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October 31st, 2003:

Morales sentenced

Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales has been sentenced to four years in Club Fed for the mail fraud and tax evasion charges to which he pled guilty in July.

The mail fraud charge stems from Morales’ lawsuit against U.S. tobacco companies, claiming they owed Texas reimbursement for smoking-related health care. The lawsuit ended with the companies agreeing to pay $17.3 billion to the state.

When it came time to pay the lawyers their fees, which reached $3.3 billion, Morales added his friend Marc Murr to the attorney list and tried to get him 3 percent of the settlement. The other lawyers protested that Murr, a Houston lawyer, did little to nothing on the case.

Morales later admitted to back-dating a contract to make it look as if Murr had done more work than he had. It was a federal crime because he shipped the contract across state lines to the California arbitrators appointed to decide how to divide the legal fees.

Murr, who later declined payment, pleaded guilty earlier this month to mail fraud. Prosecutors recommended six months imprisonment, five years on probation and a fine of up to $250,000. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 19.

Morales’ tax evasion charge comes from $420,000 he took from his campaign account for “personal use” — money that he didn’t report to the IRS.

Via Burnt Orange.

Endorsements and a mini-scandal

I went and voted this morning, so all you candidates out there can stop calling and mailing me, at least until the runoffs begin. My slate of candidates is remarkably similar to Greg Wythe‘s. Here’s how I voted:

Mayor: Bill White
Controller: Annise Parker
At Large #1: Brian Wozniak
At Large #2: Gordon Quan
At Large #3: Peter Brown
At Large #4: Sue Lovell
At Large #5: Beulah Shepard
District H: Adrian Garcia
Metro: Yes
Collective bargaining for firefighters: Yes

Like Greg, I was torn on At Large #1. What eventually tipped it for me was that Brian Wozniak had an actual web page that I could read and get a feel for his positions, while Andrew Burks didn’t. As for Beulah Shepard, I kinda went with the heart over the head on this one, but she’s got a pretty strong resume, too.

District H was another tough call. In my opinion, there are two excellent candidates. The rules say I can only pick one, and it was Adrian Garcia by a nose. I should note that my next-door neighbors are in a sense the mirror image of Greg on this one – they broke the tie in favor of Diana Davila Martinez because they know and like her husband. In any event, I can endorse a vote for either, and I will put a sign in my yard for whichever one ends up in a runoff against Hector Longoria.

Speaking of District H: There’s some buzz in my neighborhood over a campaign flyer that was received in the mail yesterday by many Heights residents. The flyer, which purports to be from a group called “Citizens for a Better America”, is a straight-on hatchet job on Adrian Garcia, including grainy photos, three context-free quotes (none of which, in my opinion, were particularly damning) from the Chron, the Statesman, and the Express-News going back as far as 1991, and an exhortation to “call Adrian Garcia at 713 xxx xxxx and tell him to stop messing with our neighborhoods” or words to that effect. I’ve been mailed a copy of the flyer in PDF format from a neighbor, but it’s 2MB in size so I haven’t FTPed it to the site. I may put it up over the weekend if there’s interest in seeing it.

Anyway, the only contact info on the flyer is the name “Citizens for a Better America” and a return address. It turns out there is such a group, and they’re a traditional-values organization in the Moral Majority mold. If you actually click on that link, you’ll note that they have specifically denied any involvement in the mailer. From their “Open Letter to the Citizens of Houston”:

Citizens For A Better America ® has not sent out any mailings or spent any money to influence the Nov. 4, 2003 election in Houston, Texas. Any use of our name is unauthorized and is identify theft and will be treated as such.

Citizens For A Better America ® is a registered trademark with the United States Patents and Trademarks office, Registration Number: 2500525. Any search of the name Citizens For A Better America ® on the internet brings up our website at We have been an organization, using our name, since October 15, 1992. We are on file with the Federal Election Commission our number is C00278333. We have a very high national visibility and we do not consider the unauthorized use of our name to be accidental.

We take it very seriously when someone(s) uses our name without our permission. If you have any information about the individual or individuals who are using our name please contact us by either e-mail, regular mail or phone.

In other words, whoever did this is a criminal in the minds of the actual CFABA folks. The Woodland Heights has a chat board, where this flyer has been discussed at length. (Some of the info and links for this post came from the message thread on the board about this.) According to the board, the return address on the flyer can be traced to a non-Texas based public affairs group with ties to the Republican Party and which does direct mail. Since I have no idea if they were involved or not – after all, if someone can use CFABA’s name without authorization, they can fake a return address – I won’t give any further information about them. I do know that several people, myself included, have contacted reporters about this (I called Tim Fleck at the Houston Press), so maybe we’ll find out.

