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Susan Reed

McCrum avoids contempt charge

Whew.

Mike McCrum

Mike McCrum, the special prosecutor in the criminal case against Gov. Rick Perry, was cleared Monday of an attempt to find him in contempt of court stemming from a separate case.

Visiting Judge Dick Alcala declined to find McCrum, a prominent local defense lawyer, in contempt after a daylong hearing.

The district attorney’s office here had accused McCrum of instructing a punishment-phase witness in an October 2013 intoxication manslaughter trial to “get lost for awhile” and turn off her phone to avoid testifying.

Alcala said he was troubled by two things — that the witness, Melanie Little, was kept for more than seven hours in a locked room under threat of prosecution herself when she gave her side of the story to a district attorney’s office investigator the day after she testified, and McCrum’s business practices regarding subpoenaing witnesses.

“I’m concerned with the circumstances” under which the DA’s office obtained Little’s statement, the judge said, adding it was difficult for him to believe they didn’t play a role in what she said.

McCrum said he felt gratified by the ruling.

“I’m glad that it finally came out in the open the horrendous treatment that Melanie Little and her colleagues were put through, being locked up for seven or eight hours — that’s just reprehensible,” he said.

He said he was pleased that Monday’s ruling came before District Attorney Susan Reed left office so it could be a comment on her administration. Reed, a Republican, lost a bid for re-election to Democrat Nico LaHood on Nov. 4.

“When you see the lack of evidence that they had and the circumstances under which it was done, certainly it calls into question the motives of the DA and her supervisors,” McCrum said.

See here for the background. Nice little twist of the knife on Susan Reed there. The contempt charge always seemed like a stretch, but you never know. Now McCrum can focus exclusively on the Perry prosecution. Which has now survived the motion to disqualify McCrum.

The special prosecutor pressing criminal charges against Gov. Rick Perry will not be disqualified from the case over questions around the oath of office he took. A judge ruled Tuesday that the prosecutor was properly sworn into office.

“This court concludes that [Special Prosecutor Michael] McCrum’s authority was not voided by the procedural irregularities in how and when the oath of office were administered and filed,” Visiting Judge Bert Richardson wrote in a 16-page ruling filed in Austin.

On Nov. 6, Perry watched his attorneys argue in court that McCrum was improperly sworn in as special prosecutor more than a year ago. Perry attorney Tony Buzbee said the Texas Constitution required McCrum to sign an anti-bribery statement before taking his oath. McCrum testified that he did the reverse, taking the oath first.

Buzbee said he and co-counsel David Botsford “respectfully disagree with the judge, but as always, will respect the court’s decisions and will await his further rulings.”

Buzbee also said he and Botsford were confident they will prevail on other challenges and “expect a favorable ruling ending this case hopefully by the end of November.”

That ruling is here. We are still waiting on a ruling from Judge Richardson on the other defense motions to dismiss the indictments. I guess we can now assume we’ll know something by Thanksgiving. The defense has filed yet another brief with the court, responding to McCrum’s response to earlier briefs. Hope Judge Richardson knows how to speed read.

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

BGT fires back

Good for them.

Allegations that Battleground Texas broke the law during its voter registration activities are “entirely without foundation,” the Democratic group wrote in a letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Tuesday.

Dewhurst, citing a secretly recorded video of Battleground volunteers in Bexar County, had earlier called for a criminal investigation because of allegations that privacy laws had been broken.

But Graham Wilson, an attorney for the group, told Dewhurst in the letter that his call for a probe “reflects no familiarity with either the law” or rules promulgated by the office of the secretary of state, which handles voter registration regulations at the state level.

He said opinions from Attorney General Greg Abbott demonstrate that phone numbers gathered during the voter registration process were considered public information. Phone numbers allegedly copied down by Battleground volunteers sparked the accusations in the first place.

“In short, Battleground Texas is operating in full compliance with the law as set forth in the Attorney General’s legal opinions, and with attention paid as appropriate to the Secretary of State’s official guidance in this area,” Wilson wrote.

[…]

As for the phone numbers, Wilson cited three opinions from the office of the attorney general, including one from 2010 stemming from a case in Dallas County. In that opinion, Abbott’s office concluded that “the county may not withhold the telephone numbers” from a requestor who had asked for the information.

