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Travis County Attorney

Complaint against McCrum dropped

Good.

Mike McCrum

Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said Wednesday he has looked into recent allegations by a Houston attorney against the special prosecutor in the case against Gov. Rick Perry and will not investigate further.

Escamilla said he found no evidence prosecutor Michael McCrum violated state laws or county policies regarding theft, abuse of authority or honorariums in the hourly rate McCrum is receiving from Travis County for his work in the case.

Houston defense lawyer David Rushing, former chairman of Young Conservatives of Texas, had alleged McCrum was illegally receiving more than he should by billing the county $300 an hour — a rate McCrum recently voluntarily reduced to $250 per hour after hiring a second prosecutor. That reduction came prior to Rushing’s complaint.

McCrum’s fees are higher than what court-appointed defense lawyers generally earn, but county rules permit larger hourly rates in unusual cases.

In a letter to Rushing, Escamilla said McCrum’s rates were approved by a judge in the case.

See here for the background. This felt like a nothingburger, especially given Rushing’s history of hackery, but it’s good to have some official confirmation. I’m not saying this couldn’t have been a point of contention, but honestly, you’d think someone might have brought it up before now. Given all the paperwork Rick Perry’s lawyers have generated so far, surely they would have jumped on this if they’d thought it would go somewhere. The next status hearing, the one Perry doesn’t have to attend, is today, where Judge Richardson will get to deal with yet another motion by Perry’s defense team. Looks like we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming on this now. Houston Politics has more.

Look behind the scenes

There’s another angle to consider the Perry indictment saga, which is that the indictment isn’t so much about what Rick Perry said publicly regarding Rosemary Lehmberg and the Public Integrity Unit but what he was saying behind the scenes. Erica Greider explores this, with a minor detour first.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

To review those facts, in 2013 the Travis County district-attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to 45 days in jail. It was a penalty that no one could find fault with after viewing video footage of the field sobriety test and her subsequent behavior at the station that evening (she served about half the sentence and entered a treatment program after leaving prison). A number of Texans felt that she should resign, among them Perry, who publicly warned that he would use his line-item veto to remove state funding to the Public Integrity Unit—an anti-corruption outfit located in the Travis County DA’s office—unless she stepped down.

At the time, Democrats grumbled that Mr Perry’s threat was politically motivated. The Public Integrity Unit investigates corruption among statewide officials, which means, in the context, that it’s a check on Republicans like Perry and his pals. If Lehmberg stepped down, Perry would, in theory, have had a chance to replace a Democrat with a Republican appointee more friendly to his agenda. And after Lehmberg refused to resign and Perry vetoed the funding, the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint, charging that the veto had been politically motivated. That led to yesterday’s indictments; the charges are coercion and abuse of power.

Perry, unsurprisingly, responded Saturday by doubling down, dismissing the indictment as “outrageous.” More surprising, perhaps, is how quickly public opinion has moved in his favor, or at least in favor of proceeding with caution. Republicans were quick to rally round, but even independents and Democrats, after the initial fizzle faded, seemed skeptical of the indictment.

“Skeptical” is an overbid, some national pundits notwithstanding. (Some of those national pundits would do well to read Forrest Wilder. Or Progress Texas. Or me.) If Democrats here have tempered their response to this news, it’s not because we think Rick Perry is being railroaded, it’s because we’ve seen this movie before and we’ve learned the hard way how long a distance it is from “indictment” to “conviction”, especially a conviction that sticks. KBH walked. Tom DeLay may be let off the hook by the most pro-prosecution court in the country. We know better than to count our chickens before they hatch.

Back to the main thesis:

It’s worth emphasizing that the indictments don’t lay out all (or even much) of the special prosecutor’s evidence, and I suspect the focus on the veto, which is mentioned in the second count, will prove to be a red herring.

