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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Rogue Grand Juries?

The Houston Chronicle is running a three part story by Lisa Falkenberg about a Harris County grand jury that browbeat a young mother of three into changing her testimony to indict a boyfriend for killing a police officer. A disturbing glimpse into the shrouded world of the Texas grand jury system
The grand jurors wouldn't accept her testimony that her boyfriend was asleep in her home when the officer was shot, the prosecutor, Dan Rizzo, threatened her with perjury:

Dan Rizzo (the ADA) goes on to accuse Dockery of misleading the grand jury. Then, after being told again and again to think about her children, Dockery changes her story a bit. She says Brown was not at the house when she left for work.

"No, no, no," she finally blurts out.

"One minute, Ericka," a grand juror says a bit later, apparently sensing an opportunity. "He wasn't in the house when you put your kids on the bus either, was (he)?"

"I'm trying to remember," she says.

"Think about your kids, darling," a grand juror says.

"I'm trying to remember," Dockery says.

"That's what we're concerned about here, is your kids," the foreman says.

"He was not at the house," a grand juror urges.

"We're as much concerned about your kids as you are," the foreman says. "So, tell the truth."

"He was not in the house when you put your kids on the bus, was he?" a grand juror says.

"Tell the truth, girl."

"Yes," Dockery says finally. "He was there."

A bit later, Dockery acquiesces on that point, saying that Brown was not in her house earlier that morning, either.

The DA indicted her for aggravated perjury anyway, and she couldn't make bail and spent months away from her children. When she wrote a letter to the judge saying she'd "do anything" to get out of jail, they released her. Her testimony helped put her ex-boyfriend on death row.

Discovery of Confidential Informants

Law enforcement officers often persuade individuals to become "confidential informants" or "cooperating individuals" to develop cases against suspects higher up the food chain. Some of these suspects are extremely dangerous individuals, like drug dealers and others involved in organized crime, for example, James Whitey Bulger, who killed, maimed, sold drugs and committed other violent crimes over thirty years in Boston.

The courts have recognized the value of CI's to law enforcement. They also recognize the right of an accused to due process, which includes the right to confrontation of accusers, the right to develop and present a full defense, and so on. Thus, the courts attempt to balance the competing interests.

The Supreme Court has held that the Government has a privilege to withhold from disclosure the identity of persons who furnish information of violation of laws to officers charged with enforcement of that law. Roviaro v. U.S., 353 U.S. 53 (1957). The privilege is not absolute, but the defendant bears a heavy burden to obtain the CI’s identity. The Government’s privilege need only give way when disclosure of the CI’s identity would be “vital to a fair trial.”

If the CI was not a participant in the crime, or if there are other witnesses to the crime, the courts will probably not order disclosure. In the Bulger case, the court refused to order identification of the CI.

Local law enforcement agencies, including in Kerr County, make deals all the time with people they catch with drugs. A suspect will sign a 'cooperating individual' contract, that promises a lighter sentence or maybe even no prosecution at all if the CI helps the police arrest and convict five other suspects.

The officers will then have the CI call a dealer (calls are recorded) and set up a buy. The CI is wired, and the officers will observe from a concealed position, and usually film the buy. Often, the buy is set up near a school or playground, so L/E can nail the suspect on a more serious offense, with longer minimum sentences. And the courts have held this is not entrapment.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Grand Jury Misconduct; the Gerry Spence Cult

From Grits for Breakfast, the best legal blog in the country:

A glimpse into grand jury misconduct
Lisa Falkenberg at the Houston Chronicle has posted the first two of a three-part series describing abusive interrogation by a grand jury so intense it may cause a capital murder conviction in a police officer's death to be overturned. Teaser: Anthony Graves plays a pivotal, on-the-ground role:

The episode provides a rare glimpse into the grand jury system: "Appellate attorneys were so outraged by a 146-page transcript of [Ericka Jean] Dockery's testimony before the 208th Harris County grand jury on April 21, 2003, that they entered it into the public record for judges to review." In the transcript, wrote Falkenberg, "grand jurors don't just inquire. They interrogate. They intimidate. They appear to abandon their duty to serve as a check on overzealous government prosecution and instead join the team." 

