Off the Desk:
Travis County Court-at-Law Judge Wilfred Aguilar found himself on the other side of the bench Tuesday -- this time as a defendant in a Williamson County courtroom packed with reporters, MADD representatives, and curious observers. He was there on a drunken driving charge brought against him last January. The hearing on Tuesday, a pre-trial motion to suppress evidence that includes a DPS videotape of the judge's arrest, centered on defense lawyer David Sheppard's argument that DPS troopers had no legal cause to stop the judge. Troopers had said they stopped Aguilar in the wee hours of Jan. 31 for driving a vehicle with a bald tire. In addition to the videotape, Williamson County Attorney Eugene Taylor also wants to present credit card records that show Aguilar's whereabouts in the hours leading up to his arrest: Joy of Austin (a topless nightclub) and Penthouse Men's Club (formerly known as the Bad Boys' Sports Bar) on Bratton Lane. Williamson County Court-at-Law Judge Kevin Henderson is weighing his decision on the defense motion. This is the second alcohol-related charge against Aguilar since 1996. When he ran for re-election last year, Aguilar acknowledged he had once had a drinking problem but had since sobered up, despite persistent courthouse rumors to the contrary. This recent arrest sparked demands from various corners that he resign from his position. Aguilar declined, but he is now under investigation by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, with a hearing set for Aug. 24....
The Austin Business Journal has a new editor, and he's not from somewhere else. Rickie Windle, who started as an ABJ reporter in 1992 and moved to the managing editor's post in 1997, starts his new job today, July 1. Windle succeeds BETH ZACHARIAS, who was recently named editor of the Washington Business Journal in D.C. Both papersare owned by the American City Business Journals Inc., the country's biggest publisher of metro business papers. The North Carolina chain snapped up the ABJ in 1994 and soon thereafter moved its offices from the old Barnes-Connally office complex on Capital of Texas Highway to a swank Congress Avenue highrise. ABJ Publisher Lyn Chasteen credits Windle for having cultivated a loyal network of business sources in the community. --A.S.
Over a Barrel
That old homily "You gotta dance with who brung ya" has become a particularly irritating fact of life for the AISD Board of Trustees as it grinds through the 1996 bond construction program. Monday the board swallowed hard and expanded its contract with the consultant they had hired to manage the building project, even though it is currently beset with mounting delays that will leave renovations at existing campuses incomplete and possibly at least one new campus unopened when school begins August 11.
The new agreement with BLGY/SVERDRUPhires the company -- at a cost of nearly $600,000 -- as accountant and master scheduler for the technology network installation that AISD took over from IBM in April. That project, which still includes renovations at 30 sites, had proceeded on a track separate from the rest of the bond construction until an auditor warned the district that disastrous scheduling conflicts loomed unless the two projects were more closely coordinated. The district has since assumed responsibility for managing subcontractors but is not able to coordinate scheduling because the construction schedules are in the hands of ... BLGY/Sverdrup.
Sverdrup's fee for coordinating the construction schedules and writing detailed financial reports on the costs of technology installation is too high -- and everyone knows it. The total value of the remaining technology work is about $9 million, meaning that Sverdrup's fee, which does not include any site management or contract negotiation with construction firms, adds over 6% to the cost of the project. Off the record, AISD staff confirm that the price of the services BLGY/Sverdrup is offering should account for no more than 2-3% of the total cost. AISD construction manager CURT SHAW says that Sverdrup has a larger task than may be apparent -- the consultant will have to go back and review expenditures on individual campuses to produce its reports -- but he doesn't deny the cost is steep, saying only that "I'm not sure but that it's not the best option we've got." Trustee LIZ HARTMAN and Board President KATHY RIDER were highly critical of the contract, approving final negotiations with the provision that AISD construction staff work to bring the price down.
But at this point, BLGY/Sverdrup has AISD over a barrel, because the district is in no position to coordinate schedules itself, and bringing in another company would likely result in further lost time and complications. Board president Rider and other members wondered whether BLGY/Sverdrup should have been watchdogging the technology schedules all along.