[…]

More intriguing, to me, is the chatter that around the time of the veto, Perry’s camp had some behind-the-scenes discussions with Travis County officials about a potential deal wherein, if Lehmberg resigned, he would appoint a Democrat to replace her. These rumors have been reported before, and several Democratic sources have suggested to me there’s something to it. This has always struck me as plausible. Perry’s critics argue that he was targeting Lehmberg opportunistically, as a way to stifle the PIU, either by removing its funding or by appointing a Republican to oversee it. But if Perry wanted to stifle the PIU, he could have simply vetoed its funding years ago (or, for that matter, left it in the care of the beleaguered Lehmberg). It would have been more shrewd, actually, to proceed quietly.

Worth considering is an alternative account of Perry’s political motivation. In June 2013, when he vetoed the PIU funding, he was signing the overall budget for the 2014-2015 biennium—a budget that restored billions of dollars of funding to public schools and expanded funding to worthy priorities such as higher education and mental health care. It was a budget that had been passed by the legislature with widespread bipartisan support and that was opposed only by a handful of tea partiers, who accused the Legislature and the governor of taking the state on a California-style spending spree. They were wrong, but they were clamorous, and Perry’s defense of the budget risked costing him some standing with the Republican base. My impression, at the time, was that the governor was aware of those risks. On a Monday, he said that his critics needed remedial math lessons; he then turned around and added abortion to the call for the special session that was already in progress. And on the day he signed the budget, to widespread applause, he made a point of using his line-item veto to remove state funding from a unit overseen by a Democratic district-attorney who had just spent several weeks in prison.

If my thinking is correct—if his goal was to cover his right flank rather than to gut the PIU—it’s not hard to believe that months later, Perry (or his people) would let Democrats know that he was open to replacing Lehmberg with a Democrat, that he would help find another job for Lehmberg, and even that he would restore funding to the PIU if they proceeded with such a deal. In such negotiations, though, the governor may have extended his constitutional authority, and so if Perry did have such discussions, I suspect turn out that the prosecutor’s evidence will have more to do with those backroom agreements than with a public warning about his intention to exercise his constitutional powers. If so, the legal case against Perry might be more serious. The ethical case against him would potentially less so, though.

Peggy Fikac followed the grand jury investigation as it was going on, and she fills in some details from her perspective outside the jury room.

The grand jury meets behind closed doors, but we sat in the hallway with our laptops, getting an idea of where the case was going by the people who came and went during a half-dozen meetings before the big one last Friday.

There were current and former Perry staffers, Travis County employees and state lawmakers.

Each had a part – directly or through their expertise – in the drama surrounding Perry’s threat to veto funding for the public corruption unit overseen by Democratic Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg unless she resigned after an ugly drunken-driving arrest.

The Republican governor had the clear right to veto the money, but the road to his indictment started with his use of that power to try to force out a locally elected official.

Each person’s presence was a piece of the story, even though it wasn’t clear how many of them actually testified to grand jurors.

There was Perry spokesman Rich Parsons. He was quoted in last year’s initial story on the threat, conveying Perry’s concerns to the Austin American-Statesman about “the integrity of the Public Integrity Unit” and saying his position had been relayed to Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Watson was tapped to convey the veto threat to Lehmberg. At some point after the funding was killed, Travis County intergovernmental relations coordinator Deece Eckstein set up a meeting among Perry’s legislative director and former Democratic state Sen. Ken Armbrister from Victoria, Perry deputy chief of staff Mike Morrissey and Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, a Republican. Daugherty earlier told my colleague, Nolan Hicks, that he reached out to Perry’s office to see if there was a way to restore the two-year, $7.5 million in funds.

Sources told Hicks that if Lehmberg had been willing to resign, Perry aides offered to restore funding, allow Lehmberg to continue working at the DA’s office in some capacity and pick her top lieutenant as her successor.

All went into the grand jury room this summer; Armbrister did so several times.

Besides them were a former Perry chief of staff; his former and current general counsel, and an assistant general counsel; an adviser; and his former communications director.

Perry’s technology manager was among them; so was a Travis County Attorney’s office employee who works closely with the commissioners court; and Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who last year pressed for Lehmberg’s resignation and said he couldn’t support using state dollars for her “utter disrespect of the law.”

Perry – who didn’t testify – told reporters in June that he didn’t initiate any sort of deal, and that he didn’t personally make phone calls with regard to asking Lehmberg to step down.

