May 24, 2002
That's a lot of contempt

A Beaumont man has been freed from jail after spending over four years in the clink on a contempt charge.

State District Judge Zeke Zbranek had refused to release [Odis] Briggs to visit his ailing wife or attend her funeral after she died March 29, 1999.

Zbranek said Briggs "held the keys" to his freedom -- and state appellate courts agreed -- if he would turn over financial records to show what happened to the $120,000 he admits swindling from 18 black families in Chambers County.

Briggs' attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, David George, said he had not found anyone else in Texas held on a civil contempt charge longer than Briggs.

Defendant Briggs is also black, which led to an aborted intervention by Jesse Jackson:

In 1999, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a representative of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition interceded on "humanitarian" grounds to have Briggs released to see his sick wife, but were turned down by the courts. PUSH attorney Leonard Mungo called Zbranek an "instrument of Satan" and an example of a "national trend to incarcerate African-Americans unjustly."

However, members of the swindled families wrote Jackson that he was fighting for the wrong side.

Edna Jensen, 92, who walks with a cane, praised Zbranek for "doing the right thing" to stop these families from being swindled twice -- from their oil royalties and by Briggs. Mungo later offered to assist the families with their claims if they would allow Briggs to be released, but they refused.

That's the thing about being an activist: It always helps to be on the right side of the issue.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 24, 2002 to Legal matters