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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Another Candidate for Most Corrupt County in Texas

In the recent campaign for 198th District Attorney, the victor, Scott Monroe made the important point that a district attorney is the most powerful official in any county. The DA can get you indicted by a grand jury on the flimsiest of evidence. Innocent people are indicted and convicted every day. Jurors always claim they will honor the presumption of innocence and make the State prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but the truth is most of them think the SOB wouldn’t be sitting there if he wasn’t guilty as sin. There’s a word for the client of a lawyer who goes to trial on the theory that the State can’t prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt - “convict.” In a civil case the defendant can use a motion for summary judgment to force the plaintiff to show its proof early. If the plaintiff can’t come up with enough evidence to show there is a genuine issue of material fact, the trial court should dismiss the case. There is no such mechanism in a criminal case. And if the defendant succeeds in “winning” an acquittal, he has no right to sue a vindictive DA because the Supreme Court held in Connick v. Thompson held that the prosecutor has total immunity. A striking example of the danger of an out of control prosecutor occurred in Red River County, in Northeast Texas. I highly recommend that you read the article in the Texas Observer, available online at Red River Justice by Patrick Michels. The lede is "In an East Texas county known for corrupt law enforcement, Mark Lesher fought the justice system—until it came for him too." The following is a summary. The County Attorney, Val Varley, likes to dress up in a SWAT style costume and carry an assault rifle and kick in doors with the real cops. They call it the Red River County Narcotics Special Response Team. In November, 2007 he did just that in a raid on the home of a Vergil Richardson, the head coach of the Liberty-Eylau High School Basketball team in Texarkana. Varley and his “task force” arrested Richardson, his half brother, and other family members for allegedly selling drugs. Richardson retained the only lawyer in the area with the guts to take on the establishment, Mark Lesher. What happened next was straight out of Kafka. Varley got Lesher and his wife Rhonda indicted on the word of a former client who claimed they drugged her and forced her to participate in orgies. The case was transferred to Denton County, where it took a jury 20 minutes to find the Leshers not guilty. A special prosecutor moved to dismiss the case against Richardson, but District Judge John Miller refused because Lesher had filed a civil rights suit against all the county officials who took part in the raid on Richardson’s home. Rhonda spoke at the Rotary Club, where she is a member, and said that “the role of a D.A. is to see that justice is served, not to let the office be used as a tool of revenge. We as citizens of Red River County need to stop being so accepting of the criminal system that has been, and is being, used to solve personal issues and vendettas.” She was reprimanded, and told that Rotary was not a “political venue.” I’ve never had the honor of meeting Mark personally. He is carrying on the tradition of Atticus Finch. The difference is that the “decent” people in the fictional Maycomb County, Alabama didn’t try to destroy Finch for defending the Constitution. Rhonda deserves an award as well. As for the county officials, they are in the running for the Most Abusive Judges and Lawyers of the Year contest.

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