02-28-08, 02:33 AM #1
Irony is not justice ... but it's a start
It's the kind of case with twists and turns to make it sound like a bad movie. Let us start with the ironic: Chuck Rosenthal is a now-former District Attorney from Houston, Texas, who, in arguments before the United States Supreme Court in the famous case known as Lawrence v. Texas, said,
I think that this Court having determined that there are certain kinds of conduct that it will accept and certain kinds of conduct it will not accept may draw the line at the bedroom door of the heterosexual married couple because of the interest that this Court has that this Nation has and certainly that the State of Texas has for the preservation of marriage, families and the procreation of children.
Even if you infer that various States acting through their legislative process have repealed sodomy laws, there is no protected right to engage in extrasexual - extramarital sexual relations, again, that can trace their roots to history or the traditions of this nation.
In his 30-plus-year legal career in Harris County, Texas, Chuck Rosenthal has been no stranger to controversy. As a prosecutor he lit firecrackers in the stairwell of the district attorney's offices soon after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings. (It was a prank, he said.) After he was elected DA in 2000 he called the death penalty a "biblical proposition" and lobbied unsuccessfully to maintain Texas's sodomy law. He defied a gag order to appear on "60 Minutes" in 2001 to defend his decision to seek the death penalty for Andrea Yates, the Houston housewife who drowned her five children.
Rosenthal is back in the headlines again. Last December, as part of a federal civil rights lawsuit into how justice is meted out in the county, he turned over the (partial) contents of his government e-mail account. And what a batch of e-mails it was. Black ministers called for the Republican to resign because of racist material, including a cartoon depicting an African-American suffering from a "fatal overdose" of watermelon and fried chicken. There were adult video clips and love notes from Rosenthal to his secretary, his mistress during a previous marriage. "I love you so much," Rosenthal says in one. "I want to kiss you behind your right ear," he says in another. "Go spend time with your family," she admonishes him back.
And yet, his troubles are not nearly over:
As eye-opening as his e-mails were, it's the ones that disappeared that might cause him more trouble yet. Rosenthal deleted thousands of e-mails (even going so far as to delete them from the trash folder) that investigators in the civil rights case wanted; his actions could lead to obstruction of justice charges (the messages were destroyed after he had received a subpoena for them, he admitted in court). And during a contempt of court hearing earlier this month, Rosenthal appeared to contradict his sworn statements about the e-mails, leaving him open to perjury charges. The hearing was abruptly adjourned at the request of his lawyer and is scheduled to resume March 14. If found in contempt, the former top prosecutor could wind up in jail.
The case in question apparently stems from a complaint against Harris County sheriff's deputies who arrested and abused two men for the "crime" of photographing them. A former political rival took the case and subpoenaed the email records in order to determine whether or not the DA's office acted to cover the Sheriff's Department.
Kelley says he bears no grudge against his former political nemesis. "Nobody should be allowed to destroy evidence," Kelley says. What was unearthed was bad enough, he says, "but this is less than a half, maybe a third of the total." In the lawsuits against the sheriff, Tommy Thomas, and Rosenthal, Kelley paints a picture of a county justice system off the rails. "You've got a good ol' boy system, so the last resort is a civil lawsuit," he says. "You've got a crooked system where they all feed on each other. There's no independent oversight. This is Tammany Hall, only a 100 years later."
There have long been complaints that the Harris County DA's office discriminates. Former prosecutors have said that other lawyers in the office referred to Hurricane Katrina evacuees as "NFLs," or "N------ From Louisiana." In 2003 prosecutor Mike Trent sent an officewide message congratulating his colleagues on winning a case despite the presence of several "Canadians" on the jury. (He later said he was unaware that "Canadian" is sometimes used as a racial slur for a black person.) Jolanda Jones, a defense attorney and Houston city council member, has complained for years that minorities are unfairly stricken from juries and that punishment is administered more harshly for blacks. "There is absolutely an undercurrent of racism," she says. "The story is bigger than the district attorney's office. It's systemic. They're racist and classist. If you're poor or a minority, there is no justice."
But Joe Owmby, chief of the DA's integrity division and the highest-ranking black prosecutor in Harris County, says he's never felt as if he works in a racist atmosphere-and he defends Rosenthal for encouraging minority hiring. Other black former prosecutors say they never heard racist comments either.
The jury of public opinion is divided on whether Rosenthal's e-mails amount to a handful of embarrassing private messages or evidence of racism and sexism tainting the justice system in the nation's fourth-largest city. Hundreds rallied before Rosenthal's contempt of court hearing earlier this month to call for his resignation. Deric Muhammad of the Millions More Movement told the crowd on the courthouse steps, "We have a systemic problem. It is not just Rosenthal that has to go-the whole toilet must be flushed."
Well-casted and competently-directed, this is Oscar material.
Spaulding, Pam. "Scandal-ridden homophobic D.A. in ‘Lawrence v. Texas’ case resigns". Pandagon. February 27, 2008. http://pandagon.blogsome.com/2008/02...-case-resigns/
Kovach, Gretel C. "Race, Justice, and Texas". Newsweek.com. February 26, 2008. http://www.newsweek.com/id/115280
03-04-08, 01:06 AM #2
Settlement in Ibarra suit
Title: "Suit which led to DA's resignation settled", by Associated Press
Date: March 3, 2008
Perhaps the county just wants to put it all behind them. Well, as much as possible:
Harris County Commissioners voted Monday to pay $1.7 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit that ultimately led to the resignation of the district attorney.
Commissioners unanimously approved the settlement in an emergency meeting as deputies accused in the case of violating the civil rights of two brothers were scheduled to testify, the Houston Chronicle reported in its online editions.
Sean Carlos Ibarra, 37, and Erik Adam Ibarra, 28, were seeking $5 million in damages. The two brothers claimed they were wrongfully arrested by sheriff's deputies after photographing and videotaping the officers during a 2002 drug raid at a neighbor's home ....
.... The lawsuit by the brothers claimed a sheriff's deputy hit Sean Ibarra when he refused to hand over a camera used to photograph deputies during the raid at the home of a neighbor.
It also claims deputies then burst into the Ibarra home and drew their guns when Erik Ibarra, then a 21-year-old college student, grabbed a video camera to film the officers' actions. One of the deputies threatened to shoot Erik Ibarra, the lawsuit alleged.
Both brothers were taken into custody but later cleared of wrongdoing.
"There were some policies that were violated," said Commissioner Steve Radack. "You had somebody on the street who went beyond what was reasonable."
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