Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Right-Wing's Wrong About Ronnie Earle and Kay Bailey Hutchison

It gives me no joy to write this piece. I think the DeLay prosecution is bunk, and I'm a reliable GOP partisan, as a review of this site will show.

However, exhibit A in the GOP push-back on the DeLay prosecution is the argument that Earle filed a politically motivated prosecution against GOP Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, and that the case so weak that he was unable to present evidence when the case actually came to trial. The Wall Street Journal and DeLay himself have suggested that Earle somehow brought an indictment against Hutchison without any evidence whatsoever, forcing him to drop the case when Hutchison called his bluff and asked for a trial.

That's not right, and DeLay in particular should know it's not right, since he has Hutchison's lawyer working for him. I can't say if Senator Hutchison is guilty or not, but assuming that the article I cite below is correct, Earle was right to prosecute, and ended up blowing the case by a stupid tactical decision. Here's what happened:

  • For some time in 1992-1993, the Travis County prosecutor's office had been investigating allegations that Hutcheson had used State Treasurer's office resources for personal purposes or to support her political campaign. The investigation was chugging along, but hadn't found a bombshell, until . . .

  • On June 9, 1993, four days after Hutchison won a US Senate runoff, Wesley McGehee, a computer guy from the Texas State Treasurer's office, came into the prosecutor's office. McGehee told Travis County prosecutors that his boss had ordered him to erase evidence from computer backup tapes, allegedly on orders from Hutchison herself. McGehee had a copy of the pre-altered tape, which he allegedly made for himself before the modification and kept at his home.

  • Apparently fearing destruction of evidence, Earle ordered a raid on the State Treasurer's office, acting pursuant to grand jury subpoenas rather than a search warrant.

  • McGehee's boss, R.T. Burkett, testified to a grand jury that Hutchison ordered him to alter the tapes, and that Hutchison continued to pursue the tape erasure project after the criminal investigation had begun.

  • Michael Barron, Hutchison's assistant, also testified to the grand jury. He testified that, upon learning that one of her staff had used his work computer, rather than his home computer, to do some political work, Hutchison ordered that the political files be removed from the computer and from automatic backup tapes.

  • As the parties prepared for trial, Hutchison's lawyers requested that the Judge exclude most of the evidence, arguing that it was improper to get the evidence with a grand jury subpoena instead of a search warrant. Judge John Onion refused to rule on the evidence motion before trial.

  • Earle them made his fatal mistake. He attempted to dismiss the charges against Hutchison. (He later admitted this was an attempt to refile the charges somewhere else in an effort to get a more sympathetic judge.) Rather than allow him to dismiss, Onion impaneled a jury and instructed them that, since the prosecutor was unwilling to present evidence, they should find Hutchison not guilty.

Source: "The Case Against Kay," by Miriam Rozen, readable here. (The article is obviously slanted, but I've restricted myself to the facts presented there, which seem to be right).

What's the upshot? Earle might or might not be a partisan hack, but the Hutchison prosecution doesn't prove it. Hutchison might not have been guilty of a crime, but Earle wasn't wrong to prosecute - almost anyone would if they got credible evidence that a criminal investigation subject was destroying evidence.