This space to let

Federal prosecutors are challenging defense attorneys' efforts to introduce the results of a lie-detector test into evidence in city council member Al Lipscomb's bribery trial, The Dallas Morning News reports. The prosecutors apparently don't think polygraph exams make good evidence. Buzz wonders, have they talked with their boss lately?

The man who performed the test on Lipscomb's codefendant, Yellow Cab Co. owner Floyd Richards, is respected polygraph examiner Eric Holden, the subject of a Dallas Observer story in October 1998 ("The lie detector"). In it, staff writer Ann Zimmerman wrote:

"'I never encountered anyone [Holden] with a better reputation in this field,' says U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins, who used Holden's services frequently when he was in private practice, defending white-collar criminals. 'He spends a lot of time preparing for the exam, understanding the narrative of the case, so he can ask fact-specific questions. And he spends a lot of time giving the test -- a half a day and sometimes more.'" In fairness to Coggins, he also told the Observer: "I think they [the tests] can be more effectively used in law enforcement. But I don't have Holden's degree of confidence in them."

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Buzz doesn't either, at least in Richards' case. According to the News, the results of the exam suggest that Richards is telling the truth when he says he did not seek anything in return for the monthly $1,000 payments he made to Lipscomb. He was just a big-hearted guy helping out a friend in need. While it would be unfair to prejudge Richards and Lipscomb, Buzz will do it anyway: That sounds like a big fat fib. (Richards must be fonder of Lipscomb than he is of Yellow Cab's drivers. See "Defensive driving" in this issue.)

But we're not on the jury, which must believe that Richards intended to bribe Lipscomb and that the councilman intended to be bribed in order to convict the pair. On its face, paying bundles of cash to a politician for no obvious reason seems like pretty good evidence of bribery to us. Aren't some actions just wrong, whatever the intent? Is there a such thing as a reckless disregard of decency? Sadly, prosecutors need a bit more. An itemized receipt detailing the price and sales tax for any votes Lipscomb cast on Richards' behalf, perhaps?

It's all very confusing for the layman. How can you look into someone's heart and determine whether a big wad of cash is a bribe or something else? The standard measure for judging such things, the smell test, is as imprecise as a polygraph, and some council members have defective noses. To protect future innocent parties who may, out of the goodness of their hearts, merely want to reward their council persons with bundles of simoleons, Buzz has a suggestion: Put everything on the table. Get rid of bribery statutes and allow council members to sell sponsorships and naming rights on the open market. You know, like race cars or stadiums.

Lipscomb could be "Yellow Cab Al." Other council members could wear vests bearing patches with the names or logos of their sponsors -- American Airlines, the Arena Group, or the Dallas Citizens Council for the majority.

This would solve the sticky question of proving intent. After all, can it be corruption if it's that brazen and shameless? Just ask Al and Floyd.

Mutual admiration

OK, Buzz admits it. Sometimes we like lawyers, even those who aren't paid to represent us.

Bill Short, for instance, is without a doubt the finest legal mind since Oliver Wendell Holmes. We say this with all sincerity, and not just because he's about to sue some people who are suing us. (Hey, if that sort of bull works for Al and Floyd...)

Short is the Dallas lawyer for 13-year-old Chris Beamon, the Halloween horror-story writer thrown in the slammer for five days by Denton County authorities for completing a homework assignment in which he mentioned shooting fellow students and a teacher. Short says he plans to file a civil rights case against the judge, the district attorney, the principals, and anyone else involved.

"I'm gonna sue everybody, including the cows that come home," Short said last week. "This will be one of those federal court claims where the first two pages are nothing but names."

If Short wins, it will be the greatest victory for justice and fair play in education since Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark desegregation case. We mean that, truly. Our opinion has nothing to do with the fact that the Denton County district attorney and the judge in the Beamon case are suing the Observer. Really.

Short, who says he's done more than 30 interviews with media outlets as far away as Germany since the Beamon case broke, says he'll probably file in January, "after the holidays, when the dust has settled. I'll let 'em relax. Then I'll zing 'em."

Short went on to describe the "bizarre" environs in which the Beamon case occurred, a little Denton County town called Ponder. "It's so insulated from all effects of the rest of this planet," Short said. "It's almost idyllic when you're up there; you think, 'What a great place to raise your kids.' But there's a lot of anger, bitterness, and meanness."

When people chucked some "9,000" eggs at the Beamon house when Beamon was released from kiddie jail, Short said he was fearful for the boy's safety. His mother has withdrawn him from Ponder schools.

Short is incensed over statements various officials made about Beamon's character and reputation. Authorities cited his record of disciplinary problems as part of their justification for jailing him. Short sent us a copy of Beamon's school rap sheet, which includes such grievous offenses as calling a gym teacher "dude" and being "uncooperative, annoying, rude." He is, after all, a 13-year-old boy.

But Buzz will fess up. The real reason we're giving precious news space to Short is that he called to compliment the satirical story the Observer wrote about the Beamon case called "Stop the madness."

Since publication of the story on November 11, certain humorless public officials in Denton County have sued the Observer for libel, claiming some highly intelligent readers were fooled by the story, which purported to chronicle the jailing of 6-year-old Cindy Bradley for writing a book report on the children's classic Where the Wild Things Are -- fooled despite the obvious absurdities included in the story.

Short, at least, liked it.

"You tell [staff writer] Rose Farley, I thought that was one of the most cleverly written pieces of American prose I've ever read," Short said.

Hey, it's just another week at the Observer, a publication recently referred to as a "blight" upon journalism by the Denton Record Chronicle. Ironically, we consider being called a blight by the Denton paper higher praise.

Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams

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