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Ronnie Earle’s Holy War

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Sitting here on the outskirts of Austin Texas, the home territory of District Attorney Ronnie Earle, I get exposed to some things that those in other parts of the country may not be picking up on from the news stories about the indictment of House Speaker Tom DeLay.

To start off with, people outside of Texas seem not to be aware of Ronnie Earle’s long history of vindictive and unprincipled attacks against Republican officials and personal rivals.

Earle sees himself as the last bastion of populist and progressive ideals in an increasingly Republican dominated state and with good reason. He’s the only Democrat with prosecutorial powers which cover the entire state because of special priveleges given to the Austin DA’s office under Texas law. He’s self-righteous and opposed to the power elite, and willing to use his position to prosecute cases which have little merit but substantial political impact. With the backing of the far left in Austin he has an unassailable position from which he can go after anyone with an indictment from a spoon fed grand jury and get away with it, faccing few consequences if he fails. He’s held this position for almost 30 years and isn’t likely to lose it any time soon. If he does fail in one of his prosecutions he can try and try again because his local constituency has infinite patience for wasted time and effort so long as it involved pillorying Republicans or even Democrat political rivals.

He’s quick to claim that he’s prosecuted more Democrat than Republican officials, but fails to mention that most of his prosecutions of Democrats were of minor figures on obvious criminal charges, or were political attacks targetting personal enemies within the Democratic party.

His current crusade against Tom DeLay is reminiscent of his attack on Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in 1994. As she was running for the Senate, Earle tried to derail her campaign by launching an investigation into supposed misbehavior while she was State Treasurer, including misuse of state telephones and assaulting a staff member. The first time he filed the charges the grand jury indictment was disqualified because of irregularities in the composition of the jury. He convened another grand jury and brough the charges a second time. This time, when Earle took his evidence in front of a judge it became immediately apparent that he had no evidence and was merely trying to use the indictment to smear Hutchison politically. He then attempted to withdraw the charges after being questioned about whether there was any actual evidence at the pre-trial hearing. The judge refused to allow Earle to withdraw the charges and instead instructed the jury to return a “not guilty” verdict so that the charges could not be refiled, thereby preventing Earle’s standard practice in these witchunts of filing the same charges over and over until he can find a sympathetic judge or jury and make them stick.

There’s also a similarity to his accusations of bribery against former State Attorney General and political rival Jim Mattox in 1985, another instance in which he used multiple grand juries to ram through indictments without significant supporting evidence resulting in a case which was dismissed for lack of evidence once it got infront of a judge.

Earle’s career as a prosecutor has been marred by controversy in other areas as well. One disaster was the very high profile case of LaCresha Murray, an 11 year-old African American from Austin whom many feel was prosecuted on the basis of illegally obtained evidence in the case of the death of a child she was babysitting. Murray was a minor who was detained for four days without notifying her parents, questioned without the advice of a lawyer and basically manipulated into signing a confession which she could not even read because she was functionally illiterate.
The case was eventually thrown out by an appeals court after she had spent 3 years in prison. Earle was accused in racism over this case, and many felt that it was inappropriate to charge an 11 year old as an adult with capital murder. Murray was the youngest person ever indicted as an adult in the state of Texas. Ultimately the appeals court concluded that Murray could not possibly have even inflicted the injuries the dead baby received at the time the baby was in her care.

Earle has come under fire recently in direct connection to his current activities over the fact that he has devoted such a large portion of his office’s resources to the Tom DeLay investigation. Complaints have been numerous that his assistants are pleading out major felonies for relatively light sentences so that they don’t have to spend time in court and can concentrate on their more political prosecutions. Crime victims in Austin have been outspoken about their concern that Earle’s office is not making their cases a priority while they focus on higher profile cases.

When we look at the actual campaign against DeLay, Earle’s efforts seem to be truly extraordinary. Working with virtually no actual evidence against DeLay, Earle has gone through seven different grand juries to find one which would bring a viable indictment.

The basic issue here is the donation of funds from several business groups to the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, which realized that it could not legally spend the money for the state candidate campaigns it was intended for and therefore passed the donations on to the Republican National Committee, which could legally spend the money on local campaigns, along with a note suggesting who the money should go to, effectively bypassing the Texas campaign finance law restricting PAC contributions to state office candidates. If TRMPAC had returned the money and told the contributors to send it to the RNC instead, there would have been no crime, but since they forwarded the money directly they violated Texas law. DeLay’s role in this was solely as the person who spearheaded raising the money in the first place and he was apparently not involved in any way in the ultimate disposition of the funds.