The better question is who in Houston is responsible. George Strong thinks it could be Longoria.

Could it be that the Chair of the Harris County Republican Party, Jared Woodfill, whose law partner is running against Garcia got that group involved the that race? Hector Longoria is that candidate and his jumping into the District H race at the last minute has been of some concern. Longoria claimed he made his switch from At-Large 5 to District H the day of the filing deadline, on Monday September 22. In Thursday’s mail, that same week, voters in District H got a very specific Longoria mailer, clearly not something that was created & mailed in 3 days. Longoria’s next mailer, that came a few days later, claimed endorsements that have actually gone to other District H candidates, but which Longoria had when he was in his first race, for At-large 5. It including the Houston Police Officer Union, HPOU, which later went to its member a fellow police officer, Adrian Garcia. The Gossips are told that Bob Perry of Perry Homes is the largest contributor to Hector. Perry has lots of Condos in the Heights and apparently wants to build more.

Strong says that CFABA was behind some earlier attack ads on radio about Bill White. For what it’s worth, I searched CFABA’s website and found no mention at all of Bill White and no recent mention of Houston. Strong wrote his post before the CFABA founder disavowed the anti-Garcia mailer, so perhaps the “identity theft” they speak of has been going on longer than anyone thought, or perhaps Strong is just confused. I don’t know.

Finally, at least two other candidates in District H have specifically denied any knowledge about this mailer. I myself got to ask Diana Davila Martinez about it, last night at a happy hour for the Houston Democratic Forum, and she said she knew nothing about it. She has since replied to an email from a WH message board poster, which he replicated on the board, again saying that “neither I nor my campaign had any knowledge of this effort”. Gonzalo Camacho was also contacted via email by a member and gave a similar denial. Hector Longoria was emailed as well but as of this writing had not replied. I will keep an eye on that and will post an update here if I see a reply from him.

A letter from Congress

I don’t have any guest posters here, but once in awhile I’ll publish someone else’s words here. This is one of those times. One of my readers is a legislative assistant to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D, Dallas). He sent me the following op-ed she wrote about Rep. Joe Barton’s clandestine effort to delay a deadline for compliance on the federal Clean Air Act in the upcoming energy bill, which you can see underneath the More link. It was intended for the Dallas Morning News, but since they printed an op-ed piece from her on this topic last week, they passed on this one. Their loss is our gain. Without further ado, here’s Rep. Johnson’s piece, entitled “Clean Air Horror Story”.


Timbergrove update

Chron columnist Rick Casey follows up on the story of the disappearing yard signs in Timbergrove (see here for Part One). If you can get past his cutesy tone, he actually did some good reporting, as he discovered what happened the last time a homeowner and a homeowner’s association battled over this point.

It was 1992 and a couple in Meyerland had the audacity to display a Clinton-for-President sign in their yard.

It disappeared, replaced by a notice of deed restrictions prohibiting political signs.

They put up a second sign. Same result.

They lost five signs during that campaign.

Two years later, they posted a “Paul Colbert for U.S. Congress” yard sign.

Again it disappeared.

A discussion with the Meyerland Community Improvement Association over First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech did not help. The consensus was that tacky political signs damage property values.

The couple, Marco and Jeanette DuBose, finally had enough. They hired attorney David A. Furlow, who specializes in fighting homeowners associations.

The association hired attorney Stephen K. Hamilton, who specializes in defending homeowners associations.

They ended up in the court of state District Judge Tony Lindsay. I asked if she is a pinko liberal commie, and she assured me she isn’t. I believe her because Republicans keep electing her.

Furlow made the case that a neighborhood organization could not deprive people of the fundamental constitutional right to freedom of speech.

He also called a prominent real estate broker as an expert witness. She testified that River Oaks was often festooned with political signs and it didn’t seem to hurt the property values.

Hamilton agreed that the U.S. Supreme Court had prohibited cities from banning political signs by ordinance, but he argued that this was different. By accepting the deed restrictions when they bought the house, the DuBoses had contractually agreed not to put the signs up.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Lindsay ruled for the DuBoses. She found the deed restriction to be a violation of both the Texas and the U.S. constitutions.

She entered a permanent injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the restriction by the Meyerland Community Improvement Association — an injunction that remains in force today.

The association accepted the advice of its attorney not to appeal. As it is now, the ruling is not binding on other associations. But if the association appealed and lost, it would be.

So there you go. Note that the “contractual” argument failed – you can’t bargain away your rights, which is as it should be. While Timbergrove is not bound by this ruling, the precedent is against them, and what’s more, as Casey then notes, the loser can be ordered to pay the winner’s legal fees in cases like these. How risk-averse are you, Timbergrove?