When it comes to trying to shed light on prosecutors failing to disclose exculpatory evidence, District Attorneys’ offices are most often black holes of information, either silent or aggressively denying such allegations. It is rare to get a public airing between prosecutors in a given office over what appears to be a practice of deliberate non-disclosure.
But Nueces County, Texas seems to be the exception. As our readers will remember from our coverage of the Hannah Overton case, one Nueces prosecutor and later DA, Anna Jimenez, testified in open court that Overton’s original prosecutor, Sandra Eastwood “was not ethical” and “was violating the court’s orders.”
Now comes news that another prosecutor in the same office, Eric Hillman, is suing his employers for wrongful termination. Hillman claims he was fired when he disobeyed his supervisor’s instructions to violate his ethical and legal obligations by not turning over Brady material in a drunk driving case.
As reported by KZTV10.com:
He [Hillman] had been assigned a case against a man named David Sims, who was charged with Intoxication Assault and Leaving the Scene of an Accident.
But when he started researching it, another story emerged.
“Found out that there was a witness who was not listed on the police reports who indicated that the defendant probably was not drunk or did not appear to be drunk to them and therefore hadn’t really committed the crime,” said Hillman’s other attorney, Chris Gale.
He told his supervisor about it and claims his supervisor told him he did not need to inform the other side, which is required in the discovery process of a case in court.
Hillman did not want to wrongly pursue the case, so he called the State Bar of Texas for their opinion.
“They affirmed that he in fact needed to turn over that witness to the defense, so he went back to the supervisors and told them he was going to disclose the witness and he was fired the morning of the trial,” Pratt [Hillman’s other attorney] said.
Now the man, who once prosecuted cases for the district attorney’s office is suing them.
Depending on the course of this litigation, whether it goes to a judge or jury, or is settled, we may end up learning a great deal more about the pattern and practice of Brady compliance in Corpus Christi. “[Hillman’s] attorneys say this case could point to bigger problems in the pursuit of justice in Nueces County. ‘Nueces County seems to be in favor of withholding evidence from defense counsel which is a huge problem,’ Pratt said.”
A huge problem, indeed. And no longer an allegation coming solely from defense counsel, or even appeals courts, but from the very men and women who work in the prosecutors’ office. This case, and this jurisdiction, is clearly one to watch.