Dallas Commissioner Acquitted on Most Corruption Charges

April 28, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A Dallas federal jury punished federal prosecutors Friday for repeated mistakes at trial when it acquitted Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price on seven corruption counts while remaining hung on four others.

After eight days of deliberations, the jury acquitted Price, 66, on bribery, mail fraud and conspiracy charges while failing to reach a verdict on tax fraud charges.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn declared a mistrial on the tax fraud charges and gave prosecutors one month to decide whether to retry Price.

Price is likely the most well-known politician to ever be prosecuted by the federal government in Dallas. His confrontational style and focus on the issues of race and economic equality have made him a controversial figure, but his constituents in south Dallas have comfortably re-elected him for three decades.

His acquittal is a stunning defeat for the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI, who have spent a decade investigating and prosecuting Price.

Judge Lynn urged jurors to “rest with your verdict” and resist talking to reporters about the verdict, but that it was their right to do so if they choose.

The jury also acquitted Price’s assistant, Dapheny Fain, 55, on a lying to federal agents count and conspiracy count.

Prosecutors failed to convince the jury that Price pocketed more than $950,000 in cash, cars and real estate from political consultant Kathy Nealy in exchange for her clients’ bids for county contracts, and more than $200,000 in cash from a clothing store operated by Fain and an art gallery operated by his friend Karen Manning. Nealy will be tried separately from Price and Fain.

Price has insisted the money was from loans he made to Nealy, a close friend, and that large amounts of cash seized by the FBI at his home belonged to Fain, who purportedly kept it there to prevent her from spending it on shopping.

Dressed in a brown suit and bowtie, Price smiled broadly Friday as the verdict was read and hugged his defense team. Surrounded by a large scrum of reporters, Price and Fain proceeded to walk back to work at the Dallas County Administration Building.

Price’s attorney, Shirley Baccus-Lobel of Dallas, told reporters she expected the acquittal.

“That does not mean my heart was not beating 100 miles per hour,” she said.

John Parker, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, thanked jurors for their “extraordinary service” during eight weeks of trial and two weeks of deliberations.

“I will be convening with the prosecution team over the next several days regarding where we go from here, consistent with the court’s timeline,” he said in a statement.

Prosecutors stumbled in the final weeks of trial, admitting to several failures to turn over evidence to the defense.

Judge Lynn called the failures “terribly inappropriate and very disappointing.”

She also warned prosecutors before closing arguments she was probably going to throw out the mail fraud charges even if the jury found Price guilty, saying it was “virtually impossible” for the jury to convict based on the poor connection prosecutors made with the alleged crimes and the U.S. Postal Service.

The defense capitalized on the mistakes, accusing federal prosecutors and investigators of incompetence and dishonesty. They argued the prosecution’s parade of testimony and evidence lacked a “smoking gun” showing a conspiracy to bribe, and that the case is built largely on circumstantial financial records.

The defense also attacked the prosecution’s star witness, consultant Christian Campbell, who took a plea deal in exchange for his testimony. They told jurors that Campbell admitted to being a liar while on the stand.

From Courthouse News.

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Jury Deadlocked in Political Corruption Trial

April 26, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) — Federal jurors in the John Wiley Price government bribery trial were deadlocked Tuesday, increasing the chances for a mistrial or acquittal of the Dallas County commissioner and his assistant after numerous missteps by prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn met the jury in chambers for several minutes in the midafternoon before calling for attorneys on both sides. She then called court back into session to read jurors the Allen charge – a set of instructions that encourages federal jurors to keep trying to reach a verdict.

Lynn told jurors to go home to “watch some television” and “take a few deep breaths,” then come back Wednesday to try again.

Dressed in a dark suit and bowtie, Price, 66, grinned and waved at his supporters as he left the courthouse.

It is unknown how many of the 11 bribery, mail fraud, conspiracy and tax fraud charges against Price or the two charges of lying to federal agents and conspiracy against Price’s assistant Dapheny Fain the jurors are deadlocked on, nor how many of the jurors are split.

Prosecutors spent eight weeks telling the jury that Price pocketed more than $950,000 in cash, cars and real estate from political consultant Kathy Nealy in exchange for her clients’ bids for county contracts, and more than $200,000 in cash from a clothing store operated by Fain and an art gallery operated by his friend Karen Manning.

Nealy will be tried separately from Price and Fain.

Prosecutors say Price did not report the money on his income tax returns or on his state-mandated financial disclosure forms.

