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Systems don’t fail; people do – Austin American


Even as he offered an apology for a wrongful conviction that robbed an innocent man of 25 years of his life, State District Judge Ken Anderson sidestepped accepting responsibility for his role in it.

Despite evidence that pointed to someone other than Michael Morton in the murder of his wife, Christine, in 1986, Williamson County investigators and prosecutors focused on the husband. Michael Morton was convicted in 1987 and released from prison last month after DNA evidence implicated another suspect in the case.

Anderson, now a state district judge in Georgetown, was district attorney in Williamson County in 1986 and directed the Morton case. Though an apology from an officer of the court for a wrongful conviction is highly unusual, Anderson’s apology won’t give Morton 25 years of his life back. Nor will the apology repair the damage the conviction did to Morton’s family. Nor can the apology assuage the grief of the daughter who believes her mother was murdered because Christine Morton’s killer remained at large and free to kill again. Williamson County prosecutors ignored leads that might have led to the actual killer in their zeal to convict Michael Morton.

“As woefully inadequate as I realize it is, I want to formally apologize for the system’s failure to Mr. Morton and every other person who was affected by the verdict,” Anderson said at a news conference last week. It was rhetorical sleight of hand that ignores an obvious and compelling truth: The system doesn’t run itself. People run the system, and in this case, the people who run the system failed miserably.

As district attorney, Anderson swore to uphold justice. A record of winning convictions may make for good politics, but not all courtroom victories represent justice. Williamson County residents relish their reputation for being tough on crime. A narrowly focused pursuit of convictions, however, erodes faith in a system that functions well only if the public trusts it to be fair.

In Texas, at least 40 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, which also handled Morton’s case.

Making the system fair is a responsibility entrusted to prosecutors, defense, investigators and judges who are that system.

Blaming the system is a convenient rhetorical device for a public official in a tough spot, but it renders Anderson’s apology hollow. If he is truly sorry, then Anderson should turn remorse into action by actively working to reform the system in a way that prevents future miscarriages of justice. Start with eliminating barriers that prevent post-conviction DNA testing and creating tougher sanctions against prosecutors who hide key evidence.

The Morton case is a high-profile embarrassment to Texas justice. Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley resisted instead of assisted efforts to test a bandana found near the Morton home for DNA. Morton’s lawyers ultimately prevailed and the DNA evidence cleared Morton.

Authorities now suspect Mark Norwood in the killing of both Christine Morton and Debra Baker, who was murdered in Travis County in 1988. DNA links him to both crimes. Norwood, who is in custody in Williamson County, has been charged in Christine Morton’s case.

Anderson said at his news conference that DNA evidence wasn’t available in 1987. While true, it ignores the fact that the Morton’s 3-year-old son told investigators his father wasn’t home when Christine Morton was killed. Chalk that up to the impressions of a traumatized 3-year-old if you will, but there was also evidence that Christine Morton’s credit card was used in San Antonio days after her death.

The State Bar of Texas has mounted an inquiry into Anderson’s conduct and the judge has given a deposition to Morton’s appellate lawyers. A transcript is expected to be released soon, maybe even this week. All that inquiry and investigation is warranted because the consequences of the Morton case were far-reaching, as Anderson himself acknowledged in his statement.

Christine Morton lost her life. Michael Morton lost 25 years. Their son lost both of his parents.

Caitlin Baker lost her mother, Debra. And the system Anderson talks about lost credibility.

Credibility is the foundation of the criminal justice system. The people who are the system have the responsibility to maintain that system’s integrity like it was their own because it is. A lifeless system doesn’t make choices and exercise judgment. Anderson remains a crucial element of our justice system. He continues to make choices and exercise discretion that has far-reaching consequences.

The system didn’t fail in the Morton case. The people who are the system failed.

Freethought San Marcos: Judge Ken Anderson still can’t tell the truth about …

Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS

Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, now a Williamson County District Judge, who wrongfully secured the conviction of Michael Morton 25 years ago for killing his wife Christine, has apologized in a press conference held a few days ago. Anderson’s apology appears taken right out of the Politics 101 Manual–admit that a mistake was made, but explain the mistake away. The first problem with his apology, however, is that he began it with telling a lie.