"It looks like a lot of money to integrate a schedule that should have already been integrated," Rider said at the meeting. But AISD staff say BLGY/Sverdrup never received a clear mandate to handle that job -- another costly error resulting from former superintendent JIM FOX's gung-ho privatization push. What is clear, however, is that AISD is now about to pay a premium price -- again -- for BLGY/Sverdrup's services. Shaw won't guess at the final price his office will eventually be able to negotiate with the consultant, but one AISD staffer says, "I'd expect the price they're charging us to be about right if we were so dumb we needed help even turning on our computers." -- K.F.
A Sweet Fifteenth
About 100 well-wishers gathered at the Givens Recrecreation Center last Wednesday evening to celebrate LACRESHA MURRAY's 15th birthday. It was Murray's first public appearance since returning home in April after the Third Court of Appeals remanded her 1997 conviction in the beating death of two-year-old JAYLA BELTON.
Murray spent much of the party playing basketball and chatting with friends -- at least half of the party's attendees were under 18 years of age. She seemed more than a little embarrassed by the adulation of the adults who honored her strength and conviction during her three-year incarceration.
The evening was certainly upbeat. LARRY HARGROVE soulfully crooned to the audience through the dinner hour, and the Ulit Avenue Baptist Church choir, of which Murray is a member, gave a rousing performance. But the most notable event was the heartfelt apology issued to Murray from PAUL FELIX, a juror from Murray's first trial. "After the trial, talking with friends and my wife, there were questions they asked [about the case] -- questions I should've asked myself, questions I just couldn't answer," said Felix. "It hit me at about the point that the second trial began that we'd made a mistake. A terrible mistake."
One of the District Attorney's office's favorite responses to persistent inquiries about Murray's case is, "When will the questions stop? Two juries found her guilty." But Felix's doubts seem to give Murray's supporters more ammunition to keep plugging away in the attempt to convince the DA to drop its case against the teen rather than try her a third time.
Felix was palpably nervous, but his apology went over just fine, as the shy Murray is remarkably poised about her case and the entire legal trauma she has gone through. Murray says she never believed her conviction would stand. Never. "These people tell me I'm not going to get out," Murray wrote in a letter to her strongest supporter BARBARA TAFT while in the Giddings Youth Facility. "But I'm going to. I'm going to live my life as a young lady, not as a jailbird."
What's next for Murray? Basketball and swimming this summer; school in the fall. As for the future, Murray still stands firm on her plans to become a lawyer, "so that other kids won't have to go through what I went through." But she admits that part of her does lean toward being an actress. Among her favorite movies, she says, is the film based on the JOHN GRISHAM bestseller The Client.-- J.S.
Watch Out, Deborah Harry
When LAURIE PEVEY opened her skateshop 10 years ago, she decided to call it "Blondies." It's her nickname, after all. Little did she know that that simple decision would subject her to an odd and costly federal trademark lawsuit years later. Pevey says about two years ago, the shop began receiving phone calls from an irate individual. Several weeks and harassing phone calls later, she says, a letter arrived at the shop announcing that Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, businessman SONNY AMENDOLA was suing Pevey for trademark violation. Turns out his shop is also called "Blondies," and apparently he feels there's only room enough for one in this country.
Apparently the whole thing started when Amendola found the Austin store's Web site. "He went to register the name Blondies.com and discovered [Pevey] was using it," explains Amendola's attorney CRAIG YOUNG.
Young says his client registered the trademark for the name, Blondies, in 1991. (Though that's after the Austin Blondies opened, Pevey never registered the name.) In late 1998, a federal judge ruled that Amendola had the rights to the name and ordered Pevey to cease and desist using the moniker, lest she be found in contempt of court and risk going to jail. Now Amendola is suing Pevey for $9,000 in lawyer's fees. Pevey didn't have enough money to hire an attorney to aid her in the trademark lawsuit -- she was told it'd take a $25,000 retainer -- and she says that's the chief reason she lost the case. "It's just another case of the little guy gets screwed," she says. "It takes money [to defend yourself], and if you don't have any, you lose."
Still to be hammered out is the dispute over the Blondies.com site. Pevey still owns the domain name; Amendola will likely have to buy it from her. However, Pevey, who is more than a little bitter about the whole situation, says she is none too anxious to sell. Meanwhile, Pevey is plugging away under the generic "skateshop" at the store's new location on the Drag while she and her staff brainstorm on a new name. "That's all there is to do," she says. "And pray for hurricanes in Myrtle Beach." --J.S.