Backlog Leads to Sex Offenders' Release Without Civil Hearings

Two sex offenders who were expected to undergo hearings to see if they warranted further supervision and confinement even after leaving prison have been released without undergoing those hearings, thanks to a backlog of cases caused by a reprimanded state judge.

Joseph David Miller and Rodney Steve Haines had been "flagged as 'high risk' pedophiles, but they never had civil commitment hearings that could have led to their continued confinement," the Houston Chronicle reports. The offenders were among hundreds statewide whose cases were to have been heard by state Judge Michael Seiler, who was reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for perceived bias against the sex offenders and their attorneys who appeared in his Montgomery County court. 

Dozens of defense attorneys had filed motions for Seiler's recusal, creating a backlog even before lawmakers last month stripped him of his authority to hear all such cases. 

Seiler had referred to the offenders who appeared before him as "psychopaths" who should be castrated "from the neck up" in speeches before a local Tea Party group and the Montgomery County Republican Women's club. 

Civil commitment hearings are intended to decide whether the state's most dangerous sex offenders should be released into halfway houses, boarding homes or jails, and undergo outpatient treatment after their release from prison. The program is part of the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management, an agency that flew under the radar until the Chronicle's Anita Hassan and Mike Ward broke the story of the Office moving more than two dozen offenders into an Acres Homes boarding home without notifying the community. 

Now, according to Friday's Chronicle story, "prosecutors say they never anticipated virtually every offender would want Seiler removed, which has necessitated finding 65 visiting judges to replace him in just the past ten months alone." 

The story also notes, "So far, Seiler has denied every offender's motion to recuse him, requiring hearings to resolve the issues. To date, Seiler has been removed from 19 cases and allowed to proceed with 17 others." 

Because of the backlog, Miller and Haines never had commitment hearings, and are now subject to basic state sex offender requirements, but not the tighter scrutiny they could have been subjected to. Miller, 56, lives in Spring, and Haines, 60, lives near San Antonio. 

Miller "served a two-year prison sentence for indecency with a child involving an 8-year-old girl and eight years for the sexual assault of two girls, ages 5 and 7," the Chronicle reports. Haines was convicted of "five counts of aggravated sexual assault and two counts of indecency involving a 9-year-old girl and two counts of aggravated sexual assault involving a 13-year-old girl."  Haines told the paper that his involvement with the children was "consensual" and that one victim only accused him because "I refused to pay her phone bill." 

That seems to be the exact kind of "behavioral abnormality" the Office of Violent Sex Offender Management was created to monitor, and now can't.

Sen. John Whitmire, who heads the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, told the daily, "There's no question that the fault lies with this dysfunctional judge and his court."

But Seiler was assigned by then-Governor Rick Perry to overhear all state cases in 2008, and while Seiler's conduct has certainly caused a cluster of epic proportions, we wonder if, over seven years, maybe more than one person is responsible. The Chronicle's story today has much more on this — we suggest you check it out. 

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