Asked about the post-veto machinations on Saturday, Perry said his decision making was clear. He said he had promised to “veto those dollars as long as they had someone in that office who I lost confidence in, and I did exactly what I said I would do.”

The takeaway from all this is that there’s almost certainly more to this than what we can see right now. If Mike McCrum is as smart and capable as people say he is, he’s surely got a few cards up his sleeve, which he’ll reveal when he’s ready. That doesn’t mean this can’t come crashing down around him once it hits a courtroom, but it does mean we don’t know enough to judge how this case will go just yet. Perry’s over the top response may be more of his usual bluster, or it may be because he knows what shoes are out there waiting to drop on him. We’ll know soon enough. Campos, Ed Kilgore, Alec MacGillis, the Trib, and Jim Moore have more.

Judge assigned in complaint about Perry veto of Public Integrity Unit

Moving along slowly.

Rosemary Lehmberg

A San Antonio judge on Tuesday was assigned to hear a complaint that alleges Gov. Rick Perry committed coercion, bribery and official oppression by vetoing funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit.

Senior Judge Robert Richardson of the 379th District Court will hear the complaint, which was filed byTexans for Public Justice after the Austin American-Statesman reported that Perry threatened to veto funding for the unit unless embattledTravis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned.

[…]

Lehmberg recused herself from hearing the complaint in late June, and it was assigned to Judge Julie Kocurekof the 390th District Court in Travis County. Kocurek then also recused herself, and on Tuesday, 3rd Circuit Presiding Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield assigned the case to Richardson, who was defeated in 2008.

See here for more on the complaint. I thought at first that the first sentence in that last paragraph above contained an error, then I realized that the complaint had been filed with the Travis County DA’s office, so of course Lehmberg had to recuse herself, and her office, from deciding whether or not it merited further investigation. I presume handing such things off to a judge is the standard procedure in this kind of situation. I have no idea what kind of hearing there will be, whenever one is set. Who actually presents the case for the complaint, and is there some kind of defense representative? If the judge decides there’s something actionable here, who would then handle the case? My guess would be the Travis County Attorney, but I have no idea about the other questions. I’d love to hear from the lawyers about that. Texas Vox has more.

TPJ alleges Perry broke the law when he threatened to veto Public Integrity funds

Well, now isn’t this a nice little can of worms.

Rosemary Lehmberg

In a complaint sent to prosecutors today, Texans for Public Justice alleges that Governor Rick Perry potentially committed several criminal offenses related to his recent threat to use his discretionary power to withhold money from the Travis County District Attorney’s office unless DA Rosemary Lehmberg resigns. TPJ believes the governor’s actions violate the Texas Penal Code, Title 8, Offenses Against Public Administration.

“Governor Perry has no legal authority to remove the Travis Country District Attorney from her job. Threatening to take an official action against her office unless she voluntarily resigns is likely illegal,” said Craig McDonald, TPJ Director.

“The governor overstepped his authority by sticking his nose in Travis County’s business. A legal process is currently underway. That process is alone should determine the fate of the District Attorney.

“Governor Perry’s official threats attempt to obtain two things that he can’t achieve through legal democratic means. First, to remove an elected Democrat and replace her with an appointed Republican DA. Second, to wipe out the state’s public corruption watchdog, which is currently investigating corruption in at least one of the governor’s signature corporate subsidy programs.

TPJ sent its complaint letter to both the Travis County District Attorney and to the Travis County Attorney’s office. TPJ believes the Governor’s actions violate Penal Code Section 36.03 Coercion of a Public Servant, Section 39.02 Abuse of Official Capacity, Section 39.03 Official Oppression and potentially the Bribery Section 39.02. The offenses range from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class 2 felony.

BOR voiced this argument a couple of days ago. Here’s the complaint, and here is my blog post about Perry’s veto threat. And late Friday afternoon, Perry followed through on his threat by zeroing out the PIU budget. The game is well and truly afoot.

