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Do the words “appearance of impropriety” mean anything to you?

Seriously?

Devon Anderson

Outgoing Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson personally has dismissed the drunken-driving case against prominent Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee.

Buzbee, who was arrested on March 31, had his case dismissed Dec. 9, after completing “pretrial intervention” a type of informal probation that, if successfully completed, means a case will be tossed. It is common among first offenders, especially shoplifters or other nonviolent crimes.

On Monday, Anderson stood by her decision and issued a brief statement: “Based on the circumstances of the case, this was the right thing to do. He qualified for pretrial intervention and completed all of the requirements typically mandated for a first offender DWI defendant,” she said. “He did not contribute to my campaign in 2016 cycle.”

The dismissal raised eyebrows around the courthouse for several reasons.

First, the elected district attorney signed off on the case personally, which is exceedingly rare, especially misdemeanors.

Second, the DWI pretrial intervention program, which lets people walk away from their first offense without a conviction, generally lasts a year. Buzbee went from arrest to completion in just over 8 months.

Also, the judge presiding over the case is the only jurist in Harris County who does not allow pretrial diversions for DWI cases. The DWI pretrial diversion program, formerly known as DIVERT, has firmly drawn guidelines – the terms of which generally are spelled out in a contract that a judge signs off before it begins. There is no such contract in Buzbee’s file.

Generally, when a DWI case that is eligible for the pretrial diversion program falls in County Court at Law Judge Bill Harmon’s court, it is transferred to a different court. That did not happen in Buzbee’s case.

[…]

Buzbee said it was “silly” to link political connections to a dismissal by the elected district attorney 21 days before she leaves office.

“I give money to most of the politicians in Houston and the state of Texas. To try to connect one thing to the other is silly.”

Courthouse observers said Buzbee’s statement makes the dismissal look like a gift from Anderson as she prepares to leave the office.

“Based on what (Buzbee) said, this is definitely not a diversion. If it’s not, then it is nothing but a political favor,” said JoAnne Musick, past-president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association. “Unless (Anderson) just completely lied on a court document, because it appears, on the dismissal, that he completed a diversion – that he participated in some sort of program in lieu of prosecution.”

Buzbee claimed that the case was dismissed for lack of evidence, but that’s not what the form indicates. Maybe there’s nothing to any of this – I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know how these things work – but if so, it would be nice to hear that from someone who isn’t Devon Anderson or Tony Buzbee. Maybe there are more people who got a similar “early dismissal” of their nominally year-long diversion program. Maybe Devon Anderson had a specific reason for intervening on this one case. Maybe the dismissal form was filled out incorrectly and it really was a lack of evidence. Maybe there’s something else we don’t know about. Because if not, on the surface this sure looks like special treatment for a big shot. The Press has more.

(There’s now a bigger controversy breaking out at the DA’s office. I didn’t have a chance to get to it yesterday, but I’ll have something to say about it tomorrow.)

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