Price says the money is from loans he made to Nealy, a close friend, and that large amounts of cash found at his home belonged to Fain. He says he held it for her to keep her from spending it on shopping.

Lynn might declare a mistrial if jurors fail to reach a verdict. If she does, prosecutors are likely to try Price and Fain again, as several embarrassing failures to turn over evidence to the defense has tarnished their years-long investigation of Price.

Judge Lynn called the failures “terribly inappropriate and very disappointing.”

Exactly what charges the jurors are deadlocked on are key, as the judge warned prosecutors before closing arguments last week that she will probably throw out the six mail fraud counts against Price even if the jury decides to convict. Lynn said at the time it is “virtually impossible” to convict based on the prosecution’s poor job of connecting use of the U.S. Postal Service to the alleged crimes.

During closing arguments, the defense argued that the prosecution’s parade of testimony and evidence lacked a “smoking gun” showing a conspiracy to bribe, and that the case is built largely on circumstantial financial records.

From Courthouse News.

Panel Urges Continued Ban on Oklahoma Death Penalty

April 25, 2017
By David Lee

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – A bipartisan commission unanimously recommended Tuesday that Oklahoma continue with its two-year-old moratorium on the death penalty, citing “disturbing” findings that had its members question if executions of innocent people are prevented.

Headed by former Gov. Brad Henry, the 11-member Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission was formed shortly after current Gov. Mary Fallin stayed the execution of Richard Glossip in October 2015. She halted all executions after prison officials discovered they had the wrong execution drugs. They received potassium acetate as part of the state’s new, replacement three-drug execution protocol, but potassium chloride was supposed to be used.

States were forced in recent years to seek replacement execution drugs from compounding pharmacies after death-penalty opponents persuaded large drug manufacturers to stop making execution drugs.

“The Commission did not come to this decision lightly,” the 294-page report states. “Due to the volume and seriousness of the flaws in Oklahoma’s capital punishment system, Commission members recommend that the moratorium on executions be extended until significant reforms are accomplished.”

The commission cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s emphasis of the death penalty being for the “worst of the worst” criminals.

“Unfortunately, a review of the evidence demonstrates that the death penalty, even in Oklahoma, has not always been imposed and carried out fairly, consistently, and humanely, as required by the federal and state constitutions,” the report states. “These shortcomings have severe consequences for the accused and their families, for victims and their families, and for all citizens of Oklahoma.”

The report makes sweeping recommendations at every stage of the criminal justice system: from evidence gathering to the role of the judiciary to the roles of defense attorneys and prosecutors. It recommends amendments to the Oklahoma Uniform Jury Instructions to direct jurors to consider expert testimony on “the limitations and use of eyewitness testimony” in death penalty cases.

It recommends police use “double-blind” procedures when conducting photograph or live lineups. The commission further suggests more training of police, prosecutors and defense attorneys on the limitations of eyewitness identification in such cases. It recommends the Oklahoma Bar Association provide more training to defense, trial and appellate attorneys to handle the “unique demands” of capital cases.

In a press conference at the Oklahoma Capitol, commission members said there were “significant differences” of opinion among commission members as to the validity of the death penalty itself, but that the recommendation to continue the moratorium was unanimous.

Henry said the “obvious answer” as to why the death penalty is so flawed is because of a lack of resources, that attorneys for indigent defendants have overwhelming case loads and do not have the money for investigators or expert witnesses.

Henry told reporters it was likely Oklahoma had executed an innocent person, alluding to several exonerations since the death penalty was reinstated four decades ago.

Death-row inmates Glossip and Benjamin Cole had sued the state in 2014, arguing the first drug in Oklahoma’s execution protocol, midazolam, fails to render a person insensate to pain in violation of the Eighth Amendment. They sued after the gruesome, botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014.

Lockett was declared unconscious after being injected with midazolam, but breathed heavily, writhed, clenched his teeth and strained to lift his head off a pillow three minutes later. Medical team members told investigators the death chamber was a “bloody mess” due to difficulty tapping a second femoral intravenous line to inject the drugs and that “blood squirted up and got all over” a doctor.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton ordered the execution stopped, but it took Lockett 43 minutes to die of a heart attack anyway. Prison officials later blamed the botched execution on the first intravenous line in Lockett’s groin being placed incorrectly and then covered with a sheet.

Further doubt was cast on future executions when it was revealed in October 2015 that potassium acetate was incorrectly used in the execution of Charles Warner, who said “my body is on fire” as he was injected.