The “signature corporate subsidy program” is presumably the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, the investigation into which Dems had previously argued would be shut down by Perry defunding the Public Integrity Unit. In response to a question related to this on Thursday, Perry suggested that Travis County could simply re-prioritize its own spending to keep the PIU and its investigations going. Perhaps that will be an argument for a grand jury; in any event, we’ll see how Travis County responds. The idea of Lehmberg’s office possibly pursuing an indictment against Perry for issuing that veto threat boggles the mind, but it sure as hell will be fun to watch. Any lawyers want to take a crack at this? Texas Politics, TRail Blazers, EoW, and BOR have more.

Another petition filed against Lehmberg

The filer is a former colleague as well as a former opponent of Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg.

Rosemary Lehmberg

Rick Reed, who ran against Lehmberg in 2008 and is now a defense attorney in Austin, filed the petition with the district clerk’s office Wednesday. In all, it claims 16 counts of official misconduct ranging from coercion of a public servant to retaliation.

On Friday, one of Lehmberg’s attorneys said the petition appears to be another attempt to remove her on grounds that already have been rejected by a judge.

Her attorneys also have responded to a separate lawsuit seeking Lehmberg’s removal, asking the court to dismiss it and calling it unconstitutional, saying that the state has singled her out in a way it hasn’t male office-holders.

Reed’s petition was submitted under a state law that allows the removal of a district attorney on grounds of incompetency, official misconduct and intoxication on or off duty. He said Friday that he filed the petition in part because the already existing lawsuit to remove her from office only addresses intoxication.

[…]

Reed cites Lehmberg’s request for the sheriff throughout his petition, among other actions, as examples of her alleged official misconduct.

“She committed numerous criminal offenses when she was detained by deputies, and this is someone who is the chief law enforcement officer of Travis County,” he said.

[…]

The first petition was filed by Austin attorney Kerry O’Brien in April. O’Brien, a former assistant state attorney general, sought Lehmberg’s removal on grounds of intoxication, incompetency and misconduct. Judge Lora Livingston granted O’Brien’s request on intoxication grounds but denied his application for a citation issuance in the case on grounds of incompetency and misconduct.

Later that month, Travis County Attorney David Escamilla dismissed the lawsuit, which had procedural problems, but immediately refiled a new civil case with himself as the plaintiff.

Then on Tuesday, Austin resident Matt Murdock also filed a petition for Lehmberg’s removal, but he said a district court judge attached his case to Escamilla’s.

Reed’s petition is still pending.

Things had been a bit quiet in Lehmberg land lately. This was the first new news I’d seen since she was released from jail three weeks ago, though I can’t say I’d been paying especially close attention with all that had been going on in the Legislature. As with the other petitions, this one requires approval from a judge in order to proceed, and it may wind up being joined with the Escamilla lawsuit. What all this suggests to me is that the political heat on Lehmberg has simmered down a bit, but it has definitely not begun to cool off. She’s still very much in jeopardy. I think she’s more likely to survive now than she was when this all first blew up, but she’ll never be in the clear.

What to do with a problem like Rosemary?

The Austin Chronicle has a great overview of the Rosemary Lehmberg situation.

Rosemary Lehmberg

All speculation aside, Lehmberg has vowed that she will not resign. In a letter to Travis County residents (apparently dictated to friends from jail and posted to her official website and to her Facebook page), Lehmberg reiterated that she intends to stay in office, but will not seek a third term (she says she never intended to do so). She wrote that she does take her offense seriously and offers apologies to TCSO deputies and jailers, to county residents, and to her staff. “There are hundreds of reasons that lead up to a single event in our lives – but no excuse for driving while intoxicated,” she wrote, adding that she will “seek professional help and guidance” upon her release. (At press time, Lehmberg had served 13 days. Exactly when she will be released remains fluid – her behavior and whether she qualifies for a job in the jail could significantly reduce the actual number of days she must serve.)

