Dear Editor, A Travis County jury believed a Black man over a white woman. The Chronicle’s Sarah Marloff’s response is to help two disgruntled ADAs violate an expunction order, slander the defense and criticize a jury ["A Question of Compassion for Travis County's Family Violence Court," News, June 19]. We assume the Chronicle published such a biased political piece for one purpose: to sway the upcoming County Court 4 election. Not long ago, a Black man accused of sexually assaulting a white woman would not even receive a trial in this country – he would be lynched. If the race of the participants were reversed, would Ms. Marloff still be so outraged? There are many ways of victimizing people. Domestic violence is one way. Falsely accusing someone of sexual assault is another. Race-based prosecution is yet another. All are dangerous. Ms. Marloff conveniently overlooks that it is the role of a judge to be impartial. Samantha’s story is not about the injustices done to survivors of sexual assault. It is a brazen attempt to keep a finger on the scales of justice. This was an editorial suggesting the Black man’s attorney—a woman of color—must have cheated ethical rules in order to win. The jurors in this case returned a verdict of acquittal because they did not believe the crime had occurred. Period. It is irresponsible to criticize the verdict of a jury simply because it does not fit your personal agenda. It is irresponsible and illegal for members of the D.A.'s office to openly comment on an expunged case. It is irresponsible and reprehensible for the Chronicle to participate in the poisoning of future jury pools. ACDLA [Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association] has made no endorsement in this judicial race; however, we are deeply concerned that the Chronicle questions the fitness of defense attorneys for the Judicial bench because of their work against systemic racism, mass incarceration and wrongful conviction.
News Editor Mike Clark-Madison responds: We agree it’s unfair to shame the defense bar for the often unpopular but critically important work attorneys do to safeguard the rights of the accused. That’s why this story discusses the obligation to present a zealous defense; that’s why we reached out to Blackwell and Chacona for perspective. (Our reporter says, and her notes and correspondence substantiate, that she did not discuss, or seek to discuss, this specific case when talking to the two.) The question raised by the woman at the center of this case is whether the defense counsel should be elected as a judge. If a candidate’s actions as a practicing attorney are not relevant to voters, then what is, and why not? Judicial candidates run on their record as attorneys all the time.
The viewpoint that has so upset the defense bar is, again, that of the woman at the center of this case. (For the record, neither the prosecutors nor the opposing campaign brought this story to us.) That framing is intentional. We believe that there are challenging intersectional issues we all must face as we seek to remake the justice system to best safeguard the accused and survivors who are so often mistreated and marginalized.
The ethnicities of the persons involved in this case are not irrelevant; the candidate herself speaks to her own background in the piece. But nor do they solely define the dynamics of this case. As vigorously as the defense bar has contested claims our story does not make, it has not engaged with what it does say, which is why we think such stories need to be told.