An Oklahoma grand jury in May 2016 declined to charge state officials over the error in Warner’s execution, but criticized them for being “careless” in using the wrong drugs. It also recommended the state look into using nitrogen gas to executed inmates in the future.

From Courthouse News.

TheBlaze Warned Not to Disparage Tomi Lahren

April 24, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – A Texas judge warned employees of Glenn Beck’s conservative TheBlaze network Monday that they face fines or jail time if they violated his non-disparagement order in commentator Tomi Lahren’s lawsuit over being taken off the air after expressing pro-abortion rights views.

State District Judge Martin Hoffman ordered the network to find and turn over any email messages between its employees and The Daily Caller relating to an article portraying Lahren as an unprofessional, difficult diva to work with.

Hoffman said at a Monday afternoon hearing that if he determines network employees violated his order, they will face up to six months in jail or up to $500 in fines. He also ordered Beck, a corporate representative and up to three employees to be available for depositions.

Lahren, 24, asked Hoffman to hold Beck and TheBlaze in contempt because the article was published after he issued a temporary restraining order last week that restored Lahren’s access to her Facebook profile and blocked both sides from criticizing each other.

Lahren sued Beck and his Irving, Texas-based network on April 7, claiming she was fired after an appearance on ABC’s “The View” in March where she said it was hypocritical to support limited government while at the same time thinking that “the government should decide what women do with their bodies.”

Lahren has maintained that she was fired, while the defendants say in a countersuit that she is still employed, is still being paid and that they are choosing not to extend her contract in September because of allegedly bad behavior around co-workers that predates her “The View” appearance.

Lahren silently nodded as her attorney, Brian P. Lauten with Deans Lyons in Dallas, told the judge that the article damaged how employable she can be to other networks in the future.

The defendants filed a response on Monday to Lahren’s motion for sanctions, agreeing with Lahren that the statements reported in The Daily Caller’s article are “distasteful and disappointing.”

The article accuses Lahren of treating staffers and floor workers with “contempt and disdain,” saying she would “enjoy provoking her colleagues” and cared more about “causing controversy – whether good or bad – than she cared about being honest.”

The story claims that she would demand staffers heat up her “butt warming pad” in the microwave before every show. An anonymous source said the demand was “absurd” and “dehumanizing.”

Beck and TheBlaze say there is “absolutely no evidence” they or anyone they authorized made the statements to The Daily Caller, according to the nine-page response. They say they took “all reasonable, necessary and appropriate steps” to ensure their employees’ compliance with the judge’s order.

Defense attorney Eliot Burriss, with McDermott Will in Dallas, told Judge Hoffman the network has already begun to search for communications between employees and The Daily Caller.

In their response, the defendants attached a copy of an email message sent to employees the day after Hoffman’s order instructing them to not make statements disparaging Lahren.

Lahren has remained unapologetic for her pro-abortion rights views, saying after the lawsuit was filed that she would never get an abortion herself but that option should be available for women during the first trimester of pregnancy.

From Courthouse News.

Court Finds More Racial Gerrymandering in Texas Maps

April 21, 2017
By David Lee

SAN ANTONIO (CN) – A three-judge panel of federal judges concluded Thursday that the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature intentionally gerrymandered district maps in 2011 to disadvantage minority voters – the second such ruling against the maps in a month.

In a 2-1 ruling, U.S. District Judges Orlando L. Garcia and Xavier Rodriguez concluded there was “invidious discriminatory purpose” under Plan H283 in several districts throughout the state.

They said minority voters in 12 districts were improperly diluted, in Dallas, Tarrant, Harris, Bexar, El Paso, Nueces and Bell counties. Nine districts were drawn with uneven populations in violation of the one-person-one-vote rule in Nueces, Hidalgo, Lampasas and Bell counties.

“Despite the massive minority population growth, Plan H283 not only failed to create any new minority opportunity district, it reduced the number of minority opportunity districts by eliminating [House District] 33 in Nueces County,” the 153-page majority opinion states.

“Redistricters also intentionally disadvantaged Hispanic voters in Hispanic districts that had elected Republicans in 2010 who were not Latino candidates of choice; they used race impermissibly and intentionally diluted Latino voting strength in HD78 [in El Paso], HD117 [in Austin], and HD41 [in McAllen] to protect Republican incumbents who were not Latino candidates of choice. The impact of the plan was certainly to reduce minority voting opportunity statewide, resulting in even less proportional representation for minority voters.”

