This afternoon I sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting an investigation into the financial crimes and corruption at Hearne City Hall, because city officials are pulling out the big guns to thwart a local investigation. As KBTX reported on Wednesday, Robertson County District Judge Robert Stem blocked District Attorney Coty Siegert from listening to audiotapes of the Hearne City Council’s executive sessions. Mr. Siegert had obtained the recordings with a search warrant as part of his ongoing investigation of financial irregularities at city hall as well as violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Now everyone can see why Hearne Mayor Ruben Gomez and the other crooks at city hall wanted to bring back Bryan F. “Rusty” Russ, Jr. as city attorney: Mr. Russ and Judge Stem are both kingpins in the Booger County Mafia, and Mr. Siegert will have a hard time conducting a criminal investigation if Judge Stem is running interference at Mr. Russ’s behest. And rest assured, Judge Stem will be running interference wherever he can. In fact, I would not be surprised if Judge Stem started quashing grand jury subpoenas related to Mr. Siegert’s investigation.
If you’ve read BoogerCountyMafia.com, you’re familiar with the corrupt relationship between Mr. Russ and Judge Stem, e.g., Mr. Russ provided free legal services to Judge Stem, and the two of them hid that relationship from all of the attorneys and parties who appeared opposite Mr. Russ in Judge Stem’s court. Around the same time, Judge Stem aided and abetted Mr. Russ and his law partner, Jimmie McCullough, in the theft of more than $1 million in mineral interests. Anywhere else that might be called bribery, but in Booger County the ruling class gets to make up its own rules.
According to KBTX, Judge Stem listened to the audio tapes in his chambers and then declared that the recordings were not relevant to Mr. Siegert’s investigation (how would he know?), further ruling that they contained information subject to attorney-client privilge. I find the latter ruling particularly unpersuasive. As I explained in my September 9, 2015 post, council members Hazel Embra, Joyce Rattler, and LaShunda White (a.k.a. “the three blind mice”) could be charged with criminally violating the Texas Open Meetings Act if they made the decision to rehire Mr. Russ in advance of the regular council meeting, and the evidence indicates that they did just that. On September 15, 2015, I emailed Mr. Siegert an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General suggesting that individuals who are not on the city council could nonetheless be charged with a TOMA violation. In other words, not only could the three blind mice be charged with violating TOMA, but Mr. Russ could be charged to the extent that he participated in the violation.
Recall that Mr. Russ has already admitted (1) that he met with Ms. Embra and Ms. Rattler prior to the meeting, and (2) they discussed rehiring him as city attorney. It appears that they all participated in a “walking quorum” in violation of TOMA (and after I expressly warned them that it was illegal). So Judge Stem not only needs to protect Mr. Russ’s clients from Mr. Siegert’s search warrant, he needs to protect Mr. Russ himself. But here’s the real problem with Judge Stem’s ruling: attorney-client privilege is subject to the crime-fraud exception. According to that exception, the privilege does not apply when the attorney is participating in a crime or fraud with his client.
If Mr. Russ was advising the council on rehiring him, for example, then he almost certainly was a personal participant in the TOMA violation. Likewise, if he advised the council about retroactively approving the pay of an employee behind bars – knowing that that subject was not properly posted on the agenda – then there would be no privilege insofar as he was participating in the TOMA violation. On the other hand, even if former City Attorney Lonnie Gosch was the person advising the council, his advice might be subject to an exception if he advised council members to stop breaking the law and they kept doing it in his presence.
Under any circumstances, Judge Stem should not be presiding over a criminal investigation of his allies in the Booger County Mafia. If he is willing to interfere with the investigation of a misdemeanor TOMA offense, imagine what he will do when things get serious.
STAND UP AND FIGHT
For at least six years now, I’ve been trying to persuade the FBI and the DOJ to do something about the endemic corruption in Hearne and Robertson County. Unfortunately, corruption in small towns and rural communities is not very sexy as far as the feds are concerned. That needs to change.
Senator John Cornyn has devoted significant attention to Robertson County, sending letters to state and federal officials and even directing his staff to make phone calls to prosecutors and investigators. As you can see from today’s letter to DOJ, a deputy assistant director of the FBI either tried to mislead Senator Cornyn about Robertson County or he didn’t know what was going on in his chain of command. Either way, Senator Cornyn should be thanked for his efforts… and encouraged to double down.
