Vol 30, Issue 36 Print Issue

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

The most violent prisons in the Texas state system share a common factor: They house a high proportion of mentally ill inmates. The Texas Tribune analyzed violent-incident data from 99 state prisons from 2006 to 2012, and found far more incident reports at facilities housing high numbers of mentally ill, violent offenders than at other prisons. Among the five units with the highest number of reports are the state’s three psychiatric facilities. In addition, the William P. Clements Unit, which is not a psychiatric facility, but houses 1,800 mentally ill inmates among a population of 3,500, is in that group, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice data.

Five months after an explosion at West Fertilizer Co., West continues to rebuild and its residents are on the slow and difficult road to recovery. And in Austin, state agencies are starting to implement recommendations to help ensure safe practices at facilities that hold such potentially dangerous materials. For example, State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said that his office is compiling a list of all the facilities in Texas that store 10,000 pounds or more of ammonium nitrate. That information is scheduled to go online in November in the form of a searchable public database.

In an ongoing effort to restore Texans’ faith in the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, state leaders appointed new members to the committee that oversees it. Gov. Rick Perry appointed Angelos Angelou of Austin, founder and principal executive of Angelou Economics; Gerry Geistweidt, a Mason attorney; and Dr. William Rice of Austin, senior vice president of clinical innovation for St. David’s Healthcare and the Central and West Texas Division of the Hospital Corporation of America. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appointed Houston businessman Ned Holmes; Dr. Craig Rosenfeld of Dallas, chief executive of Collaborative Medical Development; and Amy Mitchell, an attorney at Fulbright and Jaworski and a cancer survivor. A spokesman for House Speaker Joe Straus said the speaker plans to name his three appointees soon. 

Williamson County state district Judge Ken Anderson, who oversaw the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton in 1987, submitted a letter to the governor resigning his position effective immediately. Anderson is facing both civil and criminal court proceedings for his role in prosecuting Morton for the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine Morton. Attorneys for Morton allege that Anderson withheld critical evidence that pointed to Morton's innocence and that he lied to the judge about the existence of that evidence. Morton was sentenced to life in prison and spent nearly 25 years behind bars before DNA testing revealed that he was innocent and connected another man to his wife's killing. He was released from prison in 2011.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is offering another way for potential voters to obtain a photo ID needed to vote. Twenty-five mobile locations will begin processing the election identification certificates next week. The documents, which are free for applicants who meet voter requirements and show proof of identity and citizenship, are also available at driver's license offices. The announcement follows a DPS decision two weeks ago to extend the hours of about 50 driver’s license offices to include Saturdays to encourage more citizens to apply for the documents.

Amid widespread reports that she will run for Texas governor, state Sen. Wendy Davis released details about the announcement of her future plans next week. She will make the announcement at 3 p.m. on Oct. 3 in the auditorium where she received her high school diploma in 1981 — the Wiley G. Thomas Coliseum in Haltom City — mirroring the opening event of Kay Bailey Hutchison’s gubernatorial campaign in 2010. 

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry appointed:

Jeff Brown to the open spot on the Texas Supreme Court, elevating a justice from Houston’s 14th Court of Appeals to the state’s highest civil court. Brown will take Justice Nathan Hecht’s place on the high court. The governor promoted Hecht to chief justice after Wallace Jefferson announced plans to resign from the court at the end of the month. Brown is a former state district judge and a private practice attorney before that. He served as a law clerk at the Texas Supreme Court, working for Justices Jack Hightower and Greg Abbott. Both Hecht and Brown will be on the ballot in 2014.

• Devon Anderson of Bellaire as Harris County District Attorney until after next year's election, replacing her husband, Mike Anderson, who succombed to cancer last month. Anderson is a criminal defense attorney, a former district judge and a former assistant Harris County DA. 

• Kem Thompson Frost of Katy to chief justice on Houston’s 14th Court of Appeals, where she has served as a justice since 1999.

State Reps. Tryon Lewis, R-Odessa, and Bill Callegari, R-Katy, won’t seek reelection in 2014, becoming the latest members of the current House to say they won’t be back. Ten of the dropouts are Republicans. Two — including Mark Strama, who resigned this summer and will be replaced in a special election in November — are Democrats. Republican Reps. Dan Branch of Dallas, Stefani Carter of Dallas, Brandon Creighton of Conroe, Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville and Van Taylor of Plano are all seeking other offices. Others aren’t running for anything: John Davis, R-Houston; Craig Eiland, D-Galveston; Rob Orr, R-Burleson; and Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

Comptroller candidate Glenn Hegar picked up endorsements from five Republican Tarrant County state representatives: Giovanni Capriglione, Craig Goldman, Stephanie Klick, Matt Krause, and Bill Zedler.

Wayne Christian, running for railroad commissioner in a crowded GOP primary, won endorsements from Tim Lambert, a former national Republican committeeman and the current president of the Texas Home School Coalition, and from three leaders of Concerned Women for America: Michelle Smith, Carol Everett and Ann Hettinger.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was named honorary chairman of the Independent Bankers Association of Texas Education Foundation, that trade group’s philanthropic arm.

The Republican Party of Texas will conduct a 2016 presidential straw poll of paid attendees at its 2014 state convention. The same idea was considered and then abandoned by the party in 2011. Their list is interesting. In addition to the local kids who might be running for president — Ted Cruz and Rick Perry — the RPT is inviting Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Steve King, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, and Scott Walker.