Exactly what will happen in the meantime isn’t entirely clear. But concerning the O’Brien lawsuit – now officially the Escamil­la lawsuit – the likely next steps are far less sexy than the rumors. Under Texas law, there are several mechanisms for removing officials from their positions, including Chap­ter 87 of the Local Government Code, which derives from a provision of the Texas Constitution stating that officials – including D.A.s, county attorneys, and constables – may be removed from office by district judges for “incompetency, official misconduct, habitual drunkenness, or other causes defined by law.” The “other causes” apparently may include a single incidence of “intoxication on or off duty,” as codified by lawmakers in 1987.

A petition for removal can be filed by virtually any county resident, but whether a judge approves the suit is another matter. In this instance, Livingston did so on Monday, agreeing to allow Escamilla’s re-filed lawsuit to proceed.

In theory, whether Lehmberg was intoxicated as charged would be decided by a jury; afterward, the judge, not the jury, would be tasked with determining whether that drunkenness actually warrants her removal – but removal is not automatic, lawyers consulted by the Chronicle say. Neither is taking the case to trial. Now that County Attorney Escamilla has assumed responsibility for the suit, he legally represents the interests of the state, and he has available to him the range of options available in any civil case: He can dismiss the suit altogether, take it to trial before a jury, or, alternatively, craft a settlement that would avoid a trial but would require Lehmberg to do any number of agreed-upon things – perhaps including counseling, a specified stint in rehab, and/or anger management classes. Escamilla has, for now, declined to comment, allowing the lawsuit to speak for itself.

Determining which route his case will ultimately take certainly depends on what happens during the discovery phase, when Escamilla’s office will receive evidence and be able to ask questions about why Lehm­berg was intoxicated that night, whether the incident was a one-time aberration or the symptom of some larger problem, and whether either circumstance would mean that she is incapable of carrying out the job voters elected her to do. Indeed, removing Lehmberg from office, if it came to that, would necessarily thwart the will of more than 256,000 voters who elected her to a second term in November 2012.

That is the key to understanding how serious a removal suit is, Potter County Attorney Scott Brumley wrote in a paper covering Texas laws that govern officeholder removals. The procedure outlined in state law is “intended for the benefit of society, rather than for the involved individuals,” Brumley wrote in a widely read paper on the rarely used procedure. “At the same time, it cannot be forgotten that the stakes in this kind of controversy are extremely high in a democracy. A removal suit seeks to undo the results of an election for reasons usually unrelated to the election itself. For that reason, the procedure cannot be invoked lightly.”

“Escamilla” is Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, who is now the custodian of the lawsuit to remove Lehmberg from office. The Statesman has an interesting story about the filer and original custodian, Kerry O’Brien.

This isn’t the first time O’Brien has taken on city hall.

As a college student studying music at the University of North Texas in the late 1990s, he tried to oust a classical guitar professor.

“He hadn’t performed in 10 to 20 years, and he wouldn’t push his students. He couldn’t teach,” said O’Brien, wearing casual Friday jeans on a Wednesday morning at Panera restaurant, a favorite hangout near his office in Rollingwood.

O’Brien surveyed the 15 students in the professor’s class. “I got 10 surveys back and showed them to the dean. When he saw the results he asked me if I had showed them to anyone else. The dean then offered to help me get into another music school of my choice. ‘We’ll help,’ he said. It was a bribe. I lost.”

He transferred to the University of Texas, where he eventually earned a degree in music theory, a reflection of his rolling stone ways as a college student.

Fresh out of Clements High School in Sugar Land, where he played the tuba and trombone and worked his way to drum major in the marching band, he enrolled at Texas A&M to study music.

That was a disaster. He was turned off by the Aggie Bonfire crew chiefs who were in charge of cutting wood for the bonfire. “I saw these drunk guys climbing trees. It was disgusting and insane,” he said.

Amateur psychologists, start your engines. I have no idea what will happen if this case eventually goes to a jury instead of reaching a settlement. I still think a first-offense DUI is insufficient reason to oust someone from office, though if it can be shown that she’s a habitual drunk who had just never been busted before that would be different. It would definitely thwart the will of the voters, since Rick Perry would appoint a Republican in a county that doesn’t elect Republicans. I forget where I saw it, but somewhere O’Brien suggested that Travis County Commissioners Court select a replacement for Lehmberg. They don’t have that authority, but if Perry would agree to abide by their recommendation, that would at least ameliorate the will-thwarting issue. Lehmberg says she won’t resign, so it’s a moot point until and unless she gets forced out. We’ll see how it goes.