Before Earle began his crusade against DeLay federal prosecutors had already charged TRMPAC and its officials for these questionable activities. Their indictments make no reference to DeLay as being involved in any way.

Using the federal indictments as his starting point, Earle attempted to indict DeLay on charges of violating Texas Election law as part of a conspiracy by TRMPAC to bypass restrictions on corporate donations. The problem with this accusation is that DeLay was not directly involved with TRMPAC’s disposition of the money, and the law under which he was indicted did not exist at the time the alleged crime took place, but was only passed a year later.

After going through five grand juries Earle managed to get an indictment against DeLay, but he almost immediately had to go back to the grand jury to look for another charge to indict DeLay on because it was clear that his attempt to apply a non-existent law to DeLay’s actions Ex Post Facto would not stand up in court. His new idea was to indict DeLay on money laundering on the theory that TRMPAC had taken illegally donated money and cleaned it up by passing it on to the RNC. The first grand jury Earle empaneled refused to indict DeLay due to lack of evidence, but when their term ran out Earle was able to get a money laundering indictment from the new grand jury.

In the process of indicting DeLay and the management of TRMPAC Earle has had to go through seven different grand juries and has ended up with a felony indictment of DeLay for money laundering which is entirely dependent on proving DeLay was involved in a conspiracy to fraudulently transfer the donations, for which there appears to be little or no evidence, as well as proving that the original donations were actually illegal, which is not entirely clear because the Texas campaign finance law is poorly conceived. Corporate donations to PACs are legal in Texas if they are for administrative expenses, but illegal if they are to be passed on directly to candidates or spent on their behalf. This law is ambiguous and probably ought to be struck down, because it’s virtually impossible to say which dollar came from which source once they are all in a bank account together. TRMPAC can reasonably argue that the money from corporate donations went to office expenses, while the equivalent amount from legitimate sources is what they sent on to the RNC for candidate campaigns.

Based on Earle’s past track record in this kind of case – with Hutchinson and Maddox and others – it won’t be at all surprising to see the entire case which has gotten so much national news attention fall apart completely once it gets into an actual courtroom. That’s Earle’s pattern. He gets a lot of political mileage out of an indictment, but then the case folds for lack of evidence when put to the test. Earle has a pattern of doing this, but thus far he’s avoided the consequences for it. Under the rules of the Texas Bar Earle could be disbarred for pursuing “a charge that he knows is not supported by probable cause,” and this indictment like those against Huthison and Maddox comes awfully close to that line. He has also been accused of using excessive pre-trial publicity to prejudice juries and to smear DeLay and others he has accused with little merit. This is a violation of the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Conduct for lawyers which “strictly prohibits prosecutors from attempting to influence prospective jury members through pretrial publicity.”

Of course, DeLay’s forces are now striking back at Earle. They’re running a humorous, sarcastic ad on the radio about Earle and his partisan legal crusades. They’ve also subpoenaed Earle to appear in court to prove that he actually has some evidence to support his case and to explain irregularities in his conduct with jury members which may have led to unfairly influencing the outcome of his indictments. It’s too much to hope that any of this would lead to Earle being disbarred, but as someone living in the Austin area I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

By all indications DeLay is dirty as hell and not a particularly good representative for Texas. He’s certainly done some awfully questionable things over the years starting with his various questionable fundraising connections and ending with his ridiculous Terry Schiavo grandstanding. But does this make Ronnie Earle’s partisan crusade against him something to be proud of? It’s one thing to take DeLay to task for things which he actually did, but to try to just smear him politically by filing unsupportable charges in a basically manufactured case seems excessive and vindictive, but that’s nothing new for Ronnie Earle.

Dave

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About Dave Nalle

  • Alethinos

    Much good might not be able to be said for the man… Less can be said for Delay. One can literally see the grease ozzing out of every exposed pore.

    Speaking of vindictive where’s Ken Starr these days?

    If a politician has committed a crime or breached an ethics code of conduct – he or she should be dealt with – period. Democrat, republican, no matter.

    Unless, like Thrasymachus (in the Republic) you believe “justice” is whatever the strong say it is?