Anderson said, “Twenty-five years ago, Michael Morton was convicted of murdering his wife in this very courthouse. The jury’s verdict was based on the evidence as we knew it at the time.” Thanks to the work of the Innocence Project, we now know that the evidence Anderson had available to him at the time of trial, but Morton’s defense attorneys did not have, included a statement made by Morton’s three-year old son to his grandmother that a “monster” with a mustache killed his mother, not Morton. Had defense attorneys been given this information, which Anderson was required by law to reveal, Morton might not have been convicted. Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

In addition, Anderson knew that a check to Christine Morton had been cashed nine days after her murder by someone who forged Christine’s signature, but Anderson withheld this evidence from defense attorneys. Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

And there was evidence that someone had used Christine Morton’s credit card in San Antonio after she was killed, but Anderson failed to tell defense attorneys, and no law enforcement agency apparently followed up on this information after it was received by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO). Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

One final piece of nondisclosed evidence that Anderson knew about or should have known about was a report by a neighbor that around the time of Christine Morton’s murder, he had seen a suspicious person park a green van behind the Mortons’ house on several occasions and walk into the adjacent wooded area. A second neighbor also had information about this suspicious person. Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

The Texas Code of Criminal procedure provides that “It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys,. . . not to convict, but to see that justice is done. They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused.” In 1963, the US Supreme Court held in Brady v. Maryland that “the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused . . . violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.” Furthermore, Article I, Section 19 of the Texas Constitution gives an accused the same rights recognized in the Brady decision.

And the prosecution has a duty to learn of and disclose the exculpatory evidence in the possession of all members of the prosecution team, which includes the police, other law enforcement agencies, such as the WCSO, and other investigators working with or on behalf of the state. In 1985, the US Supreme Court held that evidence is material “if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceedings would have been different.”

All of the withheld evidence would have met that standard. We know this because immediately after the trial the assistant prosecutor in Morton’s case, Mike Davis, told some of the trial jurors after the trial that the state had failed to disclose some “investigatory materials to the defense.” Davis said that if the defense had gotten the materials, it would have been able to raise even more doubt than it did about Morton’s guilt. (See the Motion for New Trial filed on March 17, 1987, by defense attorney William P. Allison.)

While a bandanna with blood and hair fibers on it was found near the Mortons’ house during the investigation, it provided no help to Morton because DNA testing was in its infancy, but Anderson is using the earlier absence of DNA evidence as a smoke-screen to hide his malfeasance, claiming that this new evidence is all that matters in showing Morton’s innocence. Judge Anderson now wants to pretend that he did nothing wrong and should be forgiven for securing a wrongful conviction, but he fought a subpoena to give testimony under oath for weeks, exhausting all appeals before being compelled to answer questions posed by Morton’s post-conviction attorneys, who represent the Innocence Project. Morton was released from prison a few weeks ago after the DNA evidence on the bandanna implicated another man in his wife’s murder.

This past week, the Austin American-Statesman reported: “On Nov. 9, Williamson County sheriff’s officers charged Mark Norwood, a Bastrop dishwasher and former carpet installer, with the murder of Christine Morton. DNA tests conducted last summer found Norwood’s DNA on a bandanna that had been collected from a construction site behind the Morton home the day after the murder. Tests on the cloth were inconclusive in 1986, but the recent DNA tests confirmed that the bandanna also contained Christine Morton’s blood and one of her hairs. Norwood also is a suspect in the 1988 Austin murder of Debra Masters Baker. Like Morton, Baker had been beaten to death in her bed. No charges have been filed in the Baker case, which had remained unsolved.”

Judge Anderson says he believes that 25 years ago he complied with the requirements then in place to disclose evidence that might tend to show the innocence of Morton. After refreshing his memory by reviewing the files that he compiled then, Anderson said, “I believe that the state’s prosecution team complied with all orders from the court and with the law on pretrial discovery and disclosures as it existed in 1987.” Once again, Anderson will not admit the essential wrong-doing that he committed while serving as Williamson County District Attorney.

If Anderson continues to insist that he did nothing wrong 25 years ago, he further diminishes the reputation of another Williamson County district judge, the late Judge Bill Lott, who presided over the Morton trial. Anderson claims that he submitted to Judge Lott files that were not given to the defense for Judge Lott’s review to determine whether they included exculpatory evidence. Judge Lott did not find any exculpatory evidence in the files. If Anderson gave Judge Lott any of the exculpatory evidence discussed above, and Lott ruled it was not exculpatory, he is implicated in this on-going cover-up, as well.

