Naked City

Yet More Contempt for T.A.B.

The battle between Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle and the Texas Association of Business took another twist on Monday, with two more contempt-of-court charges leveled against T.A.B. employees.

As expected, T.A.B. President Bill Hammond and information systems director Don Shelton refused to turn over information to a grand jury investigating the group's corporate financing of its November 2002 political ad campaign. Under questioning from T.A.B. defense lawyer Roy Minton, both Hammond and Shelton each told the court that their refusal to cooperate with the subpoenas is based on First Amendment grounds. Two other T.A.B. employees were found in contempt last week under similar circumstances.

At Monday's proceeding, Earle suggested that not all T.A.B. employees wished to be a part of the group's legal battle. "T.A.B.'s best interests may not be in the employees' best interests," Earle said. T.A.B. attorney Andy Taylor later responded that Earle's statement was a "bald-face lie." Taylor said of Earle: "He'll do anything he can to protect his political allies who lost" in the 2002 election. He added that Earle "shoots himself in the foot" every time he appears in court because his case is so weak.

Yet, the court record suggests a different story. So far, the DA's office has won on nearly every argument put forth in state district court, while two higher courts have rejected T.A.B.'s appeals. Taylor said he planned this week to file another writ of habeas corpus with the Court of Criminal Appeals, as he did last week on behalf of the first two T.A.B. employees found in contempt. He said he expects this latest round of appeals to result in a favorable ruling for the business group. If not, then it's on to the U.S. Supreme Court, where T.A.B. has already lost in one attempt to halt the grand-jury inquiry.

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