SEPTEMBER 10, 2008
A Texas judge has admitted under oath that for years she had an intimate romantic relationship with a prosecutor who tried numerous criminal cases in her courtroom, including the death penalty trial of a man scheduled to be executed this summer.
The now retired state judge (Verla Sue Holland) and the elected Collin County District Attorney (Tom O’Connell) had a lengthy sexual relationship that was kept secret because that sort of unethical jurist-attorney intimacy could easily taint a judge’s ability to be impartial.
The pair finally came clean this week when a court order forced them to address the relationship because it’s key in an ongoing appeal by a man sentenced to death for a 1989 double murder. His attorneys have for months said that he did not get a fair trial because the judge and prosecutor—Holland and O’Connell—were romantically involved.
In a letter to Texas Governor Rick Perry this week, the convicted man’s attorney writes that the undercover affair was confirmed during the recent depositions of Holland and O’Connell and that the relationship was never disclosed to a single litigant or lawyer who appeared before the judge.
It points out that no reasonable person would believe that a fair trial is possible when the presiding judge has an intimate sexual relationship with one of the lawyers in the case and calls the affair a devastating indictment of the Texas criminal justice system. Other cases will probably be reopened now that the guilty parties have admitted wrongdoing.
Perhaps the unethical judge’s friends on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tried covering up for her when they refused to halt the convicted man’s scheduled execution in mid June by unanimously ruling that accusations of the relationship were raised too late in the appeals process. Judge Holland served on that Court of Criminal Appeals from 1997 to 2001 with eight of the nine judges who took part in the decision.
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