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Prisoner Prevails Ronald Hutchins loves the law library. As it turns out, the law library loves him back. Hutchins, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prisoner serving a 76-year sentence for murder, was profiled in a May 8, 2006, Texas Lawyerarticle about prison law libraries called “Hitting the Books.” On Dec. 21, his passion for law books served him well: He won a pro se appeal before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Hutchins v. McDaniels. Hutchins sued a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison officer, alleging that the officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights when he conducted a strip- and cavity search of Hutchins. In his complaint, Hutchins alleged he was waiting on his appointment to use the law library in 2005 when a prison officer smelled marijuana and searched Hutchins’ cell. The officer then strip-searched Hutchins in view of other prisoners and a female guard but never accused him of possessing any contraband, according to his complaint. However, a trial court judge dismissed Hutchins’ claim, finding that it was frivolous, it failed to state a claim under the Prison Litigation Reform Act and it did not allege a physical injury under 42 U.S.C. � 1997e(e) � a ruling Hutchins appealed. In a per curiam ruling, the 5th Circuit found that Hutchins’ claim was not frivolous and that he did state a claim, because the Fourth Amendment governs searches of prisoners by prison guards. The 5th Circuit also found that, while Hutchins is barred from recovering any compensatory damages in the absence of physical injury, he did not need to allege physical injury under � 1997e(e) to recover nominal or punitive damages. Hutchins likely will be back in the law library soon, preparing pleadings in his civil rights case. He’ll certainly like that. “After a while, it becomes a passion to come down here,” Hutchins told Texas Lawyer in 2006. “I’ve told people, �If I could have a bunk in here, I’d live here.’ “ DA’s Mea Culpa Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, who just last week was touted by Texas Lawyer as its “Impact Player of the Year,” [ See " A Justice-At-All-Costs Attitude ,"Texas Lawyer , Dec. 24, 2007, p. 18], continued to make his impact felt when Dallasblog.com revealed Dec. 27 that Watkins had been administratively suspended from the practice of law. Also on Dec. 27, Texas Lawyerinterviewed Watkins, who admits he was suspended but says that as recently as November, his birth month, he checked with the Bar, and his license was still in good standing. He maintains that through an oversight on his part, he failed to pay the attorney occupation tax, which he believes was the cause of his suspension. But Kelley Jones King, the director of communications for the State Bar of Texas, says Watkins received an occupation tax exemption as a state employee in July. Rather, “Mr. Watkins was administratively suspended on Dec. 14 for failure to pay his State Bar dues of $235,” says King. “Today [Dec. 27] he paid his dues and was retroactively reinstated to the date of his suspension.” Watkins says that “this was my fault � my mistake. I just didn’t pay on time,” adding that none of the criminal cases prosecuted by his office are “in jeopardy.” But Austin legal ethics expert Chuck Herring of Herring & Irwin says that Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct 8.04 (a) (11) may govern the situation. Rule 8.04 (a) provides that “A lawyer shall not . . . (11) engage in the practice of law . . . where a lawyer’s right to practice has been administratively suspended for failure to timely pay required fees or assessments.” So did Watkins violate this disciplinary rule during his two-week suspension? No, says First Assistant Dallas County District Attorney Terri Moore, because Watkins “has not been in the courtroom trying cases � he sets policy and handles administrative matters.” Watkins says that the suspension � which he just learned about on Dec. 27 � has been the source of much embarrassment. As he has on behalf of his predecessors who have prosecuted defendants subsequently exonerated by DNA testing, Watkins apologized. “I just hope the folks of Dallas County will not hold this against me too much,” he says.

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