On Tuesday, the Innocence Project filed a brief on behalf of Texas prosecutor, Eric Hillman, who claims he was fired for defying an illegal order to hide exculpatory evidence from a defendant. In response to losing his job, Hillman filed a lawsuit, which an appeals court ultimately dismissed. The Innocence Project’s brief supports reinstating Hillman’s lawsuit on the grounds that his termination was unjust.
In 2013, David Sims was charged with intoxication assault and leaving the scene of an accident. According to court records, Hillman located a witness who was not listed in the police report. The witness told Hillman that Sims was not drunk at the time of the accident. Hillman reported this information to his supervisor, who ordered him not to disclose it to the defense because it developed from Hillman’s independent investigation.
Hillman consulted with legal ethics experts who disagreed with his supervisor’s opinion. Hillman then shared the information about the witness. On the day that Sims’ trial was set to commence, Hillman was fired for refusing to follow orders.
In response to his termination, Hillman sued Nueces County and former District Attorney Mark Skurka. A trial judge and the state’s appeals court subsequently dismissed Hillman’s lawsuit. According to the Statesman, the courts concluded that “Nueces County could not be sued because it is protected by immunity, a legal concept that shields many government decisions from lawsuits as a way to protect public tax dollars.”
The Innocence Project’s brief supports reinstating Hillman’s lawsuit under the Michael Morton Act, which was enacted in 2013 and codified in state law a legal standard of requiring prosecutors to turn over favorable evidence to defendants.
“Allowing Hillman to be fired for following the Morton Act’s requirements—then prohibiting him from holding his supervisors accountable by filing a lawsuit—would eviscerate the state law and allow future retaliation against conscientious prosecutors like Hillman,” Innocence Project lawyers told the court.
Nina Morrison, senior staff Attorney at the Innocence Project, told the Statesman, “The way Hillman was treated—by the Nueces County bosses who fired him and by the courts that dismissed his lawsuit—threatens to undermine the progress that has made Texas a national leader in protecting against innocent people being convicted of crimes.”
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