Executive editor Michael Hall studied for two years at the University of Texas School of Law, but that’s not really where he developed his keen interest in criminal justice. That passion can be traced to his childhood, as he watched his father, a U.S. Army combat surgeon who rose to the rank of colonel, regularly champion the causes of soldiers who got sideways with commanding officers and faced unfair punishments. Those interventions “often got dad in trouble with his superiors,” Mike recalled. But his father had served in three wars and wasn’t easily intimidated.

During his 26 years with Texas Monthly, Mike has proved similarly fearless and persistent in investigating the work of reckless prosecutors and biased judges. And I’m pleased to report that three of his stories on those topics are receiving well-deserved recognition.

Last September we published Mike’s deeply reported examination of four powerful and partisan judges with deep Texas ties who serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. In late May, that story won the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel award, its highest honor for work that is “exemplary in fostering the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system.” None of the judges who were the focus of Mike’s story would speak to him, so he spent months interviewing other federal and state judges as well as lawyers who appear before the Fifth Circuit. The result was an insightful look at the many ways in which ideological crusading, long present among some of the jurists on our higher courts, has reached a new level. The story makes it clear that today some judges are little more than politicians in black robes.

The day before the award announcement, a streaming documentary based on a series of Mike’s stories was released by Max (known until recently as HBO Max), titled How to Create a Sex Scandal. That three-part series hews closely to Mike’s work, from 2009 until 2018, exposing how overzealous investigators and prosecutors aided in conjuring a fictitious child-sex ring supposedly based in the East Texas cities of Mineola and Tyler. The case was based almost entirely on the testimony of young children, who turned out to have been coached by an adult to bear false witness. At one point Mike traveled all the way to Vacaville, California, in hopes of interviewing this key figure, who had refused to respond to emails or phone calls. Mike got the door slammed in his face, but that didn’t diminish his determination to report all sides of the story. His work on the case contributed to the freeing of six Texans who had been wrongly convicted. 

More recently, another of Mike’s articles, first published on our website in February, has led to a partnership on a documentary already in the works with award-winning filmmaker Deborah Esquenazi and producer Daniel Chalfen. The story concerns the 1983 conviction of James Reyos for the murder of a Catholic priest in Odessa. Reyos swore he was innocent, passed a lie detector test, and had proof that he was two hundred miles away in his native New Mexico at the time of the crime. Forty years later, with the help of a fingerprint database that didn’t exist when Reyos was convicted, advocates for his release have found additional proof of his innocence, and police and prosecutors from the same offices that put him away are now working to overturn his conviction.

These three stories represent only a sampling of the fine reporting and narrative writing that Mike has delivered to our readers for more than two decades. And though he writes often about criminal justice, he’s also passionate about music. In fact, one reason he dropped out of law school was that he thought “it would be more fun to be a rock star.” That didn’t quite work out, but he still performs occasional gigs at Austin clubs with his band, Wild Seeds. If you’re in the area, please check them out. And please also check out How to Create a Sex Scandal

This article originally appeared in the July 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Presumed Innocent.” Subscribe today.