Former TX Supreme Court justice joins fight for compensation of ex-death row prisoner Alfred Brown
A former Texas Supreme Court justice has joined the legal fight to help ex-death row inmate Alfred Brown get compensation for the years he spent behind bars before the courts overturned his conviction.
Republican Wallace B. Jefferson, who now practices law in Austin, stepped in pro bono to help Brown appeal the state’s refusal to pay him even after a Harris County judge earlier this year declared him “actually innocent.”
The filing entered Monday with the state Supreme Court, where Jefferson served as chief justice from 2004 to 2013, is what’s known as a petition for a writ of mandamus, a type of appeal that asks the court to order a specific action. In this case, the action requested is for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to give Brown nearly $2 million to help make up for the 12 years and 62 days he spent incarcerated.
Though Jefferson didn’t offer any comment, Houston attorney Neal Manne, who has been representing Brown in his efforts to get the state to pay him, said his client is “extremely honored to have Chief Justice Jefferson join his legal team.”
Brown was sentenced to death in 2005 after he was convicted of killing Houston police Officer Charles Clark in a brazen daytime store robbery two years earlier. The botched heist at Ace America Check Cashing on South Loop East also left dead Alfredia Jones, a store clerk who’d just returned from maternity leave.
Aside from Brown, two other men went to prison for their roles in the slayings. One — Elijah “Ghetto” Joubert — is still on death row, while the other is serving a 30-year sentence in a North Texas prison.
Even as he fought his conviction from death row, Brown always maintained his innocence. He was finally freed in 2015 after a police investigator uncovered phone records in his garage that defense lawyers said backed up Brown’s alibi. Then-District Attorney Devon Anderson said she didn’t have enough evidence to retry him — though she never said Brown was “actually innocent,” a finding that would have been required for him to get state compensation.
After the comptroller denied his first request for money, Brown’s attorneys in 2017 filed a lawsuit against the county and the police while also fighting for a declaration of actual innocence. Last year, District Attorney Kim Ogg hired special prosecutor John Raley to reinvestigate the case, and early this year asked a local judge to amend the court’s earlier dismissal to include the words “actual innocence.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the judge had the authority to amend the dismissal in an already-closed case, but after two months of wrangling with the legal implications state District Judge George Powell in May decided that he did.
Following an unsolicited letter from Attorney General Ken Paxton urging him not to approve the payment, Comptroller Glenn Hegar rejected Brown’s application for compensation under the Tim Cole Act.
Afterward, Manne promised to appeal the decision and vowed to take the matter to the Texas Supreme Court.
In Monday’s filing, Manne, Jefferson and the rest of Brown’s legal team argued that the comptroller’s role in approving the payment was to be “purely ministerial” and that he didn’t have the authority to question the validity of the court’s decree of “actual innocence.” As long as Brown submitted all the required documents — including the finding of actual innocence — he should have been paid, his legal team argued.
The filing also argued that the comptroller’s refusal to compensate Brown conflicts with how his office has handled other cases.
“The Comptroller’s unlawful refusal to approve Brown’s application contradicts his own past practices,” Brown’s attorneys wrote, pointing to two cases in which the comptroller approved giving money to “exonerated defendants whose applications were based on the same procedural circumstance as Brown’s — their original dismissal orders were amended years later to reflect their actual innocence.”
Six years ago, Jefferson was involved in another high-profile actual innocence case, but from the other side of the bench. In 2013 as chief justice, he appointed a Fort Worth judge to oversee the court of inquiry examining former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson’s role in the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton. A few months later, Anderson was disbarred and ordered to jail for 10 days. The case led to the passage of the Michael Morton Act, a landmark change in Texas law that required prosecutors to share with defense attorneys information that could help exonerate their clients.