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February 11th, 2003:

Dallas is good for something! Who knew?

Hey, Scott! This one’s for you – a story of tailgating and trucks leading to business success:

If it weren’t for top Toyota executives from Japan going to a Dallas Cowboys home game a few years ago, San Antonio might not be the newly selected hometown for the automaker’s sixth North American assembly plant.

Toyota Motor Corp. President Fujio Cho of Tokyo said Monday it was the fateful trip to the Cowboys game and an impromptu tour of Texas Stadium’s parking lots that opened his company’s eyes to the state’s significant truck market. The visit convinced the executives to launch the Tundra full-size truck line in 1999.

[…]

“For some time during the 1990s, our product planners in Japan resisted creating a big V-8 pickup for sale in America, but our U.S. colleagues changed this opinion. How? By inviting them to a Dallas Cowboys football game,” Cho said.

“On the way to the game, the Americans took the Japanese on an extended tour of the Texas Stadium parking lot. Spread before them were thousands upon thousands of full-size pickup trucks, row after shining row. Our planners realized then that American pickups were not solely commercial vehicles but widely used by everyone for regular transportation. The result was the Toyota Tundra.”

I can only presume that there was barbecue and beer involved in this transaction as well, though from the sound of it that would have been icing on the cake.

You all know that I’m not a fan of oversized vehicles, but if they’re gonna be on our roads anyway we may as well make ’em here. Kudos all around.

Stupid budget tricks

Just when you thought Texas couldn’t possibly get any less accomodating to indigent defendants, along comes a proposal to return some money earmarked for post-conviction appeals to the state.

Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller last week suggested the money could be used to help with a $1.8 billion revenue shortfall this fiscal year.

The money was appropriated by the Legislature to pay for lawyers representing death row inmates in their final appeals. Keller said Monday she doesn’t think the money will be needed before Aug. 31, when the current fiscal year ends.

The money in question is less than $1 million, which is to say less than 0.06% of the $1.8 billion shortfall that must be made up by August 31. If we all rooted through our couches and cars for spare change and mailed what we found to Rick Perry, it’d have a much bigger impact.

Even though this fund has a little extra cash at this time, it’s not like it’s a pro-defense bonanza:

Keith Hampton, a lobbyist for the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said the reason there is unused money is because the Court of Criminal Appeals “drove off virtually all of the good lawyers.”

The state pays $25,000 for all fees and expenses connected with an appeal. Defense lawyers contend that is not enough to do a thorough job.

A study released last December by the Texas Defender Service concluded that more than a third of the state habeas appeals filed since 1995 have been token efforts, containing none of the investigative work that is customarily expected in such an appeal.

Andrea Keilen, a lawyer who helped write the study, said she’s disappointed that the court wants to cut the budget for legal representation.

“What the court should be doing is encouraging the Legislature to increase the fee cap and draw a more qualified class of lawyers to take these cases so Texas is not at risk for executing an innocent person,” said Keilen.

If the name Sharon Keller rings a bell, by the way, it should. She has a history of being hostile to defendants, even ones like Roy Criner. See here, here, here, and here for the full story of Criner, who was wrongfully convicted of raping and killing a girl named Kimberly Ogg in 1990. DNA evidence, including semen found in the victim, was not a match for Criner, but he was convicted anyway. When proper DNA testing was finally done and demonstrated the lack of a link to Criner, Judge Keller wrote an opinion for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals which essentially said that this meant nothing:

Even before the DNA test proved conclusively that the semen wasn’t Criner’s — and without knowledge of the screwdriver test or other exculpatory evidence — the state court of appeals based in Beaumont overturned the conviction and freed Criner in 1991. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned that ruling a year later, and Criner was jailed again.

In 1997 conservative Montgomery County Judge Michael Mayes reviewed the DNA evidence and recommended a new trial. But the Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the judge’s findings. “There is overwhelming, direct evidence that establishes that [Criner] sexually assaulted the victim in this case,” Judge Keller wrote in her opinion. As for the DNA evidence, Keller told Frontline, “If [the test] had come back positive, it would have been important.” But since it was negative, she said, it didn’t mean anything: “You’re not taking into account the fact that [Ogg] was a promiscuous girl.”

Regardless, she told Frontline, the DNA information wouldn’t have made any difference to the jury. The documentary then cut to Joel Albrecht, the foreman of that jury. “I don’t understand how the court could say what we would do,” he said. “I personally think if the DNA came forth stating that it was negative, the verdict would not have been ‘guilty.’ ”

I didn’t think Sharon Keller could top that particular disgrace, but give her credit for trying. Hopefully, saner heads will again prevail.

Enron prosecutions update

The Enron prosecution team is deciding where they want to go next, now that they’ve gotten a pretty good picture of how it all went down. The main question at this point is who’s next, and who’s after that.