There is nothing new in Anderson’s conduct. For anyone who has spent much time working in what is mistakenly called “the criminal justice system,” misconduct by prosecutors is not only common, but widely known. While prosecutors love to tell jurors that they have a duty to see that justice is done, what they really like to do is convict people of crimes. The less scrupulous ones don’t care about what is termed “exculpatory evidence.” Anderson was one of that kind of prosecutor. He helped build the reputation of the Williamson County District Attorney’s office as a hard-nosed, “hang’em high” fiefdom, destitute of actual justice.

I have known prosecutors who bragged that the milk of human kindness did not flow through their veins. I have seen prosecutors who worked out their own sociopathic tendencies by being as hard, mean, and indifferent to human welfare as the most callous criminal. In fact, prosecuting is one of the professions where sociopathic behavior is regularly rewarded by advancement in the profession and sometimes by election to the position of District Attorney.

Fortunately, not all District Attorneys and prosecutors take out their own personality defects through their work. There are many hard-working, diligent prosecutors who primarily seek justice, not convictions, but Williamson County in recent decades has not produced too many of this kind. Judge Anderson and the current occupant of his former position, John Bradley, have done a disservice to the notion of justice. Bradley fought even the testing of the DNA evidence in Morton’s case until he had exhausted all avenues of interposition.

During this same period, Bradley served as Gov. Rick Perry’s minion as the head of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in an attempt to keep evidence of Cameron Todd Willingham’s wrongful conviction and execution from being officially acknowledged. Bradley now claims to have had a Damascus Road experience and to be a changed man, following only the path of righteousness as a prosecutor. I’ll believe that when Willingham comes back to life.

The average citizen does not know the level of corruption that can exist in a system such as the Williamson County District Attorney’s office. When a prosecutor is working in a courtroom with a prosecutor-friendly judge, there is nothing that can be done in the prosecution of a defendant that is too extreme. Many defense attorneys are too timid to vigorously defend their clients in such a hostile environment. I have known attorneys who have gone from being prosecutors to defense attorneys and vice versa, and those who have gone from being prosecutors or defense attorneys to being District Attorneys or judges. Most of them do so with integrity and faithfulness to the highest ideals of the profession.

Unfortunately, Ken Anderson and John Bradley do not represent this latter group. They have been comfortable with ignoring the requirements of the law, judicial decisions, and the ethical code they are sworn to uphold, which provides that “The prosecutor in a criminal case shall . . . make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.”

Whatever Ken Anderson says now, the record shows that he failed in his legal and ethical duties in the Morton case. It was a personal moral failure, a professional failure, and a failure to do justice to Michael Morton, Christine Morton, the Mortons’ young son, the entire Morton family, the actual murderer of Christine Morton and Debra Baker, the citizens of Williamson County and the State of Texas, and to the system of justice that Americans believe makes us special among nations. Maybe our system is not so special after all.

© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos

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Exoneration shakes certitude of tough prosecutor

GEORGETOWN — John Bradley is a man evolving.

A supremely confident and legendarily tough Texas prosecutor, Bradley says he is learning some of the most important — and humbling — lessons of his 24-year career. It’s a painful process, he says. It is also highly public.

“I have been through a series of events that deeply challenged me,” Bradley, the Williamson County district attorney, said during an extended interview with The Texas Tribune. “I recognized that I could be angry, resentful and react to people, or I could look for the overall purpose and lesson and apply it to not only my own professional life but teach it. And I chose the latter path.”

In the last two years, Bradley and his trademark sharp tongue have been at the center of two of the most controversial murder cases in Texas. In 2009, as chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, he and the New York-based Innocence Project battled aggressively over re-examining the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Corsicana man executed in 2004 for igniting the 1991 arson blaze that killed his three daughters. For six years, Bradley also fought the Innocence Project’s efforts to exonerate Michael Morton, who was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife under Bradley’s then boss in Williamson County 25 years ago.

Bradley discovered that not only was he wrong all those years about Morton’s guilt, of which he had been so certain, but that there are serious questions about whether his predecessor may have committed the worst kind of prosecutorial misconduct: hiding evidence that ultimately allowed the real murderer to remain free to kill again.

Some of Bradley’s critics are skeptical of his self-professed transformation, and they say it can’t atone for the years that his stubbornness allowed Morton to remain wrongly imprisoned. But some are hopeful that his lesson will lead other prosecutors to acknowledge that science can reveal and help correct flaws in the state’s criminal justice system.

“He is, I think, a reasonably principled guy who is a complete product of a system that is finally giving way to a new day here in Texas and the rest of the country,” said Jeff Blackburn, general counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas.

