By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Chris Luna, who is not a morning person, answered the phone with the slur of sleep in his voice.
It was 8:30 a.m. Tuesday--the day before the big Cinemark vote last week--and there was, of course, only one question that needed to be posed to Luna on this matter.
"So, are you feeling guilty about the Cinemark settlement?" I asked him, referring to the lawsuit settlement he and his fellow council members would overwhelmingly approve the next day.
"I'm not talking about the settlement at all until after it's done," Luna said.
Yeah, but how do you feel when your fellow council members sit there week after week, privately making snide remarks and nasty jokes at your expense about your incredibly sleazy role in one of the most costly lawsuits in the city's history?
"I have nothing to say about Cinemark until after Wednesday," Luna said.
Not surprising, of course. Because what he had done--what council members have been discussing among themselves for almost a year, and what the city attorney finally made official last week--was to actively help Cinemark, the wealthy Dallas-based movie-theater company, by providing ammunition useful in its suit against the city.
He had done this by slipping information and documents to Cinemark's zoning lawyer Kirk Williams--including, most damaging of all, a highly confidential memo the city attorney had prepared for a closed-door meeting with the council.
This was a disaster for taxpayers. First, Cinemark had promised to sue the city if the council didn't let it build Tinseltown, a 24-screen movie theater at Forest Lane and Inwood. The memo Luna leaked, a legal analysis of the threat, recommended the council approve Cinemark's development plans, because if it didn't, Cinemark had a good chance of winning--and winning big--in court. Armed with this secret analysis, Cinemark indeed sued as soon as the council decided to overrule the city attorney's advice in favor of angry North Dallas homeowners who didn't want Cinemark as a neighbor.
The second legal disaster was that once privileged memos were leaked to the opposition, the door was open for Cinemark to obtain additional damaging confidential documents.
When Luna leaked Cinemark the confidential document, it opened a Pandora's box the city was never able to close--resulting in hundreds of pages of other, highly damaging confidential documents being surrendered to Cinemark. It also resulted in City Attorney Sam Lindsay and one of his staff lawyers being deposed--a highly unusual development that resulted in even more private attorney-client conversations being revealed.
Luna's treachery was not new news.
For two years, the council had suspected Luna of giving comfort and aid to the opposition--since the day of the Big Vote that shot down Cinemark's plans. While the issue was being discussed in private, closed-door session, council members watched incredulously as Luna scurried in and out of chambers to huddle with Cinemark's Kirk Williams, whom Luna had once worked with at the law firm Akin Gump.
As early as last August, this column reported that Luna had, in fact, smuggled the secret legal analysis to Williams, who had dutifully brought it with him to a deposition he was called to in March 1994. Unlike Luna, Williams is no liar, and when I asked him if he'd gotten the document from Luna, Williams went ahead and admitted it.
The day after that column appeared, Luna sent a memo to his fellow council members.
"So there is no misunderstanding, I will clearly state my position," Luna wrote in his memo to his brethren. "I have not released any attorney-client privileged documents to any third party on any matter."
(It's worth pointing out that neither Luna nor Williams complained to the Observer--in writing or otherwise--about the veracity of my reporting.)
Several weeks ago, in the waning days of the lawsuit, Kirk Williams was deposed a second time by the city's lawyers. During the deposition, he was asked if Luna had given him the damaging document. Williams replied affirmatively. City Attorney Sam Lindsay, after reviewing a written transcript of that deposition, called each individual council member last Tuesday night--the night before the settlement vote--to tell them Luna's role in the leak had now been confirmed under oath.
A heartfelt "I'm sorry" to his colleagues should have been Luna's first order of business last Wednesday. But no admissions were forthcoming. To the contrary, besides looking a bit pasty about the face and neck, Luna stoically sat at the horseshoe last week as his fellow council members publicly stoned him. He did his best to pretend this was a typical council day, and the tirades aimed at him--complete with words like "sabotage" and "treachery"--were routine policy debates, and that, like so many other petty scandals that came his way as an elected official, this, too, would pass.
Later that afternoon, I asked Luna what I had asked him the day before. "I did not give any confidential or attorney-client privileged documents to anyone," he told me. "The documents I gave to him were public information which were obtained by several of the media, including you." (True, the media obtained the documents, but only because they got them from Cinemark--who got them from Luna.)