Beyond City Limits
Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., July 4, 2003
Legislators had hardly made it in the Capitol door Monday for Tom DeLay's Blue-Light Redistricting Special before Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn hit them with yet another bit of unfinished (or more precisely, screwed up) business. The comptroller's staff is still reviewing the new biennial budget (although Strayhorn certified it June 20) and discovered that one of the budget-balancing accounting maneuvers -- "saving" money by postponing an $800 million Foundation School Program payment from August to September 2004 -- was in fact made effective this year. "The ultimate result," Strayhorn wrote Gov. Perry, "could mean some schools will ... be unable to pay bills (including teacher salaries)" by August. Strayhorn suggested that the Lege can readily fix the problem, or else the districts and the Texas Education Agency can create a financing maneuver to address the problem. The item is not among the 28 matters just added to the session call by Perry. -- Michael King
Reps from the two big multistate lottery games -- Powerball and Mega Millions -- made their pitches Monday to the state Lottery Commission. A bill authorizing Texas to enter a multistate game -- estimated to be worth $100 million in "new" money to the state coffers -- was the only one of several big-ticket gambling proposals to survive the session. Currently, no state participates in both Powerball and Mega Millions -- which between them are played in 36 states and the District of Columbia -- but Texas commissioners appear to be leaning toward joining both. The lottery director in Virginia, current leader of the Mega Millions consortium, says joining both games would likely kill off Lotto Texas; this in turn might reduce the projected annual haul. The commission will make its final decision next month. -- M.C.M.
Three minor, or at least lesser-known, players in the Story of Texas passed on in recent weeks. Dallas lawyer Richard Gump, who in 1945 co-founded today's Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld -- the largest firm in Texas -- died June 21 at age 85. Former Railroad Commissioner Mack Wallace, the Athens cop and DA who became a key Texas player during the 1970s and 1980s energy boom, died June 28. And Charles Ben Howell, the colorful appellate judge who lost a record five Supreme Court races in a row from 1986 to 1994, died June 27. -- M.C.M.
On June 24 the Texas attorney general's office filed its response to the federal appeal filed earlier this year on behalf of death row defendant Rodney Reed, convicted for the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites of Giddings. The appeal alleges that Reed's trial, and the subsequent state appeal, were tainted by prosecutors' suppression of evidence, ineffective assistance of defense counsel, and inept investigative work. In their response, AG attorneys say the claims are either irrelevant or "procedurally barred" because they were not before raised in state court -- including those based on evidence Reed contends was hidden by the state. Reed's attorney, Bryce Benjet from the Texas Defender Service, is expected to file a response with the federal court this month. (For more on the case, see "Who Killed Stacey Stites?," May 24, 2002.) -- Jordan Smith
The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity last week released the results of an extensive nationwide investigation into prosecutorial misconduct. For the report, titled "Harmful Error," veteran journalist Steve Weinberg of the University of Missouri analyzed 11,452 criminal cases appealed to higher courts since 1970 and found that misconduct led to dismissed charges, reversed convictions, or reduced sentences in at least 2,012 cases. In Texas, Weinberg analyzed 589 appellate opinions that resulted in 154 reversals, 420 determinations of "harmless error," 15 cases where the charges were not addressed by the court, and 42 cases where judges issued dissenting or concurring opinions. For the full text of the report, which includes a database searchable by individual jurisdiction, go to www.publicintegrity.org. -- J.S.