“Obviously, the most important thing for a prosecutor is how strong your case is against any one defendant,” said Dan Hedges, a defense attorney and the former U.S. attorney in Houston. “The evidence is more important than who the defendant is. The ultimate disaster is to go against a big fish and lose.”

[…]

The Enron Task Force has been running many parallel investigations, including some that target former chairman Ken Lay — over his stock trades and loans he repaid to Enron with stock — and ex-president Jeff Skilling — over questions about his possible role in exaggerating company finances and the feasibility of Enron’s broadband business.

“It’s a question of resources. You don’t — and the court doesn’t want you to — bring 50 cases,” Hedges said. “You start higher up with the good cases. If there aren’t good cases against those higher up, that endangers the people lower down.”

Prosecutors must now weigh an individual’s culpability, prior crimes and cooperation, along with the seriousness of the offense and how complicated the case will be. They also have to make the caseload manageable.

“The government has to maximize its resources, which is why you often see them charge the most visible people first, hoping others may fall in line,” said defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Philip Hilder. He represents several Enron employees, including former vice president Sherron Watkins, who wrote the now-famous memo to Lay warning him of financial improprieties.

Hilder noted that prosecutors may pursue only the cream of the cases now but could charge bit players later. “There are rumblings that they may use obstruction of justice, perjury, making false statement and tax counts against many, but that could be done later,” Hilder said.

2003 is shaping up as a banner year for them. I’ll be watching and waiting.

A new Coop

Jeff Cooper has a new home for his Cooped Up blog. Update those blogrolls, folks! And leave a word of encouragement about his new look and his (wise) decision to go Movable Typing. Remember, Jeff: the Movable Type Support Forum is your friend. It’s saved my bacon any number of times. If I were forced to give only one reason why people should consider abandoning Blogger/Blogspot for MT, that would be it. End commercial.

Anyway. Go visit Jeff when you’re done here. It’s good to have him back on a regular blogging schedule.

Blast from the past

Josh Marshall has been following the story of how the New Hampshire Republican party hired a Northern Virginia telemarketing outfit — GOP Marketplace — to jam the phone banks at the offices of the New Hampshire Democratic Coordinated Campaign and the Manchester Firefighters’ Union Local on election day last November. Today he reports on one of the men behind GOP Marketplace, a fellow named Chris Cupit. Cupit has ties to former Texas Congressman Steve Stockman. As Marshall says:

Back in the glory days of the Republican Revolution, according to two articles which ran in The Hill in May 1996, Cupit ran a consulting firm called Political Won Stop, which did a lot of work for Stockman and also happened to run out of Stockman’s house. (The FEC later meted out a $40,000 fine to Stockman for shenanigans related to the Political Won Stop operation.) During the same campaign, according to an October 30th, 1996 article in The Houston Chronicle Cupit was also Stockman’s campaign manager. So clearly he’s sort of a jack-of-all-trades.

Boy howdy does that bring up some memories. Not only is Marshall dead on when he refers to Steve Stockman as one of the “loopiest” members of the GOP Class of 1994 (only the immortal Helen Chenoweth of Idaho is in the same league), but the story of his Political Won Stop is itself a beaut which led to failed assault charges on Houston Press reporter Tim Fleck, and a lawsuit by Fleck against Stockman that was dropped after Nick Lampson sent him packing in 1996. Here’s an excerpt from Fleck’s attempt to visit Political Won Stop in 1996:

Photographer Nicole Fruge and I drove to Friendswood to do some on-the-scene investigation of Political Won Stop, a business registered in Brazoria County that operates out of Stockman’s residence and has received $126,000 in payments from the congressman’s campaign since January. One of the listed principals of the firm, Chris Cupit, just happens to be the Republican nominee for tax assessor-collector of Jefferson County, a position that has been vacated by Democrat Nick Lampson, who is now running for Congress against Stockman.

Cupit apparently has no official campaign office of his own in Jefferson County, raising questions about whether resources from his and Stockman’s campaigns are being commingled in the rather cozy spaces of the Whitman Way residence. That would be a violation of federal election law. And The Hill, a D.C.-based weekly that covers Congress and first reported on the Political Won Stop operation, has questioned whether Stockman’s campaign keeps the appropriately legal “arms-length” distance from the consultants, whose phone number is the same as Stockman’s and who presumably use the facilities available to others in the Stockman household.

Press calls to the house and Cupit and partner Jason Posey (who had identified himself as a Stockman “volunteer” to The Hill) went unreturned, so the only option seemed to be an on-site inspection. After I followed Stallworth into the living room of the Stockman domicile, I met several volunteers who claimed Cupit was not there. But the 1995 Saturn that was reposing in Stockman’s driveway at the time is registered to Cupit.

