District attorney Chuck Rosenthal could face jail time and fines if a federal judge rules later this month that he is in contempt for deleting more than 2,000 e-mails that were subpoenaed in a federal civil rights case.
Rosenthal is scheduled to appear in a Jan. 31 hearing to determine if he violated U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt's orders to turn over e-mails that may have been relevant to the lawsuit.
According to court documents, Rosenthal's information technology director said Rosenthal selectively deleted 2,541 e-mails, some of which were later retrieved. The rest were lost -- a point attorney Lloyd Kelley has hammered.
"I think they were dead on the mark and that's why they are no longer there," Kelley said.
In court documents responding to Kelley, Rosenthal has said he thought the e-mails were printed and saved by an assistant district attorney representing him in the case.
Charles "Rocky" Rhodes, a civil litigation expert at South Texas College of Law, said if Hoyt determines Rosenthal thwarted his rules allowing Kelley access to e-mails, he could be subject to six months in jail for contempt and a fine.
It could also mean the judge could rule that the lawsuit is over, declaring Kelley and the Ibarras victorious.
Either scenario is unlikely though, Rhodes said. More likely, the judge will work to cobble together an agreement so the two parties can move forward on the case.
"The federal rules allow a judge a lot of discretion, because it's his order that has been disobeyed," Rhodes said.
One of the alternatives is to allow Kelley to argue to a jury in the trial that they can assume the worst about the deleted e-mails.
"It's always a serious matter, if the allegations are true," said Sandra Guerra Thompson, a University of Houston law professor.
Using the discovery process, Kelley subpoenaed all documents relating to the Ibarras and all communications with the sheriff's office about the Ibarras. He later asked for all e-mails sent or received by Rosenthal and two of his attorneys from July to Oct. 15.
Rosenthal originally tried to quash the request Nov. 8, saying there were more than 12,000 e-mails. The judge denied his motion.
The court issued a protective order directing Rosenthal to produce all responsive e-mails to Kelley, who could see them, but not disclose them to anyone.
It was while Kelley was reviewing the e-mails at Rosenthal's office that he learned some of the e-mails had been recovered from the county's server. The rest, according to all accounts, are forever gone.
We really, REALLY wish we could publish the credible rumors we're hearing about what's in those 2,000+ emails Rosenthal "deleted." Take your "worst" guess, then multiply it by a factor of 10. We've got every reason in the world to believe the rumors we're hearing are true, and zero reason to think they aren't.
Meanwhile, in other potential-scandal news, Wayne Dolcefino drops a little bomb:
Eyewitness News has learned the FBI has taken the lead role in the investigation of Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole. We've been bringing you the exclusive details since October about his use of campaign money and the house a county contractor helped design.
The news about Eversole isn't the only bombshell involving the feds and possible wrongdoing.
We've learned the FBI has delivered subpoenas to Houston City Hall looking for records of dealings with two companies and contractors with close ties to a slew of local politicians involved in the creation of city fire stations, county jails and even our football stadium.
You may not have heard of Michael Surface, but his name could soon be in the headlines a lot. He quietly resigned during the holidays as chairman of the powerful Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, the county created landlord of the Reliant Stadium complex. The county judge says he urged Surface to leave.
"As I told Mr. Surface, you need to take care of your personal business," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.
13 Undercover has learned Surface is under scrutiny in an FBI corruption investigation that could become public in the coming weeks.
"He indicated there were things going on in his life that he thought he should leave and take care of," Emmett said.
Two years ago the former head of Houston's building department, Monique McGilbra, and Mayor Lee Brown's former chief of staff Oliver Spellman were found guilty of bribery in Cleveland. Newspaper accounts at the time also claimed the government was prepared to prove McGilbra had also been bribed by a company called Keystone here in Houston. Surface was a partner in the company, but neither he nor anyone else at Keystone was charged with a crime.
In 2002 a Houston Chronicle editorial called the company the keystone of Harris County cronyism.
"I know for a fact the FBI certainly hasn't talked to me, I wasn't around when anything alleged to have occurred, occurred," Emmett told us.
Commissioners El Franco Lee and Jerry Eversole led the effort to lease purchase county buildings from Keystone. Lee's former company did business with Keystone, Jerry Eversole's son shared office space with the company and while his company made millions from county contracts, Surface was reappointed chairman of the sports corporation by Commissioner Eversole.
Oh boy, again. The Chron is on this as well.
City Attorney Arturo Michel said restrictions that accompany the subpoenas do not allow him to discuss the specific information sought.
"We're really prohibited from getting into that," Michel said. "They do relate to ... the process used by the city and the personnel involved in it."
Michel said city attorneys and staff were working to compile the records, which include old files and archived e-mail.
UPDATE: The Professors comment on the possible Dem action to force Chuck back on the ballot.Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 05, 2008 to Local politics