Willingham court of inquiry postponed until Oct 14, 2010

Judge Baird

The district attorney of Navarro County sought the recusal of state District Judge Charlie Baird in a high-profile court of inquiry that was set to start today to determine whether Cameron Todd Willingham was wrongfully executed by the state of Texas for the deaths of his three daughters.

The motion raised the possibility that the two-day hearing could be postponed while the motion is resolved, although Judge Baird gave no hint of his plans. Former Gov. Mark White, now a Houston attorney who helped petition for the court of inquiry, said other attorneys advised him that the proceeding would likely be delayed.

Baird, who also conducted a court of inquiry that led to the posthumous exoneration of wrongfully convicted inmate Tim Cole of Fort Worth, Texas, ordered the court of inquiry last week after reviewing a petition filed by lawyers representing Willingham’s relatives.

Thompson, in seeking Baird’s removal, said that Baird served as a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that sustained Willingham’s conviction in the mid-1990s. Thompson also noted that Baird was named the recipient of the “Courage Award” this year by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Thompson, whose office handled Willingham’s prosecution under a different DA, also said that Baird’s decision to call a court of inquiry after receiving the petition conflicted with set procedures.

State law, he said, calls for a multistep process in which a judge who receives the complaint forwards it to the administrative judge of the judicial region, who then decides which judge will convene the inquiry. “There is a first step that must occur before any ‘hearing’ on a court of inquiry takes place,” the prosecutor said.

Thompson’s motion calls for Baird to take one of two options before “taking any further action in this case” — to recuse himself “or request the presiding judge of the administrative judicial district to assign a judge to hear such motion.” The presiding judge of the 3rd Administrative Judicial Region, which includes Baird’s court, is Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield of Williamson County. Brenda Wilburn, a spokeswoman for the administrative district, said nothing was filed regarding the court of inquiry by late Tuesday.

Judge Baird postponed the Todd Willingham Court of Inquiry to give attorneys for his family time to respond to the Navarro County DA’s motion for recusal. I refer you to Scott Henson’s “Grits for Breakfast” for excellent coverage. Make sure to read the comments for further discussion. The court of inquiry has been postponed until October 14, 2010.