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On Mike McCrum and Pa Ferguson

There were two stories from Sunday about special prosecutor Mike McCrum that were worth flagging. First, here’s the Express News with an angle that I think has been underappreciated.

Mike McCrum

People who know McCrum said he is not the type to use a case to play politics. San Antonio defense attorney Patrick Hancock said McCrum is known for spelling out just the facts in court, while Alan Brown said McCrum does not care for politics and tries to steer clear of courthouse politics.

Brian Wice, who’ representing former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, in his appeal of money-laundering and conspiracy charges, looked askance at the indictment. But he simultaneously spoke highly of McCrum, saying he had “the utmost respect” for him.

McCrum, a former assistant U.S. attorney, was considered the frontrunner for a presidential appointment to be the U.S. attorney in the San Antonio-based Western District of Texas, which includes Austin, Waco and El Paso. But he withdrew his name from consideration in October 2010 after more than a year of waiting to be officially nominated by the White House, saying he had to get on with his career.

“I have not been able to take any cases for the past six to nine months, and as a result my practice has dwindled to almost nothing,” he told the San Antonio Express-News then.

At the time, he had the support of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation and both Republican senators, in addition to many local attorneys.

“I heard he was a hands-on kind of guy, kick the tires and get down in the weeds,” former Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn MacTaggart told the Express-News when McCrum was being considered. “He pushed the proper due diligence in order to investigate and determine whether an indictment was justified.”

[...]

One of McCrum’s first jobs as an attorney was at the firm then known at Davis & Cedillo. Ricardo Cedillo described McCrum as “one of the best associates” he had ever hired, echoing others’ comments about McCrum’s thoroughness and analytical skills.

“He had street smarts as well as legal knowledge,” Cedillo said while McCrum was under consideration for the U.S. attorney position. “That’s a very rare combination in young lawyers. That goes to who he is and where he’s from.”

McCrum’s clients as a defense attorney have included former NFL star-turned-drug trafficker Sam Hurd; Dr. Calvin Day, who is awaiting a new trial after McCrum successfully lobbied to have his jury conviction for sexual assault of a patient thrown out; fellow lawyer Mikal Watts, a Democratic Party stalwart who has hosted President Barack Obama at his home; and Mark Gudanowski, the former driver for District Attorney Susan Reed accused — and acquitted — of illegally selling Southwest Airlines vouchers.

We were briefly introduced to Mike McCrum when he was named special prosecutor for this case, but that was much more cursory. What this story reminds us is that McCrum isn’t just a prosecutor. He’s also been a very successful defense attorney. As we saw yesterday, there are a lot of quotable defense attorneys out there poking holes in the indictments. One would think – at least, I would think – that someone like Mike McCrum, who has been on that side of the courtroom, would have analyzed this case and the evidence from that perspective as well, to better prepare himself for the courtroom battles to come. It’s certainly possible McCrum has missed the mark or gotten caught up in the job and focused too much on an end result, but I wouldn’t count on that. If he’s as diligent and as smart as people say he is, he’s got to have considered all this.

The DMN takes a more political angle.

Solomon Wisenberg, a Washington lawyer who has known McCrum since 1989, when they worked together as assistant U.S. attorneys, said his friend is not partisan.

Referring to Perry’s indictment, Wisenberg said: “There are people who are politically motivated who are probably happy about it. There are people on the other side who think it must be politically motivated.

“I know Mike well and I don’t think he would be that way. He is not readily identifiable as a Republican or a Democrat.”

Gerald Reamey, a professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, taught McCrum criminal law and procedure.

“In his personal life and his professional life, there is some evidence that he is a fairly conservative person,” Reamey said. “He was prosecuting high-profile drug offenses. At the same time, he fits well into the criminal defense role.

“He’s very fair-minded and balanced, the kind of guy who would prosecute something only if he thinks the evidence is there,” Reamey said. “When I think of overzealous prosecution, he is not someone who comes to my mind.”

