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Sunday Letters: Hegar: Letter of the Law

Copyright 2016: Houston Chronicle

April 15, 2016


Regarding "Released inmate still on long, slow road to just compensation" (Page B1, Sunday), columnist Lisa Falkenberg discussed the duties of my office regarding compensation for wrongful imprisonment in a way I feel requires further clarification.

The column concerns payment Alfred Dewayne Brown has requested from the state for his incarceration on homicide charges. His conviction was overturned in the courts and Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson dropped the charges.

The column seems to suggest that I should pay compensation in this case out of a sense of fairness toward Mr. Brown, rather than what it calls "a narrow, literal interpretation of the statute."

In fact, I'm being asked to ignore the law, but I can't and won't.

As the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, the state's chief financial officer, I pay all valid claims against the state - about 12 million such payments in any given year. And I have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that every one of those payments is made in strict accordance with the exact provisions of Texas and U.S. law.

The Comptroller's office isn't a court or, with the exception of certain tax fraud cases, a law enforcement agency. I can't make any judgment concerning Mr. Brown's guilt or innocence. It would be improper for me to address the facts in this case - and irrelevant. I can only follow Texas law as it has evolved from a complex mass of legislation, court cases and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

I'm an attorney myself, and I've personally read every word of the documents in this case. And the legal provisions I took an oath to follow are clear. Mr. Brown and his representatives have not met the legal requirements for compensation.

John Adams said a republic was "a government of laws, and not of men." It's the fundamental principle on which the nation was founded - that we follow the letter of the law rather than the arbitrary decisions of those with political power, whether or not it's popular. It's not always easy to live up to that idea, but I must. It's my duty.

Glenn Hegar, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts