us

Report of today's meeting from the Dallas Morning News:

Bradley meets the press. Asked about the pace of the Willingham case ahead, he says it will proceed as appropriate. Asked if he would set a timetable, he says no. He says that would be arbitrary.
Asked about the newly configured, four-person Willingham committee, he says it will meet in private. Why not public? "I don't think it's in the best interest of how we choose to do things." Asked who decided the Willingham committees will meet privately, he says the committee did. (I should point out that the assistant AG attending today's session advised the commission that the committee were only made official today and that they couldn't have made official decisions at their organizing meetings last week.)
Bradley cuts off questions before I could ask him particulars of what the committee will tackle at its next meeting.
Talking with Commissioner Evans, the Fort Worth defense attorney, who says it was news to him that the committee will be meeting in private. Should it be? Evans says he would have no objection to public meetings, though he appreciates that there is a level of frankness that can help get things done behind closed doors. Overall, he says he's willing to listen to pros and cons.
Evans says he figures that committee members will be in contact to decide what materials to review and people to talk to for their next session -- whenever that is.
On his way out, Adams says it was news to him that committees will conduct business in private. He presumed they would be public. But don't worry, he says, other members of the commission will make sure business is above-board.
From last week's Grits for Breakfast, "Forensic commission's Willingham committee meeting in secret":
Committee meetings of the Forensic Science Commission are being held in secret, including a committee evaluating the Todd Willingham arson investigation which met yesterday. Death penalty activist Scott Cobb emailed FSC coordinator Leigh Tomlin to ask:
I heard your voice mail that the Complaint Screening Committee and the Investigative Committee on the Willingham/Willis Case held meetings yesterday in Dallas. When and where were they held? I didn't see any meeting notice posted on the website. I only knew about it because I had read in the Houston Chronicle that it was going to be held next Thursday. Did the Commission provide a public notice before the meetings were held? How can the public be aware of when these meetings are going to be held in the future? Are there minutes available of the meetings yesterday?
Tomlin replied with a single sentence: "The meetings were not public meetings."

They could be public, of course, at the discretion of the commission and the chair. But the new rules Chairman John Bradley rammed throughat the commission's last meeting allow him to opt to have closed sessions.

Having watched that meeting online, I seriously doubt the majority of commissioners understood that this would be the result or intended to close their deliberations. This is simply the chairman exercising his discretion in the convenient absence of any rule to the contrary. This is what happens when rules aren't publicly posted or even shared with commissioners before the day they're required to vote on them. One hopes the commission majority will override their chairman to revisit and amend those rules, making committee hearings public and publishing their agendas just like regular commission meetings.

The Forensic Science Commission never conducted its business in secret before. What do they have to hide?



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