Keller may yet face criminal charges

Grits read through the TEC ruling against Sharon Keller, who was hit with a record $100K fine for various failures to disclose financial information, and notes that the system isn’t done with Keller yet, as there is still the matter of a pending criminal complaint against her.

I called [Travis County Attorney David] Escamilla to ask about the status of the criminal complaint, which has now been sitting at his office for more than a year. Escamilla had not yet read the TEC opinion himself, declaring that he’d asked two of his prosecutors to review it and report back to him tomorrow with a recommendation how to proceed.

Escamilla and I spoke both on and off the record. On the record, he said he hadn’t moved forward before now because he’d been been waiting for the Ethics Commission to complete its investigation. He said he would give “great weight” to the Ethics Commissions findings of fact and conclusions of law, which would have a “great influence” on whether his office elected to proceed with prosecution. Escamilla was particularly impressed that the TEC identified 13 different alleged Class B misdemeanor violations and said the remarkable volume of violations might also be a factor in whether to go forward.

IMO prosecutors should particularly investigate the circumstances surrounding the property purchased by her father and the boards of directors Judge Keller sat on but did not disclose. Why wouldn’t her father tell her about those properties? And if Daddy listed her as a company director without her knowledge or participation in the company’s affairs, doesn’t that begin to look like Keller’s father has been setting up dummy companies for some unknown purpose that he’s been concealing from his family? It’s a legitimate question if we are to believe the Presiding Judge’s denials that she knew anything about the assets and corporate affiliations in her amended ethics disclosure.

My guess: By a long shot, the last shoe hasn’t dropped in this saga.

I would not be surprised if there are charges brought against Keller. And while Grits frets over the possibility of Keller resigning as a result and being replaced by John Bradley, I think she’d continue to insist she’s done nothing wrong and would stick it out till the bitter end. Which ought to be the ballot box in 2012, followed by whatever the criminal justice system may have in store for her. That’s my hope, anyway. See also editorials from the DMN and Star Telegram for more.

TPJ files complaint with Ethics Commission against Craddick

Texans for Public Justice has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission against former Speaker Tom Craddick, alleging that he obfuscated campaign donations made to several Democratic supporters of his prior to the 2008 primaries. From their press release (PDF):

Jobs PAC reported that it received $250,000 from Tom Craddick’s campaign committee on January 10, 2008. According to news reports, around that time Craddick campaign employee Christi Craddick also provided Texas Jobs with written instructions to distribute the funds to Democratic Reps. Kevin Bailey, Dawnna Dukes, Kino Flores and Aaron Pena.1 All four incumbents previously supported Republican Speaker Craddick and faced challengers in the 2008 Democratic primary.2 According to its own reports, Jobs PAC wrote three checks of $50,000 apiece to the campaigns of Reps. Bailey, Flores and Pena on January 11, 2008. By its own accounting, at the time Texas Jobs wrote these checks its sole source of funding was the $250,000 that it received the day before from the Craddick campaign. Rep. Dukes, the fourth lawmaker, told the Austin American-Statesman that she rejected an offer to receive $50,000 from Texas Jobs because her opponent already was making her Craddick ties a campaign issue.3

“Tom Craddick wanted to move tens of thousands of dollars to his favorite Democrats without letting voters know,” said Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald. “Hiding the true source of campaign funds is illegal. Craddick could have contributed the money directly and openly. Instead, he used Texas Jobs to launder his money and keep Texans in dark.”

The TPJ filed a criminal complaint with the Travis County Attorney’s office last year when this information first came out. I am not aware of any updates to this case, but I suspect that it went nowhere, else there’d be little reason to take things up with the TEC. We’ll see what happens. More on this can be found here and here.

Dewhurst settles financial disclosure complaint

Well, now we have an idea of where Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst gets his wealth.

The Republican sent the Texas Ethics Commission two corrected financial statements covering 2007 and 2008 filings. The new disclosures show Dewhurst holds a stake in several funds, including assets managed by Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and the TCP Investment Fund II LP.

