Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Putting Earle on the hotseat

In the past, Travis County D.A. Ronnie Earle has proudly procalimed his "mission from God" to bring down evil and corruption in high places. But the more we learn about his case against Tom DeLay, the more it appears that he is not above employing some unorthodox methods himself to get what he wants. Now DeLay's legal team has decided to take the fight to the enemy's turf:

Indicted Rep. Tom DeLay's defense team tried Tuesday to serve Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle with a subpoena, but Earle refused to accept it, DeLay lawyer Dick DeGuerin said.

Alleging misconduct with grand jurors, the defense team wants to compel Earle to explain his behavior.

A state campaign finance investigation conducted by Earle led to DeLay's indictment on conspiracy and money laundering charges. DeLay, R-Texas, was obligated by House Republican rules to temporarily step aside as House majority leader.

DeGuerin said acceptance of the subpoena was voluntary Tuesday because it had not been stamped by a court official, but added the defense team would go through the court procedure Wednesday and redeliver it. He said Earle, district attorney for Travis County, would then be obligated to accept the subpoena, but could file a motion to have it dismissed.

The defense lawyer, who is trying to get the indictments dismissed, said an assistant district attorney also refused to accept her subpoena, but a second assistant accepted the subpoena delivered to him. Acceptance simply involves signing a paper acknowledging delivery.

The subpoenas asked that the prosecutor and the two assistants appear in court or submit to a deposition in which the defense lawyers would question them.

DeGuerin also asked that grand jurors be released from their secrecy oath so they could answer questions about the prosecutor's conduct.

Earle's office said in a written statement, "Because of laws protecting grand jury secrecy, there are limitations to what we can say at this time, but we fully expect to prevail in this matter."

DeGuerin wants Earle to answer 12 questions about conversations he had with grand jurors, including whether the prosecutor became angry when a grand jury decided against an indictment of DeLay and why that decision was not publicly released.

He also wants to know the details of Earle's conversation with William Gibson, foreman of a grand jury that indicted DeLay on conspiracy charges, whose term has since ended.

"If you did nothing improper, you should not be concerned about answering these questions," DeGuerin said in his letter to Earle.

I love that last line. The article goes on to provide the details of a defense motion filed last week alleging that Earle had manipulated and abused the grand jury process in his attempts to get more indictments:

In a motion filed last week, the defense team said that from Sept. 29 through Oct. 3, Earle and his staff "unlawfully participated in grand jury deliberations and attempted to browbeat and coerce" the grand jury that refused to indict DeLay.

The motion said Earle then attempted to cover up and delay public disclosure of the refusal, and also "incited" the foreman of the first grand jury to violate grand jury secrecy by talking publicly about the case _ in an effort to influence grand jurors still sitting.

The foreman, William Gibson, gave media interviews after the grand jury finished its work but told The Associated Press that Earle did not ask him to discuss the case.

"That's a bunch of (expletive) there," Gibson said. "That man did not talk to me."

He said Earle advised him and other grand jurors to keep an open mind as they considered evidence and cautioned them, "What goes on behind closed doors is secret."

The lawyers said Earle then spoke about the case with members of the first grand jury, whose work was finished, to get their opinion of what they might have done if they had known their conspiracy indictment was flawed _ as defense attorneys alleged.

So Earle is pretty much admitting here that he had a turkey on his hands with indictment # 1.

Earle then submitted the grand jury opinions to the third grand jury to persuade it to hand down the money laundering indictment, the defense team contended.

The indictments against DeLay triggered a House Republican rule that forced him to step aside _ at least temporarily _ from his post as majority leader.

Both indictments of DeLay focused on an alleged scheme to move money around and conceal the use of corporate contributions to support Texas Republican legislative candidates. State law prohibits use of corporate donations to support or oppose state candidates, allowing the money to go only for administrative expenses.

DeGuerin is asking for all documents, notes, telephone records and other relevant materials from Earle's staff.

"I am determined to put on record the steps taken by you and your staff to obtain a replacement indictment against my client, Tom DeLay," DeGuerin said in a letter to the prosecutor.

There does seem to be a zeal on the part of the prosecutor to bag his trophy by whatever means possible. The fact is, what DeLay is accused of doing goes on all across Capital Hill on both sides of the aisle. That doesn't make it right but it does cast suspicion on Earle's motivation for focusing on the most powerful Republican in Congress.

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