Story on Earle, Hutchison ‘Not Credible’

Posted October 19, 2005 at 6:34pm

I served as co-counsel for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) in 1993-94, working with Dick DeGuerin and others defending the Senator against an abusive and politically motivated prosecution brought by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. She had just won a seat held by Democrats since Reconstruction in a special election, and the election for the full term was only a year away.

The prosecution was a fiasco for Earle. He lost numerous pre-trial motions because he had no evidence to support any of his claims. He was repeatedly shown to be incompetent in his legal and investigative work. The case ended ingloriously, with a directed verdict of acquittal, after Earle refused to put on a case. It became clear to everyone, including the judge, that Earle’s purpose was to shop for a different venue and prolong the prosecution to continue damaging the Senator. His abuse was so transparent at the time that he was widely ridiculed across Texas for his ineptitude and his partisan motivation.

So I read with amazement this week a Roll Call article (“Earle v. Lawmaker, Take 1,” Oct. 18) suggesting that, because Earle refused to go to trial, the case was somehow less than complete exoneration for Hutchison. This is the story line that a handful of Earle defenders have been peddling for years. It’s not credible.

I have followed press reports of the Hutchison case, and the Roll Call story is easily the most misleading and unfair account of the case I have read in more than a decade. Roll Call had an opportunity, with the advantage of historical perspective, to take a careful look at Earle’s conduct in his various cases. Instead, relying largely on assertions from a former Earle assistant and a weekly alternative newspaper, Roll Call rehashed charges in the Hutchison prosecution that had been discredited at the time or that would have been refuted had Earle gone to trial.

For example, Roll Call reports that a state employee, Wes McGehee, came to prosecutors “with a bombshell.” McGehee supposedly claimed records were being destroyed in the state Treasury office. Roll Call failed to report that when deposed under oath by the defense, McGehee stated he had told the prosecutors nothing of the sort. In other words, Earle had apparently lied to the court. This is why Earle’s raid on the state Treasury building was under a legal cloud.

Roll Call also detailed claims by two witnesses that they were asked to do illegal political work at the Treasury. What Roll Call failed to report was that prosecutors obtained the complete computer, telephone and other records of both employees, including details of local calls, and found absolutely no evidence to support those claims.

The assertion that Earle’s office was asked to investigate Tom Bowden is false. The district attorney, looking for yet another political stain, threatened Bowden with an indictment of him on a minor election reporting violation if he didn’t lie about Hutchison. Other Treasury employees were similarly threatened with indictments if they didn’t say what the district attorney asked them to say. All of this would have come out in a trial. In fact, several of the people mentioned in the Roll Call article as detractors of Hutchison have since apologized. It was reported to the Senator by one of the people cited in the article that a family member had suffered a nervous breakdown because of the district attorney’s tactics.

Roll Call also failed to examine the excuse Earle manufactured to cover the collapse of his case. He demanded a ruling he knew he would lose. Earle sought admissibility, in advance, of mountains of evidence. Judge John Onion, a Democrat and universally respected former chief judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, did not exclude anything. He said he would admit evidence as it was presented at trial, as any competent trial judge would do.

Earle’s alleged apprehension over a possible future adverse ruling was patently phony. Hutchison had voluntarily turned over 10,000 pages of documents and tapes — all her correspondence, phone records, computer records and copies of virtually all other items the prosecutor had gathered in his surprise raid on the state Treasury Department. So Earle possessed admissible copies of all documents.

In its selective use of newspaper clippings, Roll Call somehow overlooked an important source of contemporary information about Earle’s case. The voir dire in Tarrant County took place over parts of four days, and both prosecution and defense lawyers engaged in extended interaction with potential jurors. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram later interviewed jurors selected for the trial. The jurors variously stated that “the prosecutor was unprepared from the start,” and his presentation was “a farce,” “almost goofy,” and “trivial.” Of course, Roll Call failed to include this information in the story, perhaps because it didn’t serve to rehabilitate Earle’s credibility, which appeared to me to be the purpose of Roll Call’s story.

In sum, Hutchison committed no crime whatsoever. Earle contended that the Senator had destroyed tapes and done illegal political work, but both charges collapsed completely when they were examined. Earle’s humiliation was complete. Hutchison could not possibly have won a more resounding exoneration.

I was especially incredulous at the repeated assertion in Roll Call that Earle didn’t seek the Hutchison prosecution, but was forced into action because witnesses “came to him” with information. Roll Call knew, but failed to report, that Earle himself had unsuccessfully sought the appointment to the U.S. Senate seat later won by Hutchison.

As a member of the Senator’s defense team in this case, I can personally vouch for the version of events in this letter. Roll Call’s naiveté in portraying an aggressively partisan prosecutor as a passive data collector would be humorous in a general interest paper, but it’s inexcusable in a publication purporting to cover the inside of politics.

Ronald G. Woods is a former U.S. Attorney in Houston.