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Dick DeGuerin

Trying Eversole

The Chron wonders if the freshly-indicted Jerry Eversole can beat the rap.

That will depend on whether federal prosecutors can convince a jury that the gifts Surface gave Eversole and the actions the commissioner took that benefited Surface constitute conspiracy and bribery. The burden is on the prosecution to prove what legal observers variously call “a criminal state of mind” or “improper purpose.” In other words, that Eversole and Surface made a deal.

All the while, if Tuesday’s courthouse press conference pronouncements foreshadow a legal strategy, defense attorneys Rusty Hardin and Chip Lewis will be telling jurors that Eversole and Surface were motivated by affection, not avarice, and accusing the government of “criminalizing a 30-year friendship.”

“Bribery can be a little tricky to prove because it requires proof of a quid pro quo agreement,” said Sandra Guerra Thompson, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. “It’s not enough to prove gifts on day one and then something that the public official does on day two. There has to be proof of that agreement.”

Defense attorney Dick DeGuerin sees a high bar to clear: “Gifts between personal friends, even if one is a public official that deals with a business that a friend has are not only permissible, they’re completely lawful. Tying any gift to any specific action is another problem that I see.”

I’m sure all of that is true. I can’t help but think, however, that many people (myself included) had spoken about how hard it would be for the prosecution to convict Tom DeLay without any direct evidence. We know how that turned out. I know this isn’t how it’s supposed to work, but I have a feeling that if the government has a decent circumstantial case, a jury isn’t going to give a known miscreant like Eversole much benefit of the doubt. We’ll see how it goes.

DeLay trial update

The state keeps presenting its case.

A former Republican National Committee official testified Thursday that he was told Tom DeLay wanted the RNC to swap corporate money for campaign donations to Texas candidates during the 2002 election campaign.

Terry Nelson, the RNC chief of staff at the time, testified that DeLay’s political aide, Jim Ellis, wanted to swap corporate dollars for the same amount in campaign donations. Texas law prohibits corporate donations to candidates.

Nelson said it was common for the RNC to do money swaps with state political parties — but not with political action committees such as the one Ellis represented.

He also said the dollar-for-dollar exchange rate was “unusual” because corporate money is worth less in politics because of the restrictions on how it can be spent.

“Tom DeLay wanted us to do that,” Nelson said Ellis told him.

After four days, Nelson’s testimony is the most direct connection prosecutors have made between DeLay and the $190,000 exchange at the heart of the money laundering and conspiracy charges against the former U.S. House majority leader.

All that is very interesting, but I have a strong feeling that in the end this is going to come down to DeLay testifying in his own defense. Yes, I know, he doesn’t have to, but does anyone think he won’t insist on it? I almost want to drive to Austin just to see that in person.

Under cross-examination, Nelson said he had “no doubt” that corporate money was never given to a candidate because the RNC keeps corporate dollars in a separate account from political donations raised from individuals.

The argument that campaign donations and corporate money were kept in separate accounts is a crucial element in DeLay’s defense.

DeGuerin repeatedly has argued, “It’s different money.” During testimony, DeGuerin has objected when prosecutors talk about “the money coming back to Texas.”

DeGuerin and his team of defense lawyers have not persuaded Judge Pat Priest.

Earlier this week, outside the presence of the jury, the judge said the fact that the corporate money might be kept separate wouldn’t matter if there were criminal intent to launder it into political donations.

“I don’t care if you put it in one pocket and took money out of the other pocket,” Priest said. “Money is absolutely fungible. It’s like beans.”

The six-man, six-woman jury will decide guilt or innocence. But the judge gives jurors written directions on the law before they deliberate.

That sound you hear is DeLay’s appellate brief being written. Finally, a mystery gets solved. Sort of.

[Warren] Robold, a Washington-based fundraiser who raised more than $400,000 in corporate donations in 2002, helped prosecutors paint a picture of the finances of Texans for a Republican Majority.

John Colyandro, the committee’s executive director, sent Robold several urgent e-mails — presented into evidence Thursday — because the committee was struggling to raise donations from individuals.

[…]

Under cross-examination, Robold said he relied on legal advice when he told corporate donors that they didn’t have to disclose their donations to Texas authorities. He said some were upset when the donations appeared on the committee’s Internal Revenue Service document.

But he said, “I did nothing wrong.”

Travis County prosecutors apparently agreed. In August, they dismissed nine felony counts of illegally accepting corporate donations against Robold, who said he testified without a deal.

So Robold is testifying for the prosecution, and he did get his charges dismissed. He says the two are not connected, which who knows? I think I’m enjoying this a little too much.

Opening arguments at the DeLay trial

It’s a little weird that the Tom DeLay trial could be something other than the top news story, isn’t it?

The political money laundering trial of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay opened Monday with the Sugar Land Republican defiantly declaring his innocence.

After prosecutors read the two-count conspiracy and money laundering indictment against DeLay, he turned to the jury and in a loud, confident voice said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am not guilty.”

[…]

Prosecutor Beverly Mathews said the money laundering was part of a larger scheme to increase DeLay’s power in Washington, D.C.

DeLay’s defense team claims the money exchange was a legal swap so the RNC could use the corporate money in states where it is legal while giving money legally raised from individuals to the Texas candidates.

Defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin told the jury there was no crime and it should not convict DeLay just because he was politically successful.

I’ve always felt that it will be easier to convict DeLay’s minions, whose questionable actions are more clearly documented, than DeLay himself. I’m not sure that the evidence that is publicly known is sufficient to convict him, and my long-held theory that co-defendant Warren RoBold might have gotten a secret deal to testify for the prosecution was shot down. I don’t know what else there might be. But it will be fun to watch, and who knows what might come out in the testimony.

