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March 28th, 2006:

DeLay sues to get his gun back

Tom DeLay is fighting to get his gun back after his concealed carry license was suspended due to his felony indictment.

Under a Texas law passed in 1995, a license may be suspended if the holder is charged with a Class A or Class B misdemeanor or indicted on felony charges.


The author of the original bill, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who was a state senator, said the section of law calling for suspension of licenses of people under indictment should probably be removed from the statute.

“It is clearly not rational, not called for, but it was one of those things we did to make somebody say, ‘OK, I’ll vote for it,’ ” Patterson said Monday.

Patterson said several provisions were put in the bill by backers in order to garner support from other lawmakers who were leery about the law.

Patterson said since the bill’s passage more than a decade ago, legislators have amended the statute and removed some of the parts he called “onerous.”

“There is a presumption of innocence. Would we take away his First Amendment right to free speech?” Patterson said.

I’m always amused at how the git-tuff-on-crime crowd can find religion on the subject of presumed innocence when one of their own is on the court docket. Perhaps DeLay can make felony indictees’ rights his new crusade if he survives his reelection fight in November.

Out of curiosity, I surfed through the Chronicle archives to see if there were any news reports about this particular provision of the law from the 1995 legislative session when it was adopted. There may have been some heartburn about suspending licenses for indicted felons behind the scenes, but I couldn’t find anything about it in the actual news stories. Here’s how the bill appeared as it passed out of the Senate committee.

The proposed law would allow adults who have never been convicted of a felony or are not facing criminal charges to apply to the Texas Department of Public Safety for a permit to carry a handgun every day.

They would have to submit to criminal background checks and take handgun proficiency training in courses developed by the DPS.

That’s about the only mention of “not facing criminal charges” – i.e., not being under indictment like a certain former House Majority Leader – that I found. And that’s not because the bill passed quietly and uncontroversially. Beyond the expected opposition, some other aspects of this bill caused a stir. For example, the list of exceptions to where you could carry a concealed handgun, and the fight over limiting background checks – Patterson is quoted in one article that he “doesn’t want to let the criminals know” who might be packing heat.

The bill passed Senate after these battles were fought, then a slightly different version passed out of the House committee and eventually the full House. Here’s how its restrictions were reported:

To be eligible, a person must be at least 21, of sound mind, free of felony convictions and have no history of substance abuse. An applicant must also have no convictions for a Class A or B misdemeanor in the preceding five years or a Class C misdemeanor for simple assault. They also cannot ever have been convicted of a Class A or B misdemeanor involving the use of a handgun.

No mention of being under a felony indictment, though that provision was either there all along or added back when its final version was passed in the Senate. All I’m saying here is that this particular provision could not have been that controversial.

Now having said that, I agree with Commissioner Patterson that a blanket ban like that serves no rational purpose. Suspending a CCL as a condition of bail makes sense, but let’s be honest: Tom DeLay is no less a menace to public safety without his gun than he normally is. The law is what it is, however, and I see no reason why he should get any special treatment. If there’s a reason permitted in the statute to un-suspend his license before his trial then fine, but if not, let him act like any other aggrieved citizen and petition his State Rep to change the existing law.

Another student walkout

Some breaking news here: I just got a phone call from Melissa Noriega, who tells me that students from Stephen F. Austin High School have walked out of classes and are moving through downtown, possibly towards the immigration court, though she couldn’t tell for sure. They were approaching the Toyota Center as Melissa called me.

Be that as it may, Melissa tells me there are about 20 police and constable cars accompanying the kids. She spoke to an officer who says they’re just there to keep the kids safe from traffic. They have no plans to interfere with what they’re doing.

I’ll post updates as I hear more. I checked the various local news sites before starting to write this but haven’t seen anything there yet. If you happen to be in the area and see anything, please leave a comment or drop me a note (kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com). As Melissa said to me, “One thing we learned from the civil rights movement is that the more people who are watching as events unfold, the safer it is for everyone involved.”

UPDATE: Stace has more, including word that students from other schools are also marching downtown.

UPDATE: Local news coverage from KHOU and the Chron.

UPDATE: Calling again from Navigation and 71st, Melissa reports there are about 1000 students from Milby who have walked out and are headed towards City Hall. There’s a school bus behind them, which school officials (riding on a John Deere vehicle of some kind, with a video camera to try and record who’s there) are pleading in vain for the students to get on and get back to class. This group is apparently better organized than some of the earlier groups – they have banners, and a number of the kids are wearing US flag bandanas.

There are a lot of kids who were brought to the US as babies or toddlers by their parents, and only know America as their home. They’re in a kind of legal limbo, and are very upset at the idea that some people want to send them “back” to a place they’ve never really lived. It’s amazing to watch this all go on. It feels like the start of something big.

UPDATE: Some audio from KHOU, while the Chron story I linked before looks like it has more in it now.

Melissa phoned again to say that it’s raining where they are, near the original Ninfa’s on Navigation. Some of the kids have on blue rain slickers like you wear in marching band during inclement weather. As a lifelong band geek, I approve of that.

Apparently, there’s a Family Dollar store across the street from Ninfa’s. As the kids walked past there, some folks came out of that store with yellow raincoats and umbrellas for the kids. We think that was the store manager who did that – whoever it was, it was mighty kind of them.