 

TEXAS LAWMEN

Bradley grew up as a prosecutor in his hometown of Houston under Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes, working there from 1987-1989. With his handlebar mustache waxed into perfect curls above his lip, Holmes was the iconic Texas prosecutor. From 1992 until 2000, while Holmes was in office, Harris County sent 111 defendants to death row, according to a 2010 report by Drake University Law School professor David McCord.

“He was a true Texas lawman,” Bradley said, drinking coffee at a diner across from Georgetown’s historic courthouse. “It was an honor to learn while working in his office.”

The workload was crushing. He worked 70 hours each week in an office where defense lawyers were viewed as hostile enemies. “I always felt like I was swimming among sharks,” he said. “And you had to defend yourself, and you have to be the same predator back.”

Rob Kepple, the executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, worked with Bradley in Harris County. Under Holmes, he said, they were taught a prosecutor’s first job is to be tough.

“Your citizens expect you to fight crime,” Kepple said. “They expect you to stand up for them. Our job is to be tough, tough but fair.”

When Bradley and his wife Leslie decided to expand their family, he said, they moved to Williamson County, a place that was smaller, but had a reputation for being just as tough on crime.

Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson hired Bradley, and he set up office with a card table, a folding chair and an old Mac Classic computer in the courthouse hallway.

“It was a tremendous culture shock,” he said.

It wasn’t just the plain digs. Almost immediately, Bradley said, he realized he couldn’t treat defense lawyers like “sharks” in this small community. “Your professional relationship is an important part of being a lawyer, something I did not develop in Houston that I’m still working on,” he said.

They may have been nicer, but that didn’t mean prosecutors weren’t tough. Juries and judges in Williamson County meted out long sentences.

Through the years, Bradley developed a close relationship with his boss. They co-wrote two law books. Under Anderson, he began working with lawmakers at the Capitol, just a 30-minute drive south of Georgetown. When Gov. Rick Perry appointed Anderson as a state judge in 2002, he also appointed Bradley to take over as district attorney.

Mark Brunner, who is now a criminal defense lawyer in Georgetown, spent two years working in Bradley’s office. He described him as a “hands-on” prosecutor who didn’t allow his assistants much discretion in decision-making about their cases. And he said Bradley did not encourage prosecutors to be friendly with defense lawyers.

“They’re expected to be tough always and hard always,” Brunner said, “and if you deviate off that you better have a damn good reason.”

 

WIFE SLAYING

When Bradley arrived in Williamson County in 1989, Michael Morton had already been in prison for two years. Anderson prosecuted Morton for the 1986 murder of Morton’s wife, Christine. He told jurors that Morton brutally beat his wife to death after she refused him sex on the night of his 32nd birthday. The jury sentenced him to life in prison.

Like many convicted criminals, Morton maintained his innocence, arguing that an intruder must have killed his wife after he left for work in the morning. In 2005, Morton began asking the state to test DNA evidence on a number of items, including a bloody blue bandana found near their home the day after the murder.

Bradley tenaciously fought the requests. In the press, he berated the idea that DNA would lead to some “mystery killer.” And he said Morton’s lawyers were “grasping at straws.”

“Once a prosecutor has a case in which he or someone else has achieved a conviction where a body of people have been convinced beyond reasonable doubt someone is guilty and then sentenced them, the presumption becomes that that is a justified verdict that the prosecutor must defend,” Bradley said, explaining his opposition to Morton’s requests.

Morton’s lawyers also asked Bradley, through public information requests, for investigative materials in the case. From the time of his conviction, Morton’s lawyers suspected that prosecutors had withheld key evidence that could have caused jurors to doubt his guilt. Bradley fought that request, too, arguing it would interfere with the DNA litigation.

Eventually, Bradley lost that fight and turned over the files. Reports from the Sheriff’s Department showed that in 1987 investigators had several clues that pointed to someone other than Morton as the killer. There was a transcript in which Morton’s mother-in-law told a sheriff’s deputy that the couple’s 3-year-old son saw a “monster” with a big mustache attack his mother — and the monster wasn’t his father. There were reports that Morton’s credit card had been used and a check had been cashed with her forged signature days after her death. Morton’s lawyers, though, had seen none of that information during his trial.

While Houston lawyer John Raley of the law firm Raley Bowick, and the Innocence Project fought with the prosecutor in court to get the scientific testing done that they believed could exonerate Morton, a separate and unrelated conflict was unfolding.

