Hold That Five Mil'

City Hall settles big suits with your tax money

You go to a bonding company and pay them a fee to get a family member out of jail. You go home. They call a lawyer and ask him to go sign your family member out of jail. It doesn't count against their limit.

And what's in it for the lawyer? The law says a lawyer can't sign for somebody's bond unless he represents that person. But the municipal court system gives a big wink-wink to all of this and pretends that all of the lawyers whose names are signed for people's bonds actually represent those people, even though the people have never heard of the lawyers.

The lawyers typically send the people they have signed out of jail a letter that says in big bold type: I DO NOT REPRESENT YOU. But I could. But you would have to send me some moolah first.

The Donato Garcia case is a good example of how the city attorney’s office plays
 rope-a-dope instead of practicing law. 
The jury’s still out on who the dope is.
Mark Graham
The Donato Garcia case is a good example of how the city attorney’s office plays rope-a-dope instead of practicing law. The jury’s still out on who the dope is.

So the lawyer maybe gets some business. The bonding companies slick their way out of their bonding limits. The courts keep the wheels turning.

In the Garcia case, the city may have pushed this already slippery business just a little too far. If Garcia's lawyers are right, the city attorney used the wink-wink bond-lawyer apparatus to nail Garcia with a guilty plea behind his back.

In a sworn deposition, Knowles has testified that an assistant city attorney told him to come do the guilty plea for Garcia and told him not to go first and get the customary paperwork on Garcia. The paperwork would have shown that Garcia was now represented by a new lawyer, Davis, and wanted to go to trial.

But the only thing the guilty plea in absentia accomplished was to stiffen Davis' resolve. In fact, Davis was joined by William Dippel, another lawyer sufficiently offended by this process to commit his time without advance payment.

Davis and Dippel went to state court and asked a judge to allow them to take sworn depositions from Judge Robinson, the assistant city attorneys involved and certain other officials.

And this is where we get back to the issue of the office of city attorney and how it operates.

You've got a guy who clearly was shafted. He was arrested on a bogus charge. He was found guilty without his own knowledge. And now you also know that he is not going away. He has two good lawyers. He and they are in it for the duration.

So if you're the city attorney, what do you do? Negotiate? Get down to brass tacks? Admit that something is broken here and try to fix it?

No. Never.

You get the case removed to federal court. Why? Because normally in small-time deals, when the city gets a case removed to federal court, the lawyers have to go to the client and say, "Donato, we're in federal court now. Way more rules, more procedures, more work. You probably need to give us another check for $10,000."

By a very loose, informal calculation, I estimate that Garcia--had he been paying full freight all the way along in this deal--would already be down $25,000 to $30,000.

And that's how the city operates. They have bottomless pockets, because their pockets are lined with your money and mine. They foot-drag. They run the clock. They run up the bill. They run you out of money. It's all rope-a-dope, to see how far you can go until you're broke.

And if anybody ever does face them down and take them all the way to high noon, the way the lawyers for the demoted cops have done, they just pay them off. With five or nine mil' of your money and mine.

By the way, the federal judge to whom the Garcia case was taken, Sidney A. Fitzwater, poured the city out of federal court at the end of last month. Without even waiting for Garcia's lawyers to argue that the city had no business bringing the case to federal court, Fitzwater kicked them out on his own. He sent the city of Dallas packing back to state court and levied a nominal fine against the city to make it plain he thought they had acted in bad faith by bringing the case to federal court.

The case of the demoted cops--high-profile story, big amounts of money, city council issue--is merely a window on a system that grinds people into poverty and law into chaff every day of the week. But you don't hear about it most of the time, because most of the people involved don't rate the media attention.

And we're going to kick in an extra $9 million to defend these guys? Ouch.

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