The Dope Bowl

Lawyers, goons, money--and some very curious sex toys. Laura Miller does the post-game analysis of the Michael Irvin trial.

The prosecutors had no reason to accept Irvin's generous offer to plead guilty to a lesser charge--after all, in their minds there was plenty of cocaine in the hotel room that night for everybody to snort, smoke, roll, flush, whatever, and still leave plenty to flash around at trial. (Testimony at trial revealed that Irvin and his friends scurried around inside the hotel room for several long, portentous minutes before opening the door for the police. If they were hiding stuff, they didn't do a very good job; then again, they may have just made the executive decision to get some clothes on.) The district attorney also had Irvin's fingerprints on some of the plates that held the drugs.

The district attorney's office turned down Irvin's offer and got ready for trial--if you can call it that. In reality, it was more of a vaudeville show than a court proceeding.

Take, for instance, the ringmaster himself: state District Judge Manny Alvarez.

Alvarez is what courthouse regulars call a baby judge. He's not only a mere 41 years old; he's only been a judge for a year. In July 1995, Governor George Bush Jr. chose Alvarez to fill the position vacated by state District Judge Pat McDowell, who had resigned after 14 years on the criminal bench to take an administrative position assigning visiting judges to courts in a 34-county area. (There were other, more experienced people in the running for McDowell's post, but Bush reportedly wanted to appoint a Hispanic--though the joke's on somebody since Alvarez is half-Cuban, half-Italian.)

It's tough being compared to McDowell, who was experienced, cool-headed, humble, and fair. He was nice to the media, nice to lawyers, and did a yeoman's job in keeping his ego and temper in check for the big, high-profile cases that came his way, one of which was the Walker Railey case.

And, unfortunately, Alvarez is no Pat McDowell.
Yes, he's smart and articulate and a decent enough guy, and he seems pretty even-handed when it comes to applying the law. But Alvarez is also temperamental, and he was far too gingerly when it came to tolerating the shenanigans of Irvin's defense lawyers, who really did believe that they were the O.J. Dream Team redux.

But Alvarez's flaw is that he's drop-dead gorgeous, and he knows it--which can be boring coming from most men but is downright scary when you have an elected official with real power who delights in seeing himself in the mirror. Alvarez is a preener, a neatnik, and a clothes freak. Back when he was starting his legal career as a young prosecutor in the district attorney's office, fellow prosecutors nicknamed him "Pretty Boy," and people still remember it. Says one former coworker: "We were just amazed that he always looked like he just stepped off a page in GQ."

But for the past year, Alvarez has been John Wayne without a horse--lucky if he even got the beat reporter for The Dallas Morning News to poke his head in the door once in a while to see if Alvarez was alive and breathing. Alvarez's cases were routine murder and mayhem; nothing he did attracted anyone's attention.

Literally overnight, though, Alvarez became the hottest media ticket in town, and the man was obviously enthralled with his new status--very Ito-esque. He had his poor court coordinator, David Lozano, go home every night and feverishly tape all the Irvin segments on the 10-o'clock news, on all four local stations, so that Alvarez could preserve the footage of himself for posterity. Worse, Alvarez dispatched Lozano halfway through the trial to ask an ESPN reporter if she could make copies of all the footage she had of the judge that Lozano might have missed.

It was clear to all who quaked in his wake that one of the reasons this crummy little drug possession case was destined to take weeks instead of two or three days was because Alvarez was just having too much fun. He was in no rush to see the spotlight focused somewhere else.

He took a half-day off from the pretrial hearings to go to San Antonio for the Republican state convention. He shut down court on July 5--the day after Independence Day--while the rest of the courthouse stayed open for business. He never started the day's proceedings earlier than 9:30; he was quick to take "10-minute" breaks that always turned into 30; and he reserved 90 minutes for lunch, which he usually took with one of his old lawyer pals at Sal's Italian restaurant on Wycliff Avenue. Last Thursday, he halted the proceedings at 3 p.m. and sent the jury home until Monday, reserving all of Friday for consults between himself and the lawyers (which he typically does in chambers behind closed doors).

And, yes, despite protestations to the contrary, Alvarez did take one entire hour last week to confer privately in chambers with fellow lady-killer Troy Aikman--all so that Aikman could enjoy a smooth and successful transition from being beloved football superhero in the morning to mild-mannered courtroom spectator in the afternoon. (Alvarez graciously loaned Aikman his private elevator, located just behind the courtroom, so Aikman could arrive at court without being mobbed by the masses.)

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