Perhaps the senator or Congressman Bill Flores could arrange a Congressional hearing on the prosecution of public corruption in rural communities. How many public corruption cases per capita are brought in urban vs. rural communities? More to the point, what is it going to take to get the FBI and DOJ to do something about the Booger County Mafia?
You can email Senator Cornyn at Dallas_Office@cornyn.senate.gov or fax a letter to (202) 228-2856. Congressman Flores’s fax number is (979) 703-8845, or you can send a message from his website. Urge them to light a fire under the FBI and DOJ. The more people they hear from, the better.
Other officials should be contacted as well, including State Senator Charles Schwertner (Charles.Schwertner@senate.state.tx.us) and Rep. Kyle Kacal (Kyle.Kacal@house.state.tx.us). During the last legislative session, I urged both men to redraw the boundaries of the 82nd Judicial District to move Judge Stem out of Robertson County and into McLennan County, where he would be one of several judges instead of the lone kingpin. I also proposed merging Robertson County into the three district courts of Brazos County, adding a new judge to handle the additional workload.
Several of my clients wrote letters in support of this idea, but Rep. Kacal just ignored them (like he does all the rest of his constituents).* Senator Schwertner responded, but he said he did not favor splitting the 82nd because he thought people in rural communities should be able to elect their own judges. In reality, the current system prevents people in rural communities from having a choice. Why? Here’s an explanation from BoogerCountyMafia.com:
In more than 30 years on the bench, Judge Stem has never had an opponent. There are good reasons for that, and they have nothing to do with what a great judge he is. For one thing, Judge Stem is the only district judge in Falls or Robertson Counties. Most of a local lawyer’s cases will go before Judge Stem, and if he or she runs against the judge, the judge will retaliate. Equally as significant, there may be a dozen or fewer lawyers in each county. Some of those lawyers may no longer practice, or they may not be trial lawyers. Thus it is nearly impossible to find (1) a qualified challenger who is (2) willing to run. As a result, a judge in a rural county can become the “Boss Hogg” for that county, because he is the only game in town, and he can stay in power for as long as he chooses.
As I explained elsewhere on that site, each county should have at least two district judges and preferably three or more, and the district should be big enough for voters to have multiple lawyers to choose from. Otherwise, too much power gets concentrated in the hands of one person.
WHERE IS THE ROBERTSON COUNTY NEWS?
If you want to know what is going on in Hearne or Robertson County, you won’t find out in the Robertson County News. In today’s edition, editor and publisher Dennis Phillips gives you his analysis of Donald Trump as a Presidential candidate, but he doesn’t tell you that the local DA’s investigators just served a search warrant on city hall. In fact, Mr. Phillips consistently refuses to cover the corruption in county or city government, so you have watch KBTX, read The Bryan-College Station, or read this blog.
Maybe there’s a reason for that. Back in February, I reported that Mr. Phillips and the newspaper accepted a $30,000 grant from the city for the purpose of remodeling the company’s offices. Almost any other news organization would consider that unethical and a flagrant conflict of interest, and it sure looks like the city paid for the newspaper’s silence. In the same February post, I also responded to a libelous, race-baiting column that Mr. Phillips had written about my then-clients.
I seriously doubt that Mr. Phillips has had any professional education or training in journalism, because most high school journalists would know better than to publicly support a political candidate in a race that you are covering as a reporter (as Mr. Phillips has done). Regardless, Robertson County deserves better. Send an email to Jim Moser, the president of the company that owns the News, at email@example.com, and tell Mr. Moser that Robertson County needs a legitimate journalist to run a legitimate newspaper.
* Kyle Kacal desperately needs a primary challenger, and I’m not talking about perennial candidate Timothy Delasandro. After his election, Mr. Kacal apparently decided that he was too important to respond to the little people, i.e., his constituents. Mr. Kacal doesn’t respond to letters or phone calls, and I know of at least one occasion where he ignored a request to attend a town hall meeting. Can anyone name three things that he has accomplished as a legislator? Or even one thing? And why is the tea party crowd targeting Rep. John Rainey – who responds to his constituents – yet ignoring Rep. Kacal, who is also aligned with House Speaker Joe Strauss?