The majority said map-drawers’ “true motive” was to dilute Latino voting strength in west Dallas County by “unnecessarily” moving Latinos to House Districts 103 and 104 while making House District 105 more white to protect the white Republican incumbent. The majority says this “wasting” of Latino voters violates the 14th Amendment.

The majority also found “undisputed evidence” of racial gerrymandering in House District 90 in neighboring Tarrant County.

“There is little indication that they cared about traditional redistricting factors or maintaining communities of interest; they were only concerned with raising the [Spanish Surname Voter Registration] to 50.1 percent,” the majority opinion said. “The district became the most underpopulated district in the plan. The African-American community of Como was removed from HD90 and placed into a Republican district represented by Anglo Rep.[Charlie] Geren.”

Democrats quickly cheered the ruling. Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said Republicans gave Texas “a deep moral wound” and that “irreparable damage” has been done.

“They haven’t just been cheating to gain an edge in the political game,” he said in a statement. “They have been deliberately holding back Texans from having a voice in their own government – a voice that affects every aspect of our lives.”

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said the case is another example of the state’s political discrimination against minority voters. Anchia chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, a plaintiff in the case.

“In nearly every instance since the 1970s Supreme Court decision in White v. Regester, the Texas Legislature has drawn electoral maps in violation of the constitutional protections against discrimination and the Voting Rights Act,” he said.

The same three-judge panel voided three gerrymandered districts in a similar ruling last month. In a 2-1 ruling on March 10, Rodriguez and Garcia ruled the 2011 maps showed “not just a hostility toward Democrat districts, but a hostility to minority districts, and a willingness to use race for partisan advantage” in the redrawn maps.

In that case, the majority voided District 23, which stretches from San Antonio in central Texas to El Paso in the west; District 35, which runs in a narrow swath from San Antonio to Austin; and District 27, which runs from Lockhart, 33 miles south of Austin, to the Gulf of Mexico.

As he did in the panel’s ruling last month, Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry Smith authored a blistering dissent Thursday. He said the panel lacks jurisdiction over the maps.

“I will show how the majority is wrong on the law,” his 15-page dissenting opinion said. “And I will demonstrate what the majority’s factual findings are so extreme as to defy logic and reason under this record.”

Smith accused the majority of engaging in a “well-meaning and unintended misreading” of applicable law.

“To be fair, there is some residual uncertainty from the Supreme Court’s redistricting pronouncements over the past decades,” Smith wrote. “One thing we can be sure of, however, is that as of March 2017, these plaintiffs must show that the Legislature employed ‘race for its own sake.’ The law forbids ‘the racial purpose of state action, not its stark manifestation.’ ‘Race for its own sake’ must by the ‘overriding reason for choosing one map over others.’”

Smith said the majority’s reasoning defies logic because there is only evidence of Republican lawmakers taking action to advance their majority, not race.

“The stated objective was partisan power, but the real and secret goal was subjugation of minorities,” he wrote. “It is indeed possible to imagine a world – maybe the Deep South in the 1920s – in which the main guidance for legislative action was racial hatred or prejudice. But to their credit, these private plaintiffs make no such claim, nor do my distinguished colleagues in the majority believe it. This is not ‘race for the sake of race.’”

Attorney General Ken Paxton said “we respectfully disagree” with the ruling.

“As Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry Smith observed in his dissent, the challenge to the old 2011 maps are not only moot but ‘a finding that racial considerations were dominant and controlling defies everything about this record,’” Paxton said Thursday evening. “Accordingly, we are confident we will ultimately prevail in this case.”

From Courthouse News.

Tomi Lahren-Glenn Beck Suit Turns Nasty

April 21, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) – Conservative commentator Tomi Lahren asked a Dallas judge Thursday to hold Glenn Beck and his TheBlaze network in contempt for violating a court order not to criticize her during their increasingly ugly employment dispute.

Lahren, 24, claims TheBlaze employees anonymously criticized her as a diva in a story published Wednesday by conservative website The Daily Caller.

She claims the article “goes to great lengths to publicly smear, humiliate and embarrass” her and that she cannot defend herself because the court order prevents her from criticizing them, as well.

“It took no less than 48 hours for [Beck and TheBlaze] to violate the court’s order,” the filing states, according to The Dallas Morning News. “This court should immediately get to the bottom of what appears to be a very transparent attempt at a public smear campaign by defendants.”

The defendants denied involvement in the article.

