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Tulia prosecutor may face sanctions

This seems appropriate to me.

State Bar of Texas officials announced Tuesday they will file a lawsuit seeking sanctions against the prosecutor from the controversial 1999 Tulia drug bust.

The case against 64th District Attorney Terry McEachern will be heard in a Panhandle district court and could result in anything from a public reprimand to McEachern losing his law license if convicted, according to Dawn Miller, chief disciplinary counsel with the State Bar of Texas.

The case is in a sort of legal limbo between the previously secret State Bar investigation and the upcoming public trial, so Miller was limited in the amount of information she could provide about the matter.

“Without going into any details, you can assume that if a case has gotten to a point where a lawyer has elected to have the case heard in district court, that means an investigative panel of a grievance committee found just cause to believe a lawyer had committed misconduct,” Miller said.

McEachern said he could not comment about the suit due to secrecy rules, but he still believes in the cases he prosecuted.

“I still feel the same way I did back then,” McEachern said. “Of course, looking back, I would have done some things differently. But it’s easy playing Monday morning quarterback.”

[…]

The action against McEachern is still secret enough that Miller could not confirm it was related to Tulia, but it has been public knowledge since August that McEachern was fighting a State Bar grievance in the Tulia matter.

McEachern’s opponents have said he unethically withheld evidence about misdeeds in Coleman’s background during the trials, a charge McEachern has repeatedly denied.

Miller said most State Bar grievances are worked out through an agreement with the attorney and the grievance committee. With no agreement, McEachern chose to go with a civil suit in district court, rather than a hearing in front of the grievance committee.

State Bar attorneys will file suit with the Texas Supreme Court in the next couple of weeks, Miller said.

The high court usually takes about two months to assign a judge from outside the district, then the case will be filed in McEachern’s home county, meaning Swisher or Hale counties.

A trial will be conducted in which the judge or a jury, if requested, will decide if a preponderance of the evidence shows McEachern committed misconduct.

If the answer is yes, the judge will then decide what sanctions to hand down.

It should be noted that Terry McEachern has already lost his job, as voters turned him out in the Republican primary last month. If he’s cleared of these charges, then I’d say that’s enough, but if not, losing his law license is a small price to pay.

McEachern does get some sympathy from a somewhat unlikely source.

Amarillo lawyer Jeff Blackburn said he and his fellow lawyers were seeking to clear their clients not to personally harm anyone from the other side.

But Blackburn said the trial could have a positive outcome if it results in a reaffirmation of the ideal that district attorneys must not yield to public pressure to secure convictions at all costs, even in a part of the state where people believe deeply in law and order.

“Prosecutors are charged under our laws with seeking justice, not just convictions,” Blackburn said. “One of the problems in Tulia was that this law was broken and that the prosecution just got caught up in the desire to convict.

“On the other hand, I understand the pressures somebody like Mr. McEachern comes under. But a lot of times, the district attorney has to be the person who stands up for the law and against popular sentiment.”

That’s a more generous response than what McEachern got from his county commissioners.

Embattled district attorney Terry McEachern asked the Swisher County commission for help fighting a State Bar of Texas grievance Thursday, but county officials said they had to turn him down.

Swisher County Judge Harold Keeter said McEachern requested a special session Thursday to ask the commission to help pay for the legal cost of fighting a grievance based on McEachern’s role in the controversial 1999 Tulia drug sting. The board voted unanimously to deny the request.

“This is strictly a personal grievance against the district attorney and his law license,” Keeter said. “It’s not directed at Swisher County. We have no standing in the grievance and no stake in it.”

That article has a bit more on the specific charges McEachern is likely to be facing, based on the findings of fact by visiting Judge Ron Chapman, who recommended that all of the convictions be vacated back in May:

The findings of fact allege McEachern committed the following questionable acts:

– The state knew or should have known at the time of the trials Coleman “had a reputation for dishonesty, for disobeying the law, and for abdicating his duties and responsibilities as a peace officer in multiple communities.”

– The state “did not disclose to defense counsel that Coleman committed crimes of dishonesty in Cochran County, namely theft and abuse of official capacity.”

– McEachern in several trials made statements about Coleman’s record to the jury that would tend to bolster the agent’s credibility when McEachern knew Coleman had been indicted on charges from Cochran County.

– At the trial of William Cash Love, McEachern said he was willing to sign an affidavit that he did not know about Coleman’s charges prior to that trial. McEachern then said in an affidavit preceding the findings of fact he knew about Coleman’s arrest before any of the arrests happened in 1999.

Like I said, if he’s found guilty, merely losing his license is a small price to pay.

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3 Comments

  1. Tim says:

    Sounds good to me. I’m glad to see it’s not all about the money. Maybe civil settlements are part of justice, but certainly direct penalties levied on those individuals most responsible play a part, too.

  2. Monty says:

    Why isn’t something being done about the District Judge. He barred evidence from being heard that would have cast doubt on Coleman’s credibility. Judge Self did an unethical thing in with holding and siding with the DA.

  3. William Adorno says:

    Terry McEachern will get to keep his license and pay a small fee. Imagine!

    What must a lawyer do for the Texas Bar disbar?

    Mayb he has to kill a judge in the midst of a trial?

    It sure looks to me that if Terry were a Doctor, that we would want him out of the system, why should it be more difficult to remove a lawyer who jails innocent people.

    These dammed liberal just don’t get it.

    It is almost impossible to be a conservative these days with liberal organizations that exude sympathy for hapless lawyers.

    Bill Adorno