From Trial Lawyer Magazine - more evidence that Gerry Spence runs a cult
The Difference TLC Made to Me...

I see people differently now.  I see past the veneers to the pain, joy, fear, hopes, and insecurities that are beneath.  I listen better, ask better questions, and am learning to get to the heart of the matter.  In trial, the heart matters most. - Patricia Anderson

It's impossible to overstate the effect this seminar has had on how I view my legal practice.  I have been on a course of self-discovery and work for the last two years.  Until discovering, I had floundered horrifically in attempting to apply it to my practice.  I had essentially reached the conclusion that my personal growth was at odds with my professional growth -- that I would, at some point, reach a place where I had become a person of such integrity, love, and fulfillment that I would no longer be able to work in a profession where such qualities seemed to mean so little...that living an integrated life would require me to find a new career.  TLC showed me that exactly the opposite is true.  This last week drove that point home, eliminating any lingering doubt about it I may have had.  This seminar has improved my legal practice, first and foremost, because I once again view my legal practice as a spiritual calling rather than a mere way to use my brains to make money and possibly do some justice. - Stephen Benedetto

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ex-Texas sheriff going to Big House; Boerne Stock Broker Busted by FBI

Ex-sheriff in Texas sentenced to 5 years in prison
McALLEN, Texas (AP) — A former South Texas sheriff who had pleaded guilty to money laundering was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday in what the judge called a sad day for the county.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez departed from sentencing guidelines that topped out at less than four years to impose a stiffer penalty on former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino.

Alvarez said many questions remained about how much money Trevino really took from a known drug trafficker. She said Trevino admitted to accepting $20,000 to $25,000 — double the amounts in question that were recorded in his re-election campaign account.

Boerne Broker indicted in $300M stock manipulation
SAN ANTONIO — The FBI on Thursday arrested a Boerne stockbroker after he was indicted with six others — including the ex-husband of a former star in “The Sopranos” television show — for allegedly participating in a $300 million stock manipulation scheme.

Matthew Bell, 47, was apprehended by FBI agents while still dressed in his workout clothes. He later appeared in federal court in San Antonio, was informed of the 10-count indictment returned in Brooklyn, New York, and was released on unsecured bond with instructions to report to New York for trial.
Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement: “They took companies with essentially no assets or activity and deceived the market into believing they were worth hundreds of millions of dollars through a dizzying round of insider and unauthorized trades. When the defendants stopped their criminal game of musical shares it was the unsuspecting investors who were left holding the bag.”
Deborah Whitley, 64, who worked for AT&T for nearly 40 years, put her faith in Bell. Whitley said she met Bell through the recommendations of other AT&T employees. She thought he was a “very good Christian and family man” who would manage her investments well, she said. Not knowing much about investing, she relied on Bell's assurances, she said, including that he would invest conservatively.
“He took my money ... and lost pretty much all of it,” Whitley said.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lawyers and Preachers Behaving Badly - Bank Robbing and Rape

Missouri Lawyer, Pleads Guilty To Bank Robbery and Shooting State Trooper
WARRENTON, Mo. (AP) — A 64-year-old attorney and businessman who already had admitted to robbing three banks pleaded guilty Tuesday to a bank heist and to shooting a Missouri trooper.

Sex-Offender Pastor Roy Yoakem Arrested On Statutory Rape Charges
A convicted sex offender holding a pastoral position at a Kentucky church has been arrested on charges involving a teenage member of his congregation.

Roy Neal Yoakem, 46, of Scottsville, Kentucky, was charged in Tennessee on Monday with aggravated statutory rape, sexual battery by an authority figure and statutory rape by an authority figure, according to police in Gallatin, Tennessee. Yoakem was also given a fugitive from justice charge.

Yoakem is accused of assaulting a 14-year-old member of his church congregation on two occasions, once at his Kentucky church and once at his Tennessee residence, police said.

"Due to our investigation, there is a possibility there [are] more victims," Gallatin assistant police chief Bill Sorrels told The Huffington Post on Thursday.

