How City Hall Really Works: Notes from the City Hall Corruption Trial
O.K., I want to give you an example of the very good lawyering being done by the defense in the City Hall corruption trial going on right now at the Earle Cabell Federal Building and Courthouse. The witness on the stand this morning is the same guy who was on at the end of the day yesterday: Jerry Killingsworth, director of the city of Dallas's Housing Department.
Yesterday, Killingsworth testified that he had recommended the city council not approve a flood of new tax-subsidized affordable housing projects in 2004 and '05, because Killingsworth said the market was already flooded. This morning Sheila Farrington's lawyer, Victor Vital, walked Killingsworth through a long, dry discussion of the complicated criteria by which affordable housing projects were to be ranked, according to various government rules and regulations.
Asked Vital, "Isn't it true that ... that the deals that were approved in October 2004 were approved just as they should have been approved, in light of the fact that the council did not pay attention to your initial recommendation."
Killingsworth, who plays the part of the testy old white guy in a suit, said, "Restate the question. I want to make sure that I answer this correctly."
"Isn't it true that no member of the Dallas city council, including Don Hill, seemed to push any one project over any other project in the fall of 2004."
"That's not correct?"
"I don't think that's correct."
Vital asked, "Do you remember talking to the Federal Bureau of investigation in the past?"
"Yes," said Killingsworth.
""If I showed you some interview notes do you think that might refresh your memory."
"It might. Depends on how the question was asked."
The judge called everybody up for a sidebar. I couldn't hear what they say. Afterward, Vital asked him the same stuff again.
Killingsworth insisted there was pressure. Vital asked him: "Are you 100 percent in your recollection, or are you kind of guessing right now?"
"I am 100 percent perfect in my recollection."
At one point Killingsworth asked the judge if he should just answer "yes" or "no," even if the question "has other ramifications." She told him to answer "yes" or "no" unless the answer would be misleading.
Vital asked him again if he recalls that back in 2004 nobody was pushing one project over another. Killingsworth said, "No, I can't say that."
But then it turns out Mr. K is not talking about any of the defendants in this case. Instead, Killingsworth goes into a long disquisition about the late James Fantroy, a former city council member. Killingsworth learned that Fantroy's son had employment contracts with affordable housing developer Bill Fisher, who is now a government witness.
Apparently on November 10, 2004, Killingsworth presented the city council with a confidential document laying out his concerns about Fisher. Vital seized on this point and got Killingsworth to say, in several ways, that nothing Fisher says can be trusted.
"He has credibility issues with me," Killingsworth said.
"And you've dealt with him," said Vital.
Kilingsworth said three years of exposure to Fisher led him not to trust him and to feel that anything he says must be investigated. Much of the government's case here is based on the testimony of Bill Fisher.
Vital next asked Killingsworth about the affordable housing task force to which former mayor Laura Miller appointed Brian Potashnik, a defendant in this case, in 2004. He got Killingsworth to say it was an important body. Then he got him to say that Potashnik was the only affordable housing developer on the task force. Vital asked him if Potashnik was able to advance "his general interests" by taking part in the task force.
Killingsworth balked, but Vital patiently walked him through more questions, gradually getting him to reveal that the task force was able to develop new sources of financing for affordable housing in the form of local bonds. One issuer is the Dallas Housing Finance Corporation.
Vital got Killingsworth to concede there is a preference for projects that use these bonds, because it makes money for the DHFC. He finally got him to say that Potashnik's projects were more desirable because he used these local bonds. So now Vital has established a basis on which to argue that Miller, who received fat campaign contributions from Potashnik, paid back by putting Potashnik on this task force thing and putting him in a position to give himself a competitive edge over Fisher, his former employee who had become his main competitor.
All of that goes to the defense's argument: How come all these black guys are on trial when the rich white lady who was mayor was taking money from the same guy, Potashnik, who is the accused briber in this case?
I'm just saying: These are good lawyers. Ray Jackson, Don Hill's lawyer, is working on Mr. K now. Killingsworth is testier than ever, but Jackson stays smooth, cool and on point. He got Killingsworth to concede that an entire saga he recounted yesterday about a squirrely deal with the Dallas Housing Authority may have been entirely unknown to former council member Don Hill when Hill voted on a related project.
Then Killingsworth gets all balky and does his crabby suit-guy routine. I have to tell you. Every point the government gets out of a witness, these guys come back and put a hole or a nick in the argument and then manage to make the witness look goofy. Just sayin'.