Late last week, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn seriously cut the intrigue in the race for the District 3 seat on the Dallas County Commissioners Court. Acceding to a request made by incumbent John Wiley Price, Lynn granted a second lengthy postponement for Price's trial on charges of corruption. The delay could have a large effect on how next year's election for his job shakes out.
Price's trial was set to begin January 19, more than a year after his first appearance in the case on July 24, 2014. Now, the earliest the trial will begin is September 6. In her order, Lynn identifies the primary reason for moving the trial back: the mountain of evidence given to the defense in discovery and the prosecution's failure to make the evidence readily accessible.
"The Government contends that the Defendants have had in their possession 'a good amount' of the discovery materials since late 2012. This argument ignores that the discovery materials produced by the Government were not available in a database format, and will not be available to the Defendants in such a format until early November. It is indisputable that Defendants are entitled to a fair opportunity to review the significant volume of discovery in this case in an accessible database format, to conduct a thorough independent investigation, and then to fully prepare for trial," Lynn said.
Lynn's order goes on to describe just what a "significant volume" of discovery is, and it's incredible:
• 286 discs containing Commissioner’s Court recordings for 2002-2011, for which no transcripts have been provided;
• An additional 70.8 gigabytes of Commissioner’s Court videos and miscellaneous audios;
• 10 discs of unindexed material seized through search warrants from Defendants Price, Nealy, and Fain;
• 1,862.5 gigabytes of information in Concordance format, including subpoenaed materials and other documents intended for the prosecution’s case-in-chief;
• 7 hard drives of pole camera videos;
• 2,100 gigabytes of electronically stored information and digital data in various formats, extracted from more than 100 electronic devices;
• 23 bankers’ boxes of documents made available for inspection;
• 500 gigabytes of emails and documents produced by Dallas County;
• 29 gigabytes of “1-D recordings and data;”
• 4 discs with materials from the civil forfeiture case;
• IRS tax returns and audits;
• Criminal records;
• Search warrant and surveillance photographs; and
• Materials too large or bulky to be scanned.
For the first time in a long time, Price faces a serious challenge — from Dwaine Caraway — for his spot on the commissioner's court. Caraway, the term-limited former District 4 Dallas City Council member, is popular and has been running a highly visible, and highly entertaining, campaign.
With his trial set for January, Price faced the prospect of being able to participate in Texas' March 1 primary — lawyers we've talked to estimate the trial will take months, but not a year — and then having to deal with a verdict before the general election. It's against Texas law for a public official to serve after having been convicted of a felony, although Price could conceivably continue to serve as he appeals. Were Price's final conviction to have happened between a Price primary victory and the general election, the Texas Democratic Party would call a special primary to replace Price on the ballot, with Caraway seemingly having the best shot to win that race.
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The continuance into the fall means that Price, should he win the primary, will almost certainly be in the midst of his trial on November 8, 2016, the day of the general election.
If Price is the candidate in heavily Democratic District 3, he'll likely win the general election. If he's finally convicted of a felony after that date, he will be immediately removed from his county commissioner post. At that point, no matter how much of his term Price has served, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is the man who chooses which resident of District 3 gets Price's seat until the 2018 general election — and that might not necessarily be Caraway.
Our advice to Caraway: Send Judge Jenkins something nice for Christmas, just in case. A spiral ham is always welcome.