Battleground also cited a pamphlet from the office of the secretary of state that says in part that a volunteer deputy registrar “may also copy the relevant information from the application in writing just as you would be able to do if you went to the registrar’s office and pulled a copy of the original application.”

Wilson said the group does not photocopy voter registration applications and “has not used and is not retaining phone numbers taken off voter registration forms by volunteers.”

See here for the background. I’ve got a copy of the AG opinion here and the letter to Dewhurst, which shows him the level of respect he deserves, here. Not really a whole lot to add at this point – either a DA files a charge or convenes a grand jury (Abbott handed off to Bexar County DA Susan Reed, who last I checked was seeking a pinch hitter) or they don’t. Any lawyers want to take a crack at evaluating this one? BOR has more.

The party-switchers of Bexar County

Nice.

Carlo Key

A Bexar County judge elected during the “red tide” of 2010 is switching parties.

Standing at the foot of the Bexar County Courthouse steps, County Court-at-Law No. 11 Judge Carlo Key said Monday he is joining the Democratic Party and will seek reelection as a Democrat in November 2014.

“Make no mistake, I did not leave the Republican Party, it left me,” said Key, flanked by high-ranking Democrats. “My principles have led me to the Democratic Party, and my only hope is that more people of principle will follow me.”

While he’s been mulling the decision for several weeks, it was the recent federal government shutdown that caused Key to seriously consider switching parties.

[…]

A native of Marshall, Key, 38, was an attorney before he joined the wave of Republican judges who won seats in 2010, when all but one of the new county judges elected that year were Republicans. Key is a 2002 graduate of the Baylor Law School.

He has pitted himself against the law enforcement community by forbidding testimony that a horizontal gaze nystagmus test – in which an officer uses a pen or finger to track involuntary eye movements — indicates intoxication. This summer, Key learned he would face a challenger in the Republican primaries — Julie Wright, a prosecutor married to a police officer.

His announcement came just days after another Bexar County Republican left the party. Last week, Therese Huntzinger, 55, announced she will run for district attorney after recasting herself as a Democrat. Huntzinger, a criminal defense attorney who could face 15-year incumbent DA Susan Reed in the general election, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for a district judge seat in 1998.

Bexar County Democratic Party Chair Manuel Medina said two other judges who attended a recent Democratic Party event could also make the switch in the near future, and U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro said he expects more to follow Key and Huntzinger.

“The Republican Party is catering to such a narrow ideological base,” he said, “and many Texans are realizing that the Democratic Party is a better choice. The Texas Republican Party is going backward in respect to Latino issues. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

I tend to agree with Texpatriate that this says more about the state of the Bexar County GOP than it does about the state party. We’ve seen this movie before – it happened here in Harris County in the 90s as the GOP was taking over the judiciary, and in Dallas County after the 2006 Democratic wave. There’s already the usual rumblings on the R side about moving away from partisan elections of judges, which will only grow louder if Bexar and especially Harris have blue sweeps. You already now how I feel about that so I’ll spare you a rehash, I’ll just say again that there was no comparable level of angst during the red tide of the 90s, in Harris and elsewhere. I’ll stipulate that partisan judicial elections are not the optimal system, I’ll freely admit that some good judges are at risk of losing, I just don’t plan to feel sorry for anyone.

By the way, Judge Key has said that he didn’t make the switch for political advantage, but because he felt he “had” to do it. I don’t doubt his feelings about this, and frankly I hope there’s a lot more like him who feel that way, but I do think he’ll be better off as a Dem in Bexar County in 2014 and beyond. Consider it a nice alignment of the personal and the political.

Also of interest is the bit about the challenger to longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. This earlier story has some background on Therese Huntzinger.

In 1989, as a young prosecutor, she defied an order from then-DA Fred Rodriguez that she give up her pursuit of a witness-tampering indictment against one of Rodriguez’s friends and political sugar daddies. When Rodriguez responded by firing her, she filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against him and won a settlement from Bexar County.

Her dramatic fight against Rodriguez attracted the attention of “60 Minutes” and the Lifetime Network, which flirted with the idea of creating a movie about her life. The issue also helped Rodriguez’s 1990 challenger, Steve Hilbig, knock off the incumbent district attorney.

When Hilbig took office, he instantly made Huntzinger part of his prosecutorial team.

