WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Williamson County is preparing for its day in federal court with an exonerated man.
The Commissioners Court agreed by a vote of 4-0 Tuesday to hire Austin-based attorney Randy Leavitt to represent the county against the civil rights lawsuit filed by Troy Mansfield. Commissioner Cynthia Long of Precinct 2 was not present at the meeting.
Mansfield filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Jan. 2018. This came after a judge vacated his conviction in 2016.
The lawsuit claims that Mansfield was wrongfully convicted of a felony in 1993 and placed on a sex offender registry for more than 23 years. It further states that the district attorney at the time, Ken Anderson, “held concrete evidence proving that Mansfield was innocent of the crime for which the WilCo DA’s office was prosecuting him.”
The lawsuit claims that the district attorney’s office withheld exculpatory evidence because it had a closed file system, which prevented Mansfield and his attorneys at the time from reviewing the evidence themselves.
Mansfield apparently wanted his case file re-examined after it was determined that Anderson also failed to disclose exculpatory evidence in the Michael Morton case.
In 2011 Morton was exonerated of the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine Morton, in Williamson County when DNA tests pointed to another man as the real killer. Morton was released after spending nearly 25 years in prison.
Even though these situations happened well before he became the current Williamson County district attorney, Shawn Dick told KXAN that he’s spent a “disproportionate amount” of time in office dealing with issues related to his predecessors.
“I’ve noticed it in our jury pools whenever you’re talking to citizens,” Dick said. “They’re paying attention, as they should be to the criminal justice system and making sure that their leaders are honest and transparent. Any time you don’t have that, it certainly impairs your ability.”
He explained how his office now works to prevent cases like these from happening again.
“The two cases that you’re mentioning happened under an office over 20 years ago where they didn’t open their files,” Dick said. “They weren’t opening their files and so I think just the process of opening your files is one step, but hiring people with high integrity and ethics. In every interview that I do in any position in my office, whether it’s receptionist or an investigator or a prosecutor, we have ethical questions as components of our interview. One of the key factors I’m looking for when I check references is their integrity.”