UPDATE: Pictures, kindly sent to me by Sergio and Tiffany D (Stace also has them):

Austin High School students on Polk Street, east of downtown.

Austin High School students still on Polk Street, passing Frankels’ Costume Co.

Statute of limitations aids Reed

Ralph Reed is in the clear in Travis County because the statute of limitations has run out. He had been under investigation by County Attorney David Escamilla that he had violated Texas law by not registering as a lobbyist.

Mr. Escamilla said the two-year statute of limitations had run out on the issues raised against Mr. Reed, but he added that the county attorney’s office would continue to review information that might become available.

The case stemmed from Mr. Reed having received $4.2 million in 2001 and 2002 from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, according to memos and e-mails that surfaced during a Senate investigation. Subsequently, Mr. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to tax fraud and conspiracy.

Mr. Reed apparently was paid for contacting public officials in the attorney general’s and governor’s offices and urging them to close Indian casinos in Texas. Mr. Abramoff was representing Louisiana tribes that did not want the Texas competition.

Mr. Reed also contacted State Board of Education members in 2002 on behalf of in-school TV network Channel One.

In December 2005, three public-interest groups – Common Cause, Public Citizen and Texans for Public Justice – filed a complaint with the county attorney against Mr. Reed, saying that Mr. Reed was a high-paid lobbyist but one who never registered with the Texas Ethics Commission – a possible Class A misdemeanor.

“The information presented by the complainants raises legitimate questions concerning Mr. Reed’s activities and possible violation of Texas law,” Mr. Escamilla said.

But without evidence of lobbying activity within the last two years, “I cannot justify initiating a formal criminal investigation given the statute of limitations,” he said.

Oh, well. Background on this can be found here, here, and here. Thanks to TPM Muckraker for the catch.

Libertarian candidate in CD22

Via Greg in TX22 and Right of Texas comes the news that the Libertarian Party has a candidate with some name recognition to run in CD22: Bob Smither.

The engineering consultant is known for the tragic case that involved the kidnapping and murder of his daughter Laura Smither. The 12-year-old Friendswood girl was out for a jog in April 1997 when she was abducted.

Her body was found a 17 days later in a pond not far from her home.

Smither and his wife, Gay, helped found the Laura Recovery Center, a nationally recognized center that helps search for missing children. The center also serves as a national advocate for laws to keep children safe.

I remember this well, as do many people in Friendswood, I’m sure. You can get more background on Laura Smither here.

Uncommon as it is to get a Libertarian candidate that regular people will have heard of, I don’t expect Bob Smither to do any better than the norm for LP candidates, which is about 2% in races that feature both major parties. As with Steve Stockman, I expect any support he gets above the usual baseline will come from Tom DeLay, though in this case perhaps not exclusively. In any event, I doubt we’ll hear much more about this campaign.

One more point. Greg observes the following from the article:

DeLay is bleeding, yet he seems to be going to the friendliest of venues. The Sugar Land Rotary Club. GOP District meetings. He kind of reminds me of a basketball team sitting on a lead, just hoping that the clock will run out. Will this strategy work, or will DeLay start trying to convince some less friendly people (like me) that he is deserving of a vote?

DeLay is shoring up his base because he needs to. As I’ve noted several times before, he has underperformed in every way you can measure in CD22, not just in 2004 but also in 2002, back before all his current troubles began. He can’t afford any more erosion of his base, whether they defect to Lampson, cast protest votes with Stockman or Smither, or just skip this race and go on to the next one. Eighty percent Republican support isn’t enough for DeLay.

So yes, he wants people like Greg to love him again. He needs them to. He can’t win without them.

A judge’s view of plea bargains

Galveston’s Judge Susan Criss has an interesting op-ed on the process she goes through in reviewing plea bargains that come before her. I’ve reproduced the piece beneath the fold because the Galveston News site is highly transitory. The background on the case is here.

The case involves a man accused of sexually assaulting a girl, 6, in 2002. Miles Whittington, Criss’ Republican opponent in the November election, represents Casey Lynn Spence, charged in the case.

Criss said politics were not a factor in her rejection of the plea.

“It was just too lenient for the facts alleged,” she said.

Whittington declined to comment because the case was still pending.

The agreement called for Spence to plead guilty and receive 10 years’ probation.

During the Monday morning hearing, during which she rejected the agreement, Spence told Criss that he was asking her to recuse herself from the case because he did not believe she would be fair with him.

Criss Monday afternoon told The Daily News that she understood why a defendant would feel that way, but said she treated everyone fairly.

“I don’t transfer the political atmosphere into my courtroom,” she said.

Later, another judge approved the plea bargain, which generated some outrage in the community and a reminder from the editorial page that judges don’t make plea bargains. Which in turn prompted Judge Criss’ response. Got all that?

Well, one more thing. From Whittington’s campaign page:

As a former felony prosecutor in the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, I believe violent offenders should go to prison upon conviction, and not be probated back to our neighborhoods.

What would Candidate Whittington say about the sentence that Defense Attorney Whittington negotiated in his role of looking out for his client’s best interests? In particular, what would he say if Judge Criss had accepted it? I point this out just as a reminder that the real world is often more complicated than a campaign slogan.

Click More to read Judge Criss’ opinion on the subject.