DeLay and Earle: Hutchison Redux?
From the Texas Monthly, February, 2005, (available on Lexis.com: an article profiling Texas DA Ronnie Earle: Much of the article is flattering to Earle, but it also talks about Earle's failed attempt in 1993 to have then-Governor Ann Richards appoint him to be U.S. Senator when Lloyd Bentson left to join Clinton's cabinet. Instead, she appointed a conservative Democrat who went on to lose to Kay Bailey Hutchison in the election. The article describes Earles' humiliating retreat and surrender in the Hutchison case (she was ordered acquitted by the Court on the first day of the scheduled jury trial after he announced he wanted to drop the charges.) There was an issue as to admissibility of evidence which the judge refused to rule on before trial, and on the first day of trial, not knowing what the ruling would be, Earle told the judge he wanted to drop the charges.
That same year, after hearing evidence from Ronnie and the Public Integrity Unit, a grand jury indicted Hutchison on allegations of using state employees for personal and campaign tasks and then destroying state files that documented the abuse. Hutchison was outraged by the indictments, as were two political advisers named Karl Rove and Karen Hughes. In seeking the Senate appointment from Richards, Ronnie had left himself open for an effective counterspin: The guy didn't get to be the senator, so he went after Hutchison in a fit of jealousy and spite.
Here's what happened:
The newly elected senator's team was led by Texas's hottest defense lawyer, Dick DeGuerin. Ronnie assigned his first assistant to argue the case, but he broke his customary rule and went to court himself. John Onion, a respected judge, voiced doubts during pretrial hearings about the admissibility of evidence the prosecution had built its case on. To the astonishment of courtroom observers, Ronnie abruptly announced that the state was not going to go forward with its prosecution. Thunderstruck, Onion barked some exasperated remarks and declined to let the matter go with the charges merely being dropped -- he ordered the jury to acquit her.
Ronnie says that the revelations about the innocent men his office and Travis County juries had sent to prison were by far the lowest point of his career. But politically, the Hutchison fiasco is the albatross he hung around his own neck. "The greenest lawyer from Podunk knows not to do what Ronnie did," said the lawyer who had observed the Mattox case. "You don't go into any trial, certainly not one of that magnitude, without a plan B. The judge hadn't said he was going to bar the evidence Ronnie's team had accumulated; he said he was going to examine it piece by piece, and he might disallow it. What you do is play it out and see. Maybe you can bring the judge around. Develop a plan B. But an able courtroom prosecutor would never just call it down."
Lawyers are habitual Monday-morning quarterbacks, and even Ronnie's Democratic allies in the Travis County courthouse are not inclined to let him forget that episode. One wisecrack has it: "The bad news for Tom DeLay is that he might get indicted. The good news is that he would be prosecuted by Ronnie Earle."
DeLay bragged Thursday (probably to his lawyer's chagrin) about his lawyer having beaten Earle before:
My lawyer's better than him. He's already taught him a lesson," Mr. DeLay said, referring to Houston lawyer Dick DeGuerin's successful defense of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in a case that Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle famously dropped before trial.
Memo from TalkLeft to Mr. DeLay: If you want to keep your lawyer, who is the finest you will ever get, pay attention to -- and give primary consideration to -- what he tells you over and above what your political advisers and p.r. people tell you. Your lawyer is concerned about your legal liability and your exposure to a jail sentence. Your P.R. people are concerned about re-establishing your reputation once you are found not guilty. Without a great lawyer behind you, that day may never come for you. Lawyers don't like it when their clients speak to the media out of turn. Especially when they brag like children on a school playground: "My lawyer's better than your lawyer, nah-nah." It's also pretty low class.
Your best bet is to act humbly, like a wrongfully charged man, and simply say you have confidence that your lawyer will straighten this all out so that the people finally know the truth. And don't say what that truth is, in case, it doesn't come to pass the way you are hoping.
You may find yourself in a salvage mission, and in that instance, the less said by you the better. Put another way, say only that which your lawyers have authorized you to say, and cut your p.r. people from your payroll now. They will do you no good if you end up in the Texas Department of Corrections. Only your lawyer will be left then, trying to demonstrate to a higher court the errors that put you there. Trust your lawyers and those they hire on your behalf, and let the others go. Understand that it's a dog-eat-dog world out there. You are no longer in the director's chair.
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