[...]

According to campaign finance records, McCrum has made only a handful of contributions to state and federal candidates.

He gave $300 in 2007 to Steve Hilbig, a Republican judge on the state appeals court based in San Antonio.

Also that year, McCrum donated $500 to U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, a San Antonio Democrat.

The next year, he contributed $500 to Republican Robert “Bert” Richardson, a Bexar County district court judge. Richardson assigned McCrum as the special prosecutor after a watchdog group filed its abuse-of-office complaint against Perry.

A little history here. When the complaint was filed by Texans for Public Justice against Perry, Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg recused herself from investigating it. That sent the complaint to the district courts of Travis County, where it was assigned to Judge Julie Kocurekof the 390th District Court. Kocurekof, a Democrat, recused herself as well. That kicked the case to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, where presiding Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield got it. Stubblefield then assigned the case to Senior Judge Bert Richardson, who I presume will be the judge from here on out barring anything weird. Richardson named McCrum as special prosecutor, since the Travis County DA had taken itself out, and the rest you know.

Well, actually, there’s one more thing you might not know. Both Judge Stubblefield of the 3rd Court of Appeals, and Judge Richardson, who is a Senior Judge after losing election in 2008, were originally appointed to their positions. By Rick Perry. Quite the liberal conspiracy working against him there, no?

One more piece of history, from the Trib. Rick Perry isn’t the first Texas Governor to run afoul of the law in this way.

A Travis County grand jury’s allegations on Friday that Gov. Rick Perry improperly threatened to veto funding for the state’s anti-corruption prosecutors marked the first time since 1917 that a Texas governor was indicted. That year, Gov. Jim “Pa” Ferguson was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on allegations that he meddled with the state’s flagship university amid a squabble with its board of regents.

In Ferguson’s case, he vetoed $1.8 million over two years (about $34 million in today’s dollars) for the University of Texas; in Perry’s case, it was $7.5 million for the Public Integrity Unit, which is overseen by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. After Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunken driving, Perry threatened to pull state funding from her office unless she resigned.

Ferguson’s indictment led to impeachment by state legislators in September 1917. That’s highly unlikely for Perry, a lame duck with an overwhelmingly conservative Legislature who is facing felony charges for his threat — one he made good on — to veto funding for of the unit charged with investigating public offices in Texas, including that of the governor.

But there are striking similarities. Ferguson, a Bell County native who worked as a rancher and a banker before becoming governor in 1914, got in trouble for trying to remove public officials who had opposed him. Two of the articles of impeachment that removed Ferguson from office accused him of having “invaded the constitutional powers of the [University of Texas] board of regents” and “sought to remove regents contrary to law,” wrote Cortez Ewing in the journal Political Science Quarterly in 1933. Ferguson’s veto of the university’s entire legislative appropriation also prompted outrage, though he was not impeached on that point.

And the regents were goading a legislative investigation into embezzlement of state funds and improper campaign finance by Ferguson, while today, some believe Perry wanted the Public Integrity Unit gone because it was investigating possible corruption of state programs — including the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Perry has adamantly denied that, saying that he was entirely motivated by Lehmberg’s bad behavior.

I wouldn’t read too much into any of that, but it’s an interesting piece of history. We may as well learn as much as we can about this case, because for sure they’ll be teaching it to our kids and grandkids some day.

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2 Comments

  1. Mainstream says:

    I don’t know if Judge Bert Richardson is likely to continue to handle this case at trial or not. It may depend on timing. He is the GOP nominee for statewide Court of Criminal Appeals Place #3 in the November election, and favored to win.

  2. Michael Lind wrote the worst allegedly liberal take on this in Salon. Like he cribbed from Perry talking points. Mentioned Lehmberg repeatedly without mentioning that she’d recused herself, that a special prosecutor had actually done the work, who his name was, etc.

    I’d blown warm/cold toward Lind before; now I’ll pass on ever reading him again.

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