“We do not know who is commenting to the press but we are asking them to please stop and respect the court, the process, and ultimately, common decency,” a spokesman for Beck and TheBlaze said Thursday evening.

The Caller article alleges Lahren “treated staffers and floor workers with contempt and disdain” and that she “seemed to enjoy provoking her colleagues and ultimately appeared to care more about causing controversy – whether good or bad – than she cared about being honest.”

The article says Lahren would demand staffers heat up her “butt warming pad” in the microwave before every show. An unidentified source called the demand “absurd” and “dehumanizing.”

Lahren sued Beck and the Irving, Texas-based network on April 14, claiming she was effectively fired after she voiced her support for abortion rights on ABC’s “The View.”

“Stay out of my guns and you can stay out of my body as well,” she said at the time.

Lahren claims she was suspended and denied control of her Facebook profile, with more than 4 million followers.

Beck and TheBlaze countersued three days later, claiming Lahren was still employed and still being paid. They said the network decided not to extend her contract, which expires in September, because of “employment issues” dating back more than a year. They called her treatment of her show’s floor crew “inappropriate and unprofessional,” said she constantly complained and butted heads with other on-air talent. They said the network is the owner and administrator of the Facebook profile and that Lahren’s access was never removed.

Hours after the defendants filed their counterclaim, state District Judge Martin Hoffman issued a temporary restraining order restoring Lahren’s access to the Facebook page and ordered both sides to refrain from criticizing each other.

The laundry list of complaints against Lahren in The Daily Caller article largely mirror allegations Beck and TheBlaze made in their counterclaim.

“She often singled out one of the two makeup artists working for TheBlaze, yelling at and embarrassing her, even in front of guests,” the article states. “It got to the point where Lahren refused to work with that makeup artist.”

From Courthouse News.

Fan Sues Insane Clown Posse, but She Still Likes Them

April 20, 2017
By David Lee

DALLAS (CN) — An Insane Clown Posse fan on Wednesday claimed she was assaulted when a filled two-liter bottle of the horrorcore rap duo’s beloved Faygo soda struck her in the eye at a Dallas concert.

D. Darling sued Detroit-based ICP, their label Psychopathic Records, venue operator Live National Entertainment, and Texas Entertainment Services in Dallas County Court.

Darling says she was at the 2015 concert at Gilley’s Southside Ballroom and that she stood away from the stage after hearing that the Posse might spray the soda.

She says the band started spraying Faygo during the show and confetti was dropped.

“Plaintiff moved forward in order to feel the confetti falling,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff’s friend, who attended the concert with her, witnessed what appeared to be a full two-liter bottle of soda violently flung from the stage, striking plaintiff in the eye socket. Plaintiff’s eye immediately began bleeding profusely, covering her face with blood and preventing her from being able to see from the eye.”

Darling says she was rushed to a hospital and “the large amount of blood loss completely obstructed” her eyesight giving her excruciating pain and “great anxiety” that she might lose her sight.

“Plaintiff underwent medical treatment for weeks,” the complaint states. “In an effort to lessen the scarring, surgical glue was used to close the wound. It was later revealed that plaintiff suffered a degree of retinal detachment.”

Darling says she has made several demands on the defendants to resolve her claims, but was met with “denial and avoidance.” In spite of her injuries, Darling says, she remains a fan of the Insane Clown Posse.

Live Nation Entertainment did not respond to an email message requesting comment Wednesday night.

The band’s showering audiences with Faygo dates back 13 years, when members Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope mentioned the Detroit-produced soda on its “Ringmaster” album. The duo is so insistent on Faygo showers during its concerts that it canceled a sold-out concert in Lansing, Michigan in June 2016 when the venue opposed the spraying.

The band said at the time the venue “wasn’t exactly prepared to deal with cleaning up 1,200 liters of Faygo” and told them it would not be allowed.

“As every Juggalo knows, it ain’t a fucking Wicked Clown show without Faygo!” ICP said in a statement at the time. “Fam, we’re sorry at this stale ass turn of events, but sometimes this shit happens.”

ICP famously sued the Department of Justice and FBI in Detroit Federal Court in 2014, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union. It contested the FBI’s classification of its fans, known as Juggalos, as a “hybrid gang.” ICP claims police routinely stop and harass its fans for exercising their First Amendment right to display Juggalo symbols.

The trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that ICP and its fans lack standing. But the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati reversed in 2015, reviving the lawsuit.

Darling seeks actual and punitive damages for negligence and assault. She is represented by David Small in Dallas.

From Courthouse News.