The change certainly was swift.
In less than 48 hours last week, Dallas Independent School District trustees made a 180-degree turn in their position about the release of more of the notorious Peavy Tapes. At least, that was how it appeared from letters board lawyer Kim Askew sent to federal Magistrate Jeff Kaplan.
"Political unrest and discord may occur if additional portions are released," Askew wrote Kaplan on January 7, asking him to keep the tapes under seal. The magistrate had scheduled a hearing the next day to determine whether DISD chief financial officer Matthew Harden Jr. could get copies of the recordings to use in his lawsuit against former school board president Kathleen Leos.
"At least one tape contained derogatory racial language that inflamed the public when a portion was previously released (as it should have)...The DISD does not wish to have its operations disrupted because additional information from these tapes is released," the lawyer wrote.
When they first surfaced in 1995, the intercepted tapes of then-trustee Dan Peavy speaking on his home cordless telephone did indeed cause a stir. That fall, a tape of Peavy's conversations, laden with racial slurs, was mailed anonymously to several school board members and other public figures. News of Peavy's ramblings traveled fast, and African-American leaders soon called for his departure. The DISD board, then led by Kress, played a portion of the tapes at a board meeting. Peavy resigned in October 1995
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Apparently, however, the current trustees weren't as concerned about the potential potboiling from further releases as Askew's letter suggested, though former school board president Sandy Kress was. On January 8, Askew sent Kaplan another missive, this one stating, "The DISD has decided not to take a position on this issue, and we withdraw our letter on behalf of the DISD." But at its conclusion, Askew's second letter significantly noted that Kress "maintains the position set forth in the [first] letter."
Board president Hollis Brashear says he first learned about the January 7 letter when the Hughes & Luce lawyer sent him a copy. "This board had not discussed that issue at all," says Brashear. His reaction was to stop Askew from acting without the board's guidance, and he immediately took it upon himself as board president to ask her to withdraw the letter.
Brashear says he believes she sent the letter in a genuine effort to protect the board against issues that could be raised if the Peavy Tapes were disclosed. He says he doesn't know and doesn't want to speculate whether Kress had any role in asking Hughes & Luce to send the first letter.
As it turned out, Kaplan ruled at the January 8 hearing that Harden can't get copies of the tapes, which arguably were illegally created when a neighbor intercepted Peavy's home telephone conversations. Peavy's lawyers had argued against releasing the tapes to Harden.
Kaplan is presiding in pretrial matters in a case in which Peavy has sued WFAA-Channel 8 and reporter Robert Riggs over stories that the former school board trustee claims were based on illegally intercepted and recorded conversations.
On December 29, Harden's lawyers convinced state District Judge David Brooks to grant them access to copies of the Peavy tapes held by WFAA and its lawyers, contingent on Kaplan's approval. Although WFAA has denied Peavy's allegations and maintained that its series was based on information obtained independently of the recordings, the station did give its lawyers copies of the recordings for safekeeping.
While Kaplan denied Harden the tapes, he did allow him to get transcripts of a not-for-attribution interview of Peavy that Riggs recorded in July 1996. In it, Peavy discusses the contents of the tapes.
The Dallas Observer obtained a 10-page transcript of Riggs' interview with Peavy. It shows perhaps more tangibly than any other evidence that has yet surfaced why Kress, who declined to answer questions for this story, would object to further release of Peavy Tapes.
The transcript also suggests why the school board--now led by Brashear, an African-American--might insist that Askew withdraw any letter suggesting that the board wanted the tapes under court seal.
In his interview, Peavy told Riggs that one lengthy conversation on the tapes between himself and Kress took up some 62 pages of transcripts. Peavy and Kress discussed setting up a committee structure for the board--which at the time had no system for trustees to meet formally in smaller groups. Peavy told Riggs that Kress complained that his plan for a committee structure was "not worth a shit. Every one of the damned blacks are going to come to all of the damned meetings, and I want the son of a bitch fixed to where the blacks cannot attend the fucking meetings.
"Everybody has known me for years, and nobody was particularly shocked, I don't think, at my language," Peavy told Riggs. "And a lot of the stuff I said was true, even though it was very distasteful, possibly. But they're gonna not expect that from Sandy because he presents one persona and operates under another--you know how that is...
"I guess to sum it up, Robert, it's sort of like the type of deal, if you had to find something that would guarantee in stone all the negative things the blacks thought were going on but couldn't prove it, these would do it--you know--all the decisions made outside the board table--all those type of things. You know, how they were not included on purpose and all of that stuff--you know--all that stuff is in there. And of course, sometimes in a very derogatory manner," Peavy told Riggs.
For Harden, whose lawyers say they have not given up on getting all the Peavy Tapes, the recordings could--depending on whom you ask--be a mother lode of information in his case against Leos.
Harden, who is black, alleges that Leos conspired with former DISD Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez to invade his privacy and destroy his career. Leos denies the charges and has countersued.
For Hughes & Luce's Askew, who did not return phone calls for this story, the sudden withdrawal of her letter raises questions about whether the lawyer can continue to represent both Kress and the board without facing other conflicts. Askew was hired to defend the DISD board and former president Kress at taxpayers' expense against a lawsuit brought by Peavy. Peavy alleges they violated his privacy when they played the tape containing the inflammatory language at the board meeting.
Board president Brashear notes, "It is possible where the board's purposes will differ from Sandy Kress'. But for now, we are still paying for his defense.
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