By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
After being ticketed by state alcohol police for public intoxication, Chris Nash is worried about the strangest thing. He's fretting that the charge against him will be dropped following public outcry over the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's undercover bar stings. So he's working with a lawyer to make sure he has his day in court.
"If they don't let me challenge them, the dismissal doesn't have any weight," says Nash, who works as a systems engineer. "It allows them to duck and run. I want to confront my accusers."
He claims to have an open-and-shut defense. On Saturday night, March 11, an undercover agent with the TABC tapped on Nash's shoulder as he sat at the back of the Inwood Tavern with his girlfriend and a few others. At first, he thought the lady wanted the book of matches on his table. But she said she was with the state police and asked him to step outside. A second agent joined them.
As the suspected scofflaw was being questioned and videotaped, a cabbie that he knew circled around and asked him if he needed a ride. That footage would be exhibit A for the defense. Nash had taken a taxi to the tavern and planned to take one back. That was his new routine after he'd been arrested for drunk driving not long ago. Nash showed the agents that he didn't even have his car keys on him, but he was unable to perform the sobriety test because, he said, he suffered from lower back pain.
By his count, Nash had two beers and two shots over a two-hour period. He says he's ready to produce a handful of witnesses who were with him that evening and who will testify that he was hardly a danger to himself or anyone else, which is the legal threshold for public intoxication. Witnesses are also ready to tell a judge that Nash regularly takes a cab to and from the Inwood Tavern.
Between his defense and the aftermath of Monday's hearing in Austin on the agency's public intoxication arrests, Nash is worried that TABC will drop the case against him. So he and his attorney Lee Bright are researching their legal options to make sure they'll have a chance, in essence, to humiliate their accusers in court. "I've talked to judges about it, and they've asked me why wouldn't I want a criminal charge dismissed?" says Bright, who is representing Nash at cost, in part because of the principles involved in this case. "Don't accuse somebody, don't file charges and disrupt their life and when they want to defend themselves deny them a chance to confront their accuser."
How exactly will he manage that? Bright would not divulge the details of his legal strategy, but he may have certain procedural options that at the very least could irritate TABC and local prosecutors.
We tried to call TABC to see if they plan to pursue charges in this and other cases, but no one called back.
Although he leans toward the libertarian side of the political fence, Nash says this is not an anti-government fight. "I'm not questioning their reason to exist," he says about TABC. "But I don't think they have the right to unilaterally and arbitrarily throw people out of bars just because they want to." --Matt Pulle See You in Court