The front of the intensely claustrophobic house, where windows might otherwise be found, is sealed by planking, and the only vista to the street is a pinhole in the worn wooden front door. It hardly seems a residence fitting for a U.S. congressman, even one whose employment history prior to his 1994 election was rather spotty.

The living room, cluttered with campaign signs and literature, opens on the right into a garage office, where Political Won Stop apparently does its work. A hallway on the left presumably leads to some sort of sleeping quarters, where Patti may or may not have been crouching in fear while I was in the front room.

Upon my entry, Stallworth summoned a dark-haired young man from the garage office, who proved far less friendly. “You’ll have to leave,” he announced in a rather whiny, nasal voice. (The following day, the Press called Chris Cupit at his home in Groves and discovered that he possess a whiny, nasal voice identical to that of the man who ordered me out of Stockman’s residence. But perhaps everybody who works for Stevie whines. On the phone, Cupit flatly denied being present at Stockman’s house during my visit. Before we could ask what his car was doing in Stockman’s driveway, Cupit said he had to go but promised to call us back shortly. He never did, of course.)

At the Stockman compound, the Cupit sound-alike denied that Political Won Stop operated out of the house, but tried to change the subject when I reminded him that Stockman’s own campaign finance filings list the company as based there. “I know, but we have rights, too, and you’ve got to honor our rights,” he whined. He seemed especially terrified that photographer Fruge, who was just outside the front door with her camera, might get a shot of his face. He tried to close the front door, and another volunteer then slammed it shut and pressed his back against it, barring any exit. I asked the head whiner what he was so afraid of. “We’re not afraid of anything,” he insisted, rather unconvincingly.

After being ordered once more to leave, I replied, “Well, fine, open the door. And don’t hide too much. You guys are pathetic.” And with that, my alleged “invasion” of the congressman’s castle was over. Minutes later, several young Stockman volunteers drove up, and I asked them to locate Chris Cupit for me. Once inside the house, they didn’t come back out before Fruge and I departed.

Fruge took a few more shots of Fort Stockman from the street while I went to interview neighbors. [Stockman staffer Cory] Birenbaum would later claim she took photos through the windows of the Stockman abode. The problem with that particular lie is that there are no windows accessible from the front yard to take photos through.

Stockman, at least, has continued in the political consulting business since his ouster from Congress. As reported here, he continues to be rather casual about the money involved:

As usual, tracking Stockman’s financial trail through Federal Election Commission filings requires the skills of a Wild West scout. His latest liaison is with Houston lawyer Mark Brewer, who is using a $559,846 loan to himself to fund his race for the Seventh [Congressional District, left open in 2000 by Bill Archer’s retirement]. Brewer’s initial campaign report listed contributions but no expenditures. After the FEC began asking questions, Brewer filed an amended report that offers some tantalizing entries.

The filing shows Brewer made two $100,000 payments to General Media Consultants of McLean, Virginia, a firm not listed in the phone directory and unknown to GOP consultants contacted by the Insider. On the same day of those transactions, the Brewer campaign made a $50,000 payment for media consulting to Stockman, who listed an address in Friendswood.

Later, Stockman and his wife, Patti, gave $1,000 each to Brewer’s campaign in June. They listed their address as 8180 Greensboro Drive in McLean, the same address as the previously unknown General Media Consulting group. It’s all too reminiscent of the mid-’90s, when the former congressman used his home as the base for an equally unknown political consulting firm that received big bucks from his campaign account.

Consultant Allen Blakemore has worked for GOP westside kingmaker Dr. Steven Hotze. Blakemore is no stranger to the fine art of funneling campaign cash through the good doctor’s network of companies and political action committees. He finds the cash outlay to Stockman outlandish.

Blakemore cites fees charged by leading GOP consultants, including Herb Butrum, Sue Walden and Karl Rove. None of them remotely compare to payouts for Stockman. “It is beyond the pale — just the $50,000. And then $200,000? The question is: What the hell is going on?” The question is of more than passing interest to Blakemore, who represents Cathy McConn, former Republican National Committee member and Seventh District candidate.

It would be interesting to see if there’s a connection between General Media Consultants and GOP Marketplace, wouldn’t it? The contact info for GOP Marketplace is sketchy – a Washington, DC, address is listed as the admin contact in Whois – but that doesn’t really mean anything. Some detective work is needed here.

For what it’s worth, this new venture of Stockman’s is mostly known for causing a big ruckus in that GOP primary for Archer’s seat. He’s also drawn complaints from Dubya and Rove for some slimy push polling. Guess that if there is a connection to GOP Marketplace it means they’re equal-opportunity dirty tricksters.

On a personal note, until this year the one time I ever gave money to a political campaign was to Nick Lampson in 1996 to help him remove Stockman from office. Best money I spent that whole year.