Best Court Ruling (2002)
U.S. District Judge David Hittner
Too bad for Harris County and the state of Texas. Those damned technicalities keep getting in the way of another good execution! All the law asks is that defendants get a fair trial and adequate legal representation. And it's exactly those onerous standards that have stymied the county and state in putting down Calvin Burdine. Even though his attorney snoozed during in his 1983 capital murder trial, the trial judge and state appellate courts still upheld the death penalty verdict. But U.S. District Judge David Hittner had a strange notion that a defense lawyer ought to at least stay awake in trial. Hittner's view was vetoed by a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but that full court flipped again and supported his logic. Finally, with the rest of the nation wondering just what passes for a judiciary in Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed Hittner's original ruling. State officials and judges, of course, howled in protest. We hope the outrage is loud enough to wake up the electorate -- the ones who decide who's supposed to safeguard fundamental American rights.