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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Serenity Mini-Review

I saw Serenity at the blogger's preview last night, and I was very pleasantly surprised.

My guess is that this will be the science fiction movie of the year, and one of the better movies of the year. If you don't hate science fiction, you should see it, whether or not you have seen the TV show.

A brief synopsis: In the far future, most of humanity lives in a star system with hundreds of terraformed and habitable moons and planets. (I know, but go with it.) The inner planets are ruled by the "Alliance," a civilizing but somewhat corrupt government, and the outer planets tend to be a little more anarchic, something like frontier towns in the American West. Captain Mal Reynolds was a soldier on the losing side of a civil wara against the Alliance, and now makes ends meet by taking various jobs as the Captain of the spaceship Firefly. The ship is always in constant danger of falling apart and/or killing the crew, but somehow, Mal has managed to collect one of the best crews in space, with various genius-level (at least in their specialties) members, including a pilot, a mechanic, a doctor, a psychic, a mercenary, and a prostitute with a heart of gold. (Hey, it's a Western - you've got to have a prostitute with a heart of gold!).

The movie does a nice job of setting up a plot that ties into the TV series but stands fine on its own. The major plot is the Alliance's attempt to recapture the psychic on Mal's crew and her brother, a former member of the Alliance's creme de la creme who threw away his career and fortune to save his sister from the experimental facility in which they were keeping her. Whedon sets up the characters well enough that you don't need to have seen the show to enjoy the movie, and he alternates very nicely between drama, pathos, and humor. His dialogue is great (although I could do with all the "I reckons" and "I cogitates" that apparently give the outlier characters Western verisimilitude) and he has a real sense for his character's emotional lives. The actors are all first rate, and it's an engaging, emotional plot.

The cinimatography, on the other hand, is functional but forgettable. I don't think you would miss much if you saw the movie on a DVD instead of in the theater, but I would still go to the theater, if I were you, so that you could see the movie now.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Pre-Serenity Blogging

I'm signed up for one of the upcoming Serenity premieres. After I see it, I'll post a non-spoiler and a spoiler review.

For what it's worth, here are my early thoughts on Serenity. Joss Whedon is a creative, original guy with a real talent at coming up with quirky ideas, at inspiring his actors to go an extra mile, and at writing funny dialogue. He is actually not very good at writing tight plots or final acts, but he has some good writers working for him, so that usually doesn't show.

Of the three shows he did, Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, I think he picked the right one to make into a movie. There was a lot more story to tell in Firefly, and the larger ensemble cast might set up some better plots. Based on Whedon's record, the movie could be great, or could suck, but I suspect great - otherwise they wouldn't be doing the advance previews.

Now to earn my wages. The movie guys demand that I link to the Serenity promotional website, and that I include the following synopsis.

Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

Ok, that's done. I'll be back once I've seen the movie.