 

ARSON PROBE

The governor appointed Bradley to lead the Texas Forensic Science Commission just as it embarked on a highly controversial investigation of the Willingham case. The Innocence Project had filed a complaint alleging negligence and misconduct in the arson investigation. It also wanted the commission to require the State Fire Marshal’s Office to review other arson cases to determine whether mistakes were made that resulted in wrongful convictions. The commission was set to hear a report from nationally recognized fire scientist Craig Beyler that raised questions about whether Texas had executed an innocent man.

Bradley abruptly canceled the meeting, and the pace of the Willingham investigation slowed dramatically. The Innocence Project alleged that Bradley was protecting the governor from potential political fallout during his gubernatorial re-election season. Bradley countered that Barry Scheck, the Innocence Project’s co-founder, and others, were using the commission to attack their real target — the death penalty. Conducting such an investigation, Bradley argued, was outside the commission’s authority.

There were finger-wagging shouting matches. Bradley called Willingham a “guilty monster.” Protesters lined up at commission meetings and carried signs with messages like “John Bradley is a tool … of Rick Perry.”

“It was hostile,” Bradley said last week.

Eventually, lawmakers intervened, and the Texas Senate declined to confirm Bradley’s appointment to remain on the commission. After Bradley left the board, the Texas attorney general produced an opinion agreeing with him that the panel did not have authority to investigate the Willingham case or others that took place before the commission’s 2005 creation.

“I think ultimately I was proved correct,” he said. Still, the commission finished a report on the Willingham case that includes Bradley’s work and has paved the way for an unprecedented review of older arson cases.

 

CERTITUDE FALTERS

While the Willingham controversy continued in 2010, the Morton case was beginning to unravel. An appeals court ordered the prosecutor’s office to allow DNA testing on the bandana found near the murder scene. In June, the test results revealed that Christine Morton’s blood was mixed with the hair of a man who was not her husband. In August, a national DNA database search matched that DNA to a felon with a record in California.

But it wasn’t just the DNA.

The court in August also ordered the unsealing of a file that was supposed to contain all of the reports from the initial investigation of Morton’s murder. During a dispute in 1987 over evidence, the judge had ordered Anderson, the prosecutor, to provide him all of the investigator’s reports so that he could determine whether there was any information that could help Morton prove his innocence.

When that file was opened two decades later, Bradley and Morton’s lawyers found a paltry six pages of police reports.

Both Bradley and Morton’s lawyers knew that there were many more pages. Despite his order, the judge was not given the transcript that included the Mortons’ son’s description of the murder or the financial transactions that occurred after Morton’s death.

For the defense attorneys, it seemed to confirm their suspicions: The prosecutor’s office had withheld critical information so they could secure a conviction. For Bradley, the development was a shocking revelation that raised serious questions about his former boss and friend.

“I fully expected that that sealed file would contradict some pretty strong accusations,” Bradley said. “It didn’t.”

Then came another, perhaps even bigger bombshell.

In September, Travis County investigators linked the DNA from the Morton bandana to DNA found on a hair at the scene of the 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker. The man whose DNA was on those items during the 1980s lived only blocks away from Baker and about 12 miles away from the Morton’s home.

“It’s the kind of thing that happens only in Hollywood movies,” Bradley said. “I am still awed by the combination of circumstances that came together at the right time.”

Within days of the DNA match, he came to an unusual agreement with Morton’s lawyers, including Barry Scheck — the attorney he’d engaged in hostilities with during the Willingham inquiry — to release Morton from prison and to allow an investigation of potential wrongdoing by Anderson.

 

AFTERMATH

“Who would’ve thought that one of the strangest conclusions in all of this, is I consider Barry Scheck a good friend,” Bradley said.

Because of the continuing investigation, Bradley won’t say whether he believes Anderson knowingly hid exculpatory evidence. But, for now, he said, their personal relationship is gone. “It saddens me, but that’s the facts,” he said.

In his first public comments about the case this week, Anderson acknowledged the outcome in the Morton prosecution was wrong and said he is anguished over the results, both Morton’s wrongful imprisonment and Baker’s death at the hands of the murderer he didn’t catch. He denied any wrongdoing. “In my heart, I know there was no misconduct whatsoever,” Anderson said.

Bradley said he regrets that his opposition to DNA testing over the last six years meant more time behind bars for an innocent man. He also regrets sending letters to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles urging them to keep Morton locked away.

Had he known then what he knows now about the Innocence Project and Scheck, he said he might have handled the Willingham case differently, too.