[…]

[DA Susan Reed] faced a serious general-election challenge in 2010 from well-funded defense attorney Nico LaHood, but a race against Huntzinger would present the brassy DA with a whole new set of messaging challenges.

For one thing, Reed wouldn’t be able to argue, as she did with LaHood, that Huntzinger lacks prosecutorial experience. Huntzinger has 13 years of work in the district attorney’s office on her résumé, in addition to 15 years as a defense lawyer.

More importantly, Reed will be unable to deflect criticism of her own record by making the election a referendum on her challenger, as she did in 2010, when she verbally pummeled LaHood over his 1994 bust for aggravated delivery of Ecstasy.

Huntzinger said her roots in the Democratic Party extend back to her grandfather, who was a union leader in the stockyards. But her whistle-blowing crusade against Rodriguez, a Democrat, and subsequent work in the office of Hilbig, a Republican, prompted local Republicans to draft her to run for district judge in 1998.

“I stepped out of my Democratic shoes for that race, I lost, and I’m fitting back into them,” Huntzinger said.

Huntzinger suggests that Texas would be better off with nonpartisan judicial and DA races but adds that she has determined in recent years that the Democratic Party is a “better fit” for her. Huntzinger is open about being a lesbian, and the GOP’s negative stance on same-sex relationships has surely been a factor in her break from the party.

Huntzinger contends that even some Republican loyalists are eager to see a change in the district attorney’s office.

“(Reed) believes that you’ve got to bring your toothbrush to the courtroom for every single case and expect to get hit with a hammer,” Huntzinger said. “Well, there’s more to prosecuting than that.”

That ought to be a race worth watching. In the meantime, I submit to you that regardless of what may be going on in Bexar County, this story is related to these two.

State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, said on Monday he will run to replace state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who announced his resignation earlier this month.

In a press release announcing his candidacy, Toth, a Tea Party conservative, emphasized the need for “conservative advocates” like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz who will “go against the tide and stand for what is right no matter the consequences.”

“As Ted Cruz has courageously demonstrated, simply being a conservative vote is no longer enough,” Toth said.

We’re a ways away from seeing switches at anything but the urban county level, but the more tightly the GOP binds itself to Ted Cruz and his blinkered, unbending zealotry, the closer that day comes. A statement from the TDP is beneath the fold, and BOR, EoW, and PDiddie have more.

(more…)

Reed for AG?

This is one of the stranger “draft somebody” movements I’ve seen.

Susan Reed

A movement has been building among local Republicans over the past few months to encourage Susan Reed to run for state attorney general in 2014.

Reed, the hard-nosed, four-term Bexar County district attorney, would be the first female AG in the state’s history, a historic point that some of her supporters have used to coax her to run, according to GOP sources.

Reed concedes that she’s been getting phone calls about the attorney general’s race, including a couple from “leading [Republican] party elected people.” While she declined to name the officials, one source told me that Reed backers have enlisted U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to persuade Reed.

This under-the-radar draft-Reed effort has been operating on two tracks, with a shared objective but differing motives.

The dominant group is composed of ardent Reed fans, who think her reputation as a prosecutorial pit bull would make her a dynamic AG candidate.

A smaller group has tired of Reed’s act and would like her to seek higher office at least partly because it would give new candidates an opening for the office that she has controlled for nearly a generation.

Whatever works, I guess. Reed, understandably, isn’t committing to anything as yet. She’s not going to run against Greg Abbott, she’ll only consider it if Abbott leaves to run for Governor or something else. Of course, she’s not the only person who would consider it – State Rep. Dan Branch, who had eyed the office in 2010, has already expressed his interest in it this time. While Reed would have history on her side, Branch has a more tangible advantage: As of January, he had over $2.5 million in the bank, compared to $126K for Reed. The battle doesn’t always go to the strong nor the race to the better funded, but that’s usually the safe bet.

One more thing to note is that Reed would be up for re-election in 2014, so this is an either-or choice for her. Here are the percentages for her previous four elections:

2010 53.84%
2006 60.57%
2002 unopposed
1998 57.18%

She easily outpaced the field in 2006 but was just slightly above average for Republicans in Bexar County in 2010. It’s not out of the question she could lose a bid for a fifth term, given the partisan trends in Bexar County. I doubt that will factor much into her consideration, but there it is anyway. Texpatriate has more.