By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
When I first picked up the August 13 issue of the Observer, the first thing I read was the extremely thorough report "Toxic justice." Later, I read Julie Lyons' editorial piece regarding the experience the Observer staff had with Fred Baron. It was her comment about "a decidedly low-energy grand jury investigation" that prompts me to write. As a member of the grand jury panel (that's why I sign this "Anonymous"), I am here to say it was a "no-energy" grand jury investigation.
Not that what I have to add means much. It just burns my "hinie" to see Fred Baron state that he and his firm were cleared by the "Dallas County grand jury." Better to say that he was cleared by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office.
The grand jury panel I served on was first introduced to this matter in mid-February of this year by Assistant District Attorney Mike Gillett, the same week that WFAA-Channel 8 reported [state District] Judge John Marshall's grand jury referral. Mike rather sheepishly mentioned the matter at the end of one of our sessions to see whether we had an interest in receiving the referral. I believe he or someone had already discussed it with the foreman of our jury panel and had a feeling that the referral was going to be received by us regardless. Following a brief explanation from Gillett, the panel, at the urging of our foreman, agreed to receive the referral. After that, all information came from our foreman, who demonstrated considerable interest and excitement about the "very serious matter" that had been dropped in our laps. Over the next several weeks, we would ask about the referral, and the foreman would respond by handing out more copies of various documents (I have a box in my study that must contain approximately 2,000 pages) that he had reviewed and had gotten copied by Cecil Emerson's reluctant staff. Our foreman asked us to read this "stuff" so that we could get up to speed on this "very serious matter." All along, our foreman would remind us of our oath of office and that we might be contacted by people outside of our panel who would be very anxious to know what we were doing. He cautioned us not even to discuss it with the grand jury support staff, including Cecil Emerson's legal staff.
As our term was approaching expiration, the subject came up about extending the term of our service to continue our consideration of this "very serious matter." By then, my premonition not to waste any time reading the copies of documents was bearing some fruit, as I felt there were political factors at work that would preclude a real grand jury investigation. Particularly obvious was the lack of commitment of resources by the DA's office. During our final few meetings in March, we asked our foreman, "What the hell is going on with Judge Marshall's referral? What the hell do you mean extend our term for another 90 days? When is the District Attorney going to assign someone of ability and authority to bring us witnesses and evidence, if this is such a serious matter?"
The last week of our regular term, we were introduced to Luke Madole, an assistant district attorney, who we were told was to lead the investigation. We were also told that our term would be extended for an additional 90 days. Luke was introduced as a bright young attorney who had recently joined John Vance's staff after a very successful career with a large law firm. Supposedly, money was not a problem: Luke just wanted the experience of working in a large district attorney's office. After a few opening remarks by Luke that consisted of his saying he knew absolutely nothing about the matter, the panel agreed to meet on April 15 for the first session, which was to be devoted solely to the Judge Marshall referral. To summarize, for a month and a half, the district attorney's office did nothing with the referral.
On April 15, the panel met with Luke Madole in what was essentially an unofficial meeting. No witnesses were presented, no evidence was presented or discussed, no record was made of the meeting. Luke talked about several theories he had about the matter and let it be known that he had received considerable contact from Baron & Budd representatives wanting to know what we were doing. He also said others from the legal profession had expressed their interest and offered assistance. He indicated the possibility that the U.S. Attorney's Office was looking into the same matter. The panel offered Luke considerable encouragement that it wanted to get on with the investigation. It was decided that the grand jury panel would meet on May 6, but that meeting was canceled by the district attorney's office. A later meeting scheduled for May 20 was canceled by Luke Madole the afternoon before. No other meetings were scheduled, and our grand jury term was allowed to expire without further explanation or contact on June 30.