A watchdog group filed a formal complaint with Travis County prosecutors in September after The Associated Press raised questions about the lack of detail in his personal financial statements. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, a Democrat who investigates allegations of misdemeanor offenses by public officials, said his inquiry was finished.

“By them agreeing to move forward and file the amended reports, we believe there is no question that they’re in compliance,” Escamilla said.

[…]

Earlier disclosure documents did not reveal that the former CIA agent, through a privately held trust, was a major shareholder in a Houston energy and investment company. There also was no mention of Dewhurst’s far-flung cattle ranches, private bank investments or luxury condo. Nor was there any word of the hedge funds, stocks and bonds or publicly traded fuel distribution company that he acknowledges are or have been part of a trust fund estimated to be worth up to $200 million.

The earlier documents just said the David Dewhurst Trust is valued at “$25,000 or more.”

The lack of detail prompted a complaint by Texans for Public Justice, a liberal watchdog group based in Austin. Director Craig McDonald applauded Escamilla’s review but said the ethics commission should levy civil penalties for the lieutenant governor’s “noncompliance with the disclosure laws over the past years.”

“(Lt.) Gov. Dewhurst’s financial disclosures fall under the category of better late than never — and better something rather than nothing,” McDonald said.

Previous blogging on this here and here. Escamilla said his review showed no intent to deceive, and I have no problem accepting that, but I hope we can all agree that a system under which he could have gotten away with saying his trust was worth “$25,000 or more” is woefully inadequate. And I do think some kind of civil penalty for being that vague is reasonable, though it may not be allowable. In any event, good on Dewhurst for rectifying this.

TPJ files complaints against Keller

To no one’s surprise, in the wake of the Morning News story about Judge Sharon Keller’s lack of financial disclosure as required by law, Texans for Public Justice has filed complaints against her. From their press release (PDF):

TPJ’s complaints follow up on revelations recently reported by the Dallas Morning News. Officials who fail to comply with Texas’ personal-financial disclosure laws are subject to a Texas Ethics Commission fine of up to $10,000. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla also can prosecute such Class B criminal misdemeanors, which carry a maximum penalty of $2,000 and six months imprisonment.

Apart from Texas’ top criminal judge standing accused of committing a crime, these allegations are significant because Judge Keller has asked the state to pay her legal bills in an unrelated case before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Responding to charges in that case last week, Keller attorney Chip Babcock asserted that forcing Judge Keller to foot her own legal bills would be “financially ruinous.” This arguably was a false claim if Judge Keller has been hiding millions of dollars in assets that she was legally required to disclose to the public.

[…]

“It looks like Judge Keller has been hiding her assets from the public for at least six year,” said Texans For Public Justice Director Craig McDonald. “Unlike many of the defendants who have appeared before her, Keller can afford to hire a top-notch attorney.”

Yeah, this one’s pretty much kept the irony-meters pegged from the get-go. Here’s the Ethics Commission complaint and the complaint letter to County Attorney Escamilla (both PDFs). As with all such matters, if any action gets taken on them, it won’t be any time soon.

UPDATE: Keller will file an amended financial disclosure.

“We’re going to make a corrected report,” Keller attorney Ed Shack said. “There’s some items that need to be put on her report. The judge met today with her father and her father’s lawyer and they are determining what property is in her name.”

Must be nice to have so much property that you can lose track of some of it.

UPDATE: Oh, this is just awesome. Here’s Sharon Keller’s excuse for not filing a full and accurate disclosure:

[Keller’s lawyer Ed Shack] says two of Keller’s real estate holdings inadvertently were omitted from previous filings because of a simple error. When Keller had a previous year’s report recopied, two pages listing those holdings fell out of the stack; since that happened in 2002, those pages have not been replaced, Shack says. Keller is now checking with her father and her father’s lawyer, Shack says, to make sure no other additional holdings mistakenly have not been reported.

Yeah, that’s the ticket. I’m sure Judge Keller would believe that explanation from any appellant who appeared before her. Via Vince.