    Alethinos

  • Alethinos

    Or, as I should have added… Your new districting is whatever Tom Delay now says it is…

    Alethinos

  • MT

    Forget about Earle’s “supposed” vindictive nature Dave — is DeLay clean? (You should know. You’ve always presented yourself as someone who knows the absolute truth about everything there is to know, no matter what anyone else believes, or the evidence implies). Why don’t you tell us how YOU know that DeLay is NOT a scumbag low – life rip-off disgrace. Perhaps you can start with his relationship with Jack, his lobby guru pal, who, at this very moment in time, is being investigated (by someone other than Earle) for his questionable financial dealings. Earle is not the issue. DeLay is — and it’s obvious his spin machine is spinning full steam ahead through voices like yours.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    >>If a politician has committed a crime or breached an ethics code of conduct – he or she should be dealt with – period. Democrat, republican, no matter.<<

    Ronnie Earle’s mantra would be more like “if a politician is a powerful republican we should accuse him of crimes and indict him with no evidence until he’s discredited and destroyed.”

    As to the districting, the gerrymandering crime in Texas was committed after the census of 1990 when the Democrats redrew absolutely ridiculous districts in order to hold onto control of the state government even when only 40% of the voters were democrats. The new Republican drawn districts are much closer to reflecting the political composition of the state, and they are much more coherent geographically as well. The breakdown of the population in Texas is 40% Democrat and 55% Republican. After redistricting the breakdown of the State House of Representatives is 42% Democrat, 56% Republican. Wow, that sure sounds like unfair redistricting to me. The Democrats still have more seats than their percentage of voters.

    Dave

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    MT, do you not READ the articles you’re replying to?

    I said quite clearly that DeLay is indeed “dirty as hell”, but that doesn’t mean I want to see him framed for something he didn’t do. Go after him for what he actually did, don’t smear him in a bogus indictment based on zero evidence and a purely imaginary crime.

    Plenty of people have already pointed out DeLay’s shortcomings, but it seemed like few were aware of what a totally reprehensible, egomaniacal fascist Earle is. I’m just balancing things out here.

    Dave

  • Justin Berry

    Its part of the game Dave both sides are guilty of it. I do however agree that an indictment from Ronnie Earle should be taken with a grain of salt. As a Republican I still had to laugh at the irony of Delay having to step down. If the case were winnable for Mr. Earle it would have been a major victory for the Dems. in ’06. For now the only victory I see is in opinion polls and for conspiracy theorists. The danger that I see for the Dems. is dropped charges or an aquittal which will leave them with egg on their face in the eyes of discerning voters.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Based on Earle’s past record a dropped charge or an acquittal seems more than likely.

    As for DeLay stepping down, that Republican rule reflects very favorably on the party. Jim Wright didn’t step down until he was convicted as I recall.

    Dave

  • MT

    Dave — seeing as how you have stated that DeLay is indeed “dirty as hell” would you care to describe some of those “dirty” deeds to us? You know an awful lot about Earle’s misdeeds, so how about the inside scoop on DeLay.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    MT, it’s not like DeLay’s other misconduct is a mystery. He’s been dragged through the press for years. Of his various activities I find his ramming through of the Schiavo bill the most offensive, but it’s not a crime or anything.

    But if you want to go into more detail on his dreadful cuban cigar smoking or his attempt to use homeland security to track down runaway Texas legislators or his various actual proven financial irregularities, feel free to write an article of your own, or just do a search in the search window at the top of this article for DeLay and you’ll find everything you dreamed of.

    Dave

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Great article.

    I have no use for DeLay, but this Earle character shouldn’t even have his law license anymore, at this point.

  • http://sussfr.blogspot.com Matthew T. Sussman

    How involved was Earle in that Murray case? Instigator? Pawn prosecutor? Suspect? All of the above?

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Exactly, RJ. Earle is becoming an embarassment and I wish there was a way to break up the far left voting block in Austin that keeps him in office.

    Suss, Earle was directly involved in the Murray case. He was the prosecutor in charge and personally questioned her while she was held incommunicado at the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Detention Center. Her family blame him personally for the misconduct of the case and have publicly accused him of racism.

    Dave

  • http://livefromblogdahd.blogspot.com demabloggery

    The problem with this accusation is that DeLay was not directly involved with TRMPAC’s disposition of the money, and the law under which he was indicted did not exist at the time the alleged crime took place, but was only passed a year later.
    ==================
    Texas campaign finance laws are much older than that. The weenie issue delay is trying to get off on is disclosure of the money, which is the new law. The real issue is the manner in which the money was spent.