Records show that Yoakem was registered in Tennessee as a violent sexual offender after a 2005 conviction in Kentucky for second-degree sexual abuse of an 8-year-old boy.

Texas Roundup - Appeals Court Judge Busted DWI, Ex Bexar Judge Pleads NG in Bribery Case, Obama Released Alien Murders Woman

Corpus Christi Court of Appeals judge charged in DWI case showed badge, asked officers to let her go
SAN ANTONIO -- Nora Longoria, 13th Court of Appeals judge, showed an officer her badge and asked him to let her go home while being arrested over the weekend on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.

"Please let me go home. I live a couple of miles away ... you are going to ruin my life. I worked hard for 25 years to be where I am today," Longoria told the arresting officers as they attempted to handcuff her, according to court documents obtained by the McAllen Monitor.

Ex-judge pleads not guilty in bribery case
SAN ANTONIO — Former 144th District Judge Angus McGinty pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges that he took bribes from then-lawyer Al Acevedo in exchange for rigging cases.

McGinty has vowed to fight the FBI's allegations that he made changes to the cases of some of Acevedo's clients because Acevedo had served as McGinty's personal car service. Acevedo reportedly paid for repairs and other services to two of the then-judge's Mercedes-Benz cars.

LUBBOCK, Texas—An illegal immigrant who was released by U.S. authorities with a Notice to Appear has been arrested for the alleged murder of a woman and kidnapping of children on U.S. soil. The alleged crimes occurred after the man was released.
The AP identified the illegal alien as a “suburban New Orleans man” who faces a second-degree murder charge after his girlfriend was found bludgeoned to death in a bathtub in Louisiana. The man was arrested in a Katy, Texas trailer park with three children. It is unclear if they are his or if they are the same children he used to get U.S. authorities to release him with a Notice to Appear.
The AP did not inform their readers that the man was an illegal alien.

Bergdahl hires attorney as investigator visits Fort Sam
SAN ANTONIO — Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has hired a high-profile attorney and may have met Wednesday with an investigator looking into allegations of misconduct while Bergdahl was in Afghanistan.

Lawyer Eugene Fidell denounced leaks by government officials as “disturbing” and likened some of the accusations against his client to the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth campaign that damaged former Sen. John Kerry's presidential bid.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Another ex-DA in hotseat for wrongful conviction, Bexar Co. Judge charged with bribery, Fed Bureau Prisons Serves Dogfood to Inmates

from Texas Tribune

The State Bar of Texas has found enough evidence of alleged prosecutorial misconduct that it will launch a hearing in front of an administrative judge to determine whether former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta should be sanctioned for his role in securing a wrongful death sentence for Anthony Graves in 1994. Graves spent 18 years behind bars — 12 of them on death row, where he twice neared execution — before the U.S. 5th Circuit of Appeals overturned his conviction in 2006, ruling that Sebesta had used false testimony and withheld favorable evidence in the case.

Ex-judge vows to fight bribery charges
More than four months after resigning from the 144th district bench amid a corruption investigation, former state District Judge Angus McGinty made his first appearance in federal court Monday and vowed to fight charges that he took bribes from lawyer Al Acevedo in exchange for rigging cases.

Update on DPS Lab Scandal
Grits for Breakfast has a good article on the continuing fallout from a DPS lab technician who falsified thousands of test reports, a practice called "drylabbing." The Court of Criminal Appeals denied habeas relief in Ex Parte Cody when the drug was still available for testing, and was indeed cocaine. Most of the cases he worked on are from East Texas. The lab tech in question is Jonathan Salvador.

Texas meat manufacturer has pledged to adopt new procedures to ensure compliance with food safety laws and paid almost $400,000 to resolve a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investigation into mislabeled meat that was intended for pet food but instead was sold to the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and served to prisoners.
The U.S. Department of Justice was quick to point out in an August 17, 2012 press release that there was “no evidence that anyone who consumed any of the ... product suffered any ill effects.”
According to the Justice Department, John Soules Foods, Inc. of Tyler, Texas entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.