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TYC Update: Conservator Conflicts

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., April 6, 2007

The Senate voted 30-1 last Thursday to appoint Gov. Rick Perry's nominee, Jay Kimbrough, as conservator of the Texas Youth Commission. The one nay vote, Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, is concerned that Kimbrough might have known about the abuse allegations as early as March 2005 – two years before the scandal became public – and did nothing.

Shapleigh had already asked for Kimbrough's removal as special master of TYC because of concerns about his objectivity; now Kimbrough has been effectively handed the agency and the investigation. Shapleigh has documented a couple of major conflicts of interest. First, Kimbrough was Perry's deputy chief of staff from December 2004 to May 2005. In March 2005, governor's aide Alfonso Royal received the original Texas Ranger notes on the scandal at the Pyote facility. Second, in June 2005, Kimbrough joined Attorney General Greg Abbott's staff as deputy first attorney general. He was on staff July 25, 2005, when the U.S. Department of Justice passed the case back to his office, saying state law allows for greater penalties, and Feb. 21, 2006, when his subordinate, attorney William Tatum, received the full ranger's report. This means that there were at least three occasions when Kimbrough's staff and department knew about problems in TYC. For Shapleigh, this means Kimbrough either knew or should have known about the allegations. "When you have conflicts so close to the source at both offices," Shapleigh said, "it raises significant issues about a cover-up."

Shapleigh was not surprised that Perry appointed Kimbrough but was disappointed that there was so little debate in the Senate. He attributes this to senators not knowing about Kimbrough's role to date. Most members, he said, "do not know that less than one month after the report was delivered, the governor's office had it. The majority do not know that Tatum had it at the attorney general's office."

Shapleigh fears the damage might already be done. By seizing files while special master, Kimbrough might have endangered potential criminal investigations – something the senator says Kimbrough has done before. In 2005, Abbott had to apologize to U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack after Kimbrough endangered a major silicosis investigation, Shapleigh said. "He was fired from the AG's office because he illegally grabbed 10,000 X-rays. He just did the work of the defense attorneys," Shapleigh said.

Shapleigh has contacted Johnny Sutton, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, requesting a full Department of Justice civil rights investigation. "They have an obstruction of justice statute that is not in the Texas penal code. They can move through the system and understand who did what, who failed to do what, and what duty they had to act. We need a third party not related to Texas to come in and investigate this from the ground up."

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