This experience has taught him to be more open-minded, to try to see cases from both sides, he said. Bradley emphasized that his office is more open than his predecessor’s was. And in the future, when defense lawyers bring him cases to review, Bradley said, he will have a new perspective.

“If I had to come up with a slogan,” Bradley said, “I don’t know that I would use it, but essentially the slogan would be ‘We are more than tough on crime.’”

Some of his critics, though, see Bradley’s contrition as too little, too late. And they note that he is facing re-election next year. They want more than words.

“The jury is still out on whether those words will manifest themselves into real actions to help fix what is clearly a broken justice system,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, chairman of the Innocence Project.

Scott Henson, who writes the well-regarded criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, said Bradley could demonstrate his changed perspective by joining with innocence advocates to promote reforms to the Texas justice system. “He’s got a long record,” Henson said. “And it will take more than a few words of humility to get everyone to believe that he’s had some road to Damascus moment.”

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public media organization that operates www.texastribune.org. Its mission is to promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government and other matters of statewide concern through original journalism and on-the-record, open-to-the-public events. The Monitor uses its content free of charge.

Top local stories of the week – Austin American



Published: 11:04 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011

SUNDAY

Trackless tracts: A Statesman investigation revealed that the ownership of tens of thousands of Central Texas home loans could be in question because proper documents haven’t been filed with county clerks. The Mortgage Electronic Registration System has been used by lenders to track the bundling and selling of mortgage loans as commodities, but those transactions haven’t been recorded in county courthouses.

MONDAY

A fresh look, a fresh story: A new analysis by the University of Texas system found that UT-Austin faculty members are extremely productive as measured by teaching loads and attract twice as much in grants as they cost taxpayers in salaries. The conclusions conflict sharply with an analysis of the same data by a former UT System adviser that was released four months ago, primarily because of different methods for analyzing the raw data.

An island no more: Sometimes Island is a peninsula for the first time since the 1960s. At 626 feet above sea level, Lake Travis is 42 feet below average for this time of the year, the third-worst year for lake levels since it was built.

TUESDAY

Friends with benefits? Despite the objections of the Texas Railroad Commission, every state and local official representing Montgomery County — and an administrative law judge — the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved an industrial waste injection well permit for TexCom Inc., whose top investors include friends and campaign contributors of Gov. Rick Perry.

F1 hits wall: The future of a Formula 1 race in Austin is anything but certain after construction was halted on the racetrack. F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said the race won’t happen if he can’t have a guarantee on payment from Circuit of the Americas, which is financing the track. The state then said it wouldn’t pay $25 million in incentives until after the first race.

What is that stuff? Austinites can be forgiven for being confused by the presence of rainfall, but with less than an inch falling in Austin, it won’t put an end to the drought this go-around.

WEDNESDAY

Allegations of abuse: A longtime child psychiatrist for the Austin State Hospital has been accused of sexually abusing at least one child in his care, and possibly more, according to the state Department of Family and Protective Services.

Anderson’s apology: Former prosecutor Ken Anderson offered a public apology to Michael Morton at the Williamson County Courthouse. Morton spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, a crime he didn’t commit.

On the boardwalk:The Trail Foundation’s efforts to raise $3 million to assist the city in building a boardwalk extension of the Lady Bird Lake hike-and-bike trail have been so successful so quickly, with $2.4 million already raised, that the group has upped its fundraising goal to $5 million.

THURSDAY

The race is on: Austin council members Mike Martinez and Bill Spellman made it official: They’ll seek re-election to their respective seats rather than challenge Mayor Lee Leffingwell, who announced Wednesday he’s also seeking re-election.

Dangerous mistake: A resident at the Austin State Supported Living Center has been hospitalized for more than two weeks after a dental hygienist accidentally cleaned the female patient’s teeth with a chemical compound used to remove tartar and stains from dentures, according to an internal investigation conducted by the Department of Aging and Disability Services.

FRIDAY

Back to the drawing board: In early December, city officials will hold an open house to determine what the public really wants to see in Butler Park, which was pitched as a bond measure to voters in 1998 as a sort of Central Park along the shore of Lady Bird Lake. In June, after an American-Statesman report detailing the city’s missteps in finishing the park, the City Council ordered city staff to get the languishing project moving.

Hidden cost of vaccine: This year, the Texas Legislature expanded the meningitis vaccine requirement to all students under age 30 entering college, including those who live off campus. With the change, a huge swath of nontraditional college students were swept into the mandate, many of whom are low-
income students without health insurance who are attending community college.