UPDATE: Circling the wagons in Collin County

I overlooked a couple of facts in my blog post yesterday, and those facts make it all the more evident that Collin County officials are trying to prevent grand jurors from investigating the suspicious purchase and sale of the Collin Central Appraisal District property.

I reported that District Judge John Roach, Jr. signed an order sealing the names of the grand jurors in his court on July 8, 2015, the same day that I sent a letter to District Clerk Andrea Stroh Thompson requesting the names of those grand jurors. And although I knew that Judge Chris Oldner had signed an identical order on June 25, 2015, I did not realize the significance of the date.

As it happens, I had sent an email on June 25 to Gayle Leyko, the assistant DA in charge of grand jury matters, asking whether she had presented the grand jury with the Lone Star Project’s May 12, 2015 letter about the appraisal district transaction. She ignored the email, but Gail Falco LeykoI later learned from another source that she had not delivered it to the Tuesday grand jury, i.e., the grand jury that had already received my March 21, 2015 letter about the same transaction.

The Tuesday grand jury also had been investigating Attorney General Ken Paxton, and my May 21 letter revealed that Mr. Paxton and District Attorney Greg Willis both were partners in that transaction. Hence all the efforts from Mr. Willis’s office to block the investigation of Mr. Paxton.

But I digress. Here’s what I think happened: Ms. Leyko received my June 25 email and immediately knew that I was going to ask the new grand jurors to investigate the appraisal district transaction (which involved her boss), so she asked Judge Oldner to sign an order sealing the names of those grand jurors. Unaware of that order, I sent a letter on July 8 to Ms. Thompson, the district clerk, asking for the names of both the Tuesday grand jurors and the Thursday grand jurors. I suspect Ms. Thompson immediately notified Ms. Leyko, who then asked Judge Roach to sign an identical order sealing the names of the Thursday grand jurors. We will know for sure when (or “if”) the judges and the DA’s office comply with the public information requests that I sent to them yesterday.

Another fact occurred to me after yesterday’s blog post: on March 25, 2015, I sent a letter to all of the district judges in Collin County requesting that they either convene a special grand jury and appoint a district attorney pro tem or petition for a court of inquiry.** Either option would bypass the conflicted prosecutor (i.e., Mr. Willis) and allow an unbiased investigation to proceed.

With that letter I included a copy of the May 21 letter to Mr. Willis about the appraisal district transaction, as well as my May 21 letter to the grand jury about that transaction. In other words, every district judge in Collin County knew about the shady appraisal district transaction, and every district judge was asked to do something about it.

I never expected Judge Jill Willis to respond, because she is the wife of the conflicted D.A., but I thought one of the other eight district judges might do the right thing. No such luck. I wish I could tell you more of what I know about the district judges in Collin County, but that information is privileged, so I have to keep my mouth shut. Suffice it to say that I trust them all about as far as I can throw them.

As a young reporter, I learned that the size and significance of a story correlates directly with the amount of effort that a public official expends in trying to hide that story. Make no mistake: the judges and the rest of the Collin County ruling class are circling the wagons to prevent an investigation of the purchase and sale of the appraisal district site. This story goes far beyond Ken Paxton, and a lot of people in the courthouse want to bury it before they, their friends, or their donors get caught up in it.

One more thing: it’s time for grass-roots Republicans in Collin County to organize a throw-the-bums-out slate for the 2016 and 2018 primaries. The stench of corruption permeates the Collin County Courthouse, and too many hogs have been feeding at the public trough for too long.

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** Brian Wice and Kent Shaffer were appointed district attorneys pro tem to investigate only the securities transactions involving Mr. Paxton, not the appraisal district transaction involving Mr. Paxton, Mr. Willis, and others. And Mr. Wice and Mr. Shaffer were appointed only because Mr. Willis finally recused himself (under pressure), not because the district judges took any initiative of their own.