    Bottom line; the Republicans built a complex organization a la ENRON to circumvent the campaign finance laws and COINCIDENTALLY swept into office in 2002 after muscling their way in and in the classic manner are going on the attack in order to deflect attention away from their shenanigans.

    Delay calling Earle on abusing his powers is like murdering your parents and throwing yourself on the mercy of the court as an orphan. I’m sick of this puke, and I’m damn glad Earle is there to clean up at least this section of that festering sore of the Texas republicans. If he is an asshole, than at least his OUR asshole.

  • http://h demabloggery

    don’t smear him in a bogus indictment based on zero evidence and a purely imaginary crime.
    ———————
    I don’t think it’s bogus at all. But I do know the Republicans are crafty enough to make sure they can argue this. The method is simple; have a ring of people around you that you can claim you didn’t order to do exactly what you did tell them to do. It goes all the way back to the days of Oliver North setting up office in the White HOuse while Reagan had no clue. It’s bullshit, but a lawyer or a partisan could argue it.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    >>Texas campaign finance laws are much older than that. The weenie issue delay is trying to get off on is disclosure of the money, which is the new law. The real issue is the manner in which the money was spent.< <

    The money was spent legally, though. The money didn't actually get spent until it was in the hands of the RNC, and that put it outside of the restrictions of the law which governs TRMPAC. And it's not a weenie issue, because the law really was changed, and without that change there would be no way to charge delay at all. Of course, they still need to prove that he was actually involved in the final disposition of the money, which isn't going to be at all easy.

    >>Delay calling Earle on abusing his powers is like murdering your parents and throwing yourself on the mercy of the court as an orphan. I’m sick of this puke, and I’m damn glad Earle is there to clean up at least this section of that festering sore of the Texas republicans. If he is an asshole, than at least his OUR asshole.< <

    He's not MY asshole, and he's not good for Texas. He's a self-righteous, self-serving fascist who is doing harm to people in Austin every day by neglecting their interests while he pursues his personal political vendettas.

    >>I don’t think it’s bogus at all. But I do know the Republicans are crafty enough to make sure they can argue this. The method is simple; have a ring of people around you that you can claim you didn’t order to do exactly what you did tell them to do. It goes all the way back to the days of Oliver North setting up office in the White HOuse while Reagan had no clue. It’s bullshit, but a lawyer or a partisan could argue it.<<

    You mean you’ve only JUST discovered ‘plausible deniability’? Welcome to the real world.

    Dave

  • http://livefromblogdahd.blogspot.com/ demabloggery

    The money was spent legally, though.
    ================
    The Republicans claim that it went for administrative costs. I don’t believe it.If it went for campaign ads and all the other things it’s illegal, period. This is why it should go to court, because I don’t know and niether do you. All I smell is fish, Dave.
    ======================
    He’s a self-righteous, self-serving fascist
    ==================
    Then he has what it takes to run as Republican.
    ===============
    You mean you’ve only JUST discovered ‘plausible deniability’? Welcome to the real world.
    ===============
    So you concede that Delay ought to be indicted? Good. I knew we would see eye to eye on this one.;)

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    >>The Republicans claim that it went for administrative costs. I don’t believe it.If it went for campaign ads and all the other things it’s illegal, period. This is why it should go to court, because I don’t know and niether do you. All I smell is fish, Dave.< <

    All I smell is a bad law that ought to be repealed.

    >>So you concede that Delay ought to be indicted? Good. I knew we would see eye to eye on this one.;)<<

    No, I think that indicting Delay on a charge which almost certainly won’t stand up in court is a waste of time and a waste of the prosecutor’s resources which ought to be used on real crimes which they are currently neglecting.

    Dave

  • Russell Hallberg Jr

    Two young men are going to be lynched by Prosecutor Ronnie Earl. The were wrongfully convicted for the 1991 Yogurt Shop Murders. Their case is documented.

    Tom DeLay has been indicted for money laundering. The families of the Yogurt Shop Murder victims received 19 million dollars. That is four times the settlement in similar cases. The owners of the yogurt shop, Brice Foods, were convicted of swindling investors. Millions disappeared from Brice Foods investor accounts and turned up in the settlement for the murders.

    Attorney Eric Moebius attempted to expose a huge money laundering operation by insurance companies. His statements are correct. His statement is available in the Other Documents section of the texas-justice site. Go here for more information about the murders.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I didn’t realize that case was still ongoing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Dave