Testimony began with Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice and Fred Lewis, a lawyer, telling why they filed separate criminal complaints with the district attorney against Texans for Republicans Majority.

Both said they learned of the corporate money spent by the Texas committee, including the $190,000, from Internal Revenue Service reports. DeGuerin objected repeatedly during the testimony to keep the witnesses from offering their conclusions about the state’s campaign finance laws. By midafternoon, DeGuerin had moved for a mistrial based on one answer. Judge Pat Priest declined.

During cross-examination, Lewis testified that the Texas political committee spent corporate money on polling, political consultants, political fundraisers and voting lists — all activities that the Texas Ethics Commission advised against.

When DeGuerin objected, the judge said, “You asked the question.”

Former state Rep. Bill Ceverha, R-Dallas, served as treasurer of the Texas committee. He testified that the advisory board had a “general discussion” about sending corporate money to the national committee, which would then donate money to Texas candidates. He added, “This was a practice done for decades.”

Testimony is scheduled to resume today, and the trial is expected to last at least three weeks. Both sides have subpoenaed a long list of Texas political leaders, Washington lobbyists and representatives of the corporations that financed DeLay’s political committee.

Don’t know how many of them will actually make it to the stand, but I hope they all do. Let’s get it all on the record and see where the chips fall.

DeLay trial gets underway

And the entertainment value is high already.

A last-minute dispute erupted after DeLay’s defense attorneys struck five potential black jurors, leaving the panel with no African-Americans. Prosecutors objected.

DeLay lawyer Dick DeGuerin cited reasons for striking the jurors. He said three were women who gave him “angry” looks after he raised objections to things said by lead prosecutor Gary Cobb, who is black. Cobb said DeGuerin was being “outrageous.”

Visting Judge Pat Priest settled the argument by striking another juror and seating a black woman who had laughed and joked with DeGuerin when he had questioned her.

[…]

One woman on her questionnaire said she would be biased against DeLay if he looked like “a Republican good old boy,” but under questioning she said he didn’t fit her “image of a Republican.”

Another potential juror on his questionnaire said he thought DeLay “dressed badly and looked cheap.” Under questioning, the man said he had mistaken DeLay for Houston criminal defense lawyer Rusty Hardin.

Three women said they only recognized DeLay from his recent appearance on the television show Dancing With the Stars. One said he should not have appeared on the program because “he is a bad dancer.”

It’s such a shame that CourtTV went and changed format. They’d have had a breakout hit on their hands if they were around to televise these proceedings. The Statesman has more.

Disclosure for thee, but not for me

You don’t need to know.

Gov. Rick Perry said [Monday] that he wouldn’t release documents revealing investors in recipients of Texas Emerging Technology Fund recipients.

[…]

The governor’s office is told of investors in the tech fund applicants, a staffer has said. But Perry’s office has refused to release those documents — a stance he reiterated on Tuesday.

“The issue is there are private sector monies and private sector projects and things that are not to be made public because they’re proprietary information,” Perry said. “Or there’s private information that a private sector company is not going to make public because they want to protect that information.”

The issue of Bill White’s tax returns from the 1990s when he wasn’t an elected official is such a matter of principle for Rick Perry that he’ll chicken out of boycott debates. But information about public funds that he’s been dishing out to his cronies is totally off limits. Sure thing.

If you’re just tuning in to this, here is a great summary of the issue, while BOR has a roundup of coverage links and a statement by defense attorney Dick DeGuerin suggesting that it’s time for the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office to get involved.

DA drops arson charges against Justice Medina’s wife

You may recall the saga of State Supreme Court Justice David Medina, who was indicted on a charge of arson after his house burned down, then had that charge dismissed by Chuck Rosenthal amid much controversy – see here for more links. Along the way, his wife Francisca was indicted as well last year. Now that charge Cameron Willingham, I can’t criticize that kind of caution on the DA’s part. Justice Medina still has other issues to deal with, but this one appears to be closed now.

You sure you can afford that attorney?

I haven’t really paid much attention to the Allen Stanford case, but this story about his plea to unfreeze some of his assets so he can pay for his legal representation caught my eye.

“All of Allen Stanford’s money, all of his records, and most of his clothing and personal possessions were seized by the Receiver … the same orders left him with no assets to retain counsel to represent him,” according to a court filing on behalf of Stanford.

Attorneys are asking the court for $10 million to be placed into an account in the name of famed Texas attorney Dick DeGuerin to pay for legal fees, expert witnesses, travel and other expenses to defend Stanford.

“The cost of Allen Stanford’s representation in this Court and many others through the years it will take to conclude this litigation will almost certainly exceed $20 million,” according to documents filed with a federal court in Dallas.

The problem, of course, is that this is money he allegedly stole from his investors. I know I’d be pretty pissed off if money that I’d lost was being used to pursue his defense and perhaps eventually his appeals. Stanford is of course entitled to a defense attorney who will zealously represent his interests, and that attorney is entitled to be compensated adequately. I guess I’m a little queasy about that entitlement extending to millions of what may be other people’s dollars in order to pay one of the best attorneys around. I’m sure there must be some case law that addresses this question. Can anyone shed some light on that? Thanks.

In the meantime, my entirely free advice to Allen Stanford is to quit talking to the press. My advice to everyone else is to read the Houston Press cover story on the Stanford Financial Group from last week, and this Texas Monthly feature from the upcoming May issue. And am I the only one who wonders just what the heck it is about Mexia, Texas, that produced both Allen Stanford and Anna Nicole Smith?