News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
Suing Over 'Price of Sugar'
D.C.-based lobby firm Patton Boggs is pressuring a local nonprofit to cancel its planned screening of an award-winning documentary. The Price of Sugar is among the films scheduled at the Austin Fair Trade Film Festival, a May 8 event to be held by Ten Thousand Villages of Austin at the Alamo Drafthouse South. The documentary, which won the South by Southwest 2007 Emerging Visions audience award and is available through Netflix, examines human rights abuses in the Dominican Republic. The Austin store received a letter on April 8 from Patton Boggs asking them to cancel the screening, claiming the film contains inaccuracies about its clients the Vicini family and noting that the film's producers are currently being sued for defamation. Attorneys told festival organizers that they, too, could be sued if the screening goes ahead. The store's board of directors will meet May 2 to consider its options. Board member Sharon Matheny said she worries that, even though Patton Boggs cannot legally block the screening, the festival may dump the film to avoid being sued. She explained, "If you're standing in the way of a speeding semi, and everyone's telling you, 'It's ridiculous, but he's going to keep going and run over you,' are you just going to stand there?" – Richard Whittaker
Family Connections Closes Doors
The aftermath of the Family Connections scandal (see "Missed Connections," April 16): With a substantial sum of money missing, the social services organization has packed up and shuttered its offices – while services go lacking. Meanwhile, an ad still posted on Craigslist shows that last Sunday there was a garage sale at 6437 Aden – the home of Louanne Aponte, the former (and missing) executive director now wanted on criminal charges. Also, Austin Realtor Shara Parker has a listing for that home online, but its current status is "withdrawn." Parker said she could not comment as to why. – Lee Nichols
Supremes Deny Hood Appeal
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from Texas death row inmate Charles Dean Hood, sentenced to die for the 1990 killing of a Plano couple. Only decades later did Hood's attorneys discover that the prosecutor trying Hood's case, Thomas O'Connell Jr., had been engaged in a long-term sexual affair with the judge that presided over the case, former Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Verla Sue Holland. Hood appealed his case, and the CCA rejected his bid for a new trial (though it did agree that he should receive a new sentencing hearing). That kicked the appeal to the Supremes, who have now declined to hear the case – prompting consternation from Hood's supporters, including Texas gubernatorial candidate Bill White and former FBI director and federal Judge William Sessions. In a joint press statement, they said, "The relationship between the judge and prosecutor in this case breached every standard of fairness that we rightfully expect from our country's criminal justice system, casting grave doubt on the impartiality of the trial in this case and tarnishing the reputation of the judiciary and our criminal justice system as a whole." – Jordan Smith
Specialty Courts Proponents Honored
Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, and Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, were honored April 20 by the National Center for DWI Courts and Beam (as in Jim) Global Spirits & Wine Inc. for working to pass, in 2007, a law creating DWI courts in Texas. The law required the establishment of these problem-solving courts in counties with a population of 200,000 or more; currently there are 25 such courts operating in the state. (For more on the specialty courts movement, see "Niche Justice," March 26.) – J.S.