Get this. A guy involved in city council politics in suburban Southlake, where U.S. District Judge Joe Kendall's wife is on the city council, calls the Southlake city secretary and asks for Kendall's wife's home address.
The next thing the guy knows, he's in downtown Dallas getting the Miranda warning from a Unites States marshal, who tells him he's under investigation for threatening the life of a federal judge.
But wait: This man was Southlake's "Citizen of the Year" two years ago. He comes from a well-known Southlake business family. Kendall's wife, Ronnie Kendall, obviously knows who the man is and that he's no crackpot or threat. So does Judge Kendall.
They were just mad at him. So one or both of them sicced the marshals on him.
You will remember that Kendall was the judge in the bribery trial of Dallas City Councilman Al Lipscomb. In the course of that trial, Lipscomb's lawyers accused Kendall of being "out of control." I don't think very many people took that charge seriously -- I didn't -- because Lipscomb was so obviously guilty of the charges against him.
But here's what happened afterward:
On April 13, the Dallas Observer published a column I wrote about Ronnie Kendall's 1998 Southlake City Council race. The column said Ronnie Kendall had collected major campaign contributions from a bunch of trial lawyers who weren't from Southlake and had no dog in any Southlake fight, but many of them did happen to have business in Judge Kendall's court at different times.
The column talked about the Lipscomb trial, in which Joe Kendall told the jury they could look at campaign contributions -- even perfectly legal ones -- to decide if the people who gave Lipscomb money were shopping for favors. The question, then, would be whether the people who gave campaign contributions to Kendall's wife may have been shoppers as well.
Not too long after the column was published, Dallas community activist Marvin Crenshaw grabbed up an armload of Observers and motored on out to Southlake, which is out beyond Flower Mound somewhere, and spoke to the Southlake City Council. I wasn't there. I don't actually get out to Southlake a lot. I am relying on the accounts of others, including Crenshaw, but I believe his remarks went something along the lines of, "Ha ha, look at this story about you bunch of suburban yutzes," and "I'm going to bring 20,000 demonstrators out here to Southlake City Hall."
Subtextual message: Many unhappy black people may come here soon.
Subtextual reaction: Yikes!
Crenshaw tells me that in the days after his appearance before the Southlake City Council, he received reports that Ronnie Kendall was calling up law enforcement agencies in Dallas and making inquiries about him.
That's OK. In fact, Crenshaw agrees with me that it was OK for her to pull some strings, run some traps, and check him out. In a way, she did with Crenshaw what she should have done with the Southlake guy. She used connections to check him out.
Now we skip scenes, back out to Southlake. Southlake is a little North Texas farm town that turned into a high-dollar suburb more or less overnight. In Southlake, Ronnie Kendall is allied with a crowd of newly arrived, new-money people who want to shove all the old families out of City Hall. They tried and failed in the May 6 election to unseat Mayor Rick Stacy (of the "You're-burnin'-money" furniture ads on TV), whose family has been in Southlake for five generations.
Stacy describes his own faction succinctly: "We're the good ol' boys," he tells me.
Several weeks ago, there was some kind of brouhaha over hiring the right tennis pro for the municipal tennis center -- apparently a soul-defining moment in local political history. In connection with that, Ronnie Kendall and a bunch of the other new-money council members were accused of having an illegal council meeting at a restaurant in what has become known locally as the "Mi Cocina" incident.
Somebody snapped a picture of the allegedly illegal meeting. A member of the good-ol'-boy faction took the photo to the Tarrant County District Attorney and filed criminal charges against Ronnie Kendall and her new-money buddies on the council. This is all in the final weeks before the May 6 election.
So you've got the picture. Local politics. Everybody's real mad. The kind of community where they try to pick a tennis pro and everybody hires lawyers and files criminal charges against each other.
Enter Mr. Joey Milner. Milner is of the good-ol'-boy faction, even though his family has only been in Southlake since 1978. (Certain kinds of people can become good ol' boys faster than others.)
Milner is no pauper. His family are major local philanthropists. Two years ago, he was elected Southlake "Citizen of the Year."
Milner is allied with the people who took the photo of the Mi Cocina incident to the Tarrant County DA and filed criminal charges against Ronnie Kendall et al.
Everybody in Southlake knows that.
One day two weeks ago, Milner had what may not have been the world's brightest idea. Milner's thought, as he explained it to me: Why not have our protester guests from the city just motor right on past City Hall directly to Mrs. Kendall's house? "I was thinking, hey, there's nobody who's mad at the city of Southlake."
So he's going to get the Kendalls' address and communicate it somehow to Marvin Crenshaw.
He calls the Southlake city secretary, Sandra L. LeGrand, and asks for Councilwoman Kendall's home address. Now I wouldn't have gone that route. I would have spent five, possibly 10, minutes on the Web and found Councilwoman Kendall's home address myself in easily obtainable public records. That's also what Marvin Crenshaw tells me he would have done had he wanted her address, which he didn't.
But Milner asks the city secretary for it. And of course, he says, "Hey, this is Joey Milner." So he identifies himself.
LeGrand told me that she informed Milner she could not give out Ronnie Kendall's address, at Ronnie Kendall's request. LeGrand told me that she then called one person, and one person only -- Ronnie Kendall -- and informed her of Milner's request. LeGrand told Kendall that Milner had expressed a desire to help any possible future protesters from Dallas find their way to her home.
So, if Mrs. Kendall has a question about all this, does she call Milner, whom she knows? No, she's just too mad at him even to talk, remember? Does she call the Southlake police and ask if they know anything about Joey Milner, as she did with Marvin Crenshaw? No, he's the Citizen of the Year in a town without that many citizens, remember? Why ask?
What happens next, on a Friday, is that Milner gets a voice mail from the U.S. Marshal's office in Dallas telling him he needs to present himself downtown for questioning about an alleged threat against a federal judge. He calls them back immediately, and they tell him to show up downtown on Monday.
"I was on my way to play golf," Milner told me, "and when I get out there I can't play golf because I'm so worried about it."
Can't play golf. In Southlake, this is the moral and physical equivalent of incontinence.
"My friends I was playing golf with told me I better get a lawyer."
The next week he goes downtown. They give him the Miranda warning, and then they show him a bunch of pictures of black activists and ask him if he's hooked up with any of them.
I spoke on the phone with a deputy marshal who gave me only his last name, Touchstone. Mr. Touchstone, I am sorry to say, told me some stuff that wasn't true. He said, for example, that Judge Kendall and his wife had nothing to do with the marshals' interrogation of Milner and probably didn't even know anything about it. But Sandra LeGrand had already told me that Ronnie Kendall was the only person -- other than herself -- who even knew Milner had called.
Touchstone also told me Milner had asked for the judge's address, not Ronnie Kendall's. The issue here, I think, is that Ronnie Kendall is not a "protectee" of the marshals. Her husband is. Either way, both Milner and Sandra LeGrand had already told me Milner had asked for Ronnie Kendall's address, not the judge's.
I asked Mr. Touchstone why, instead of rousting around a suburban golf guy, he and his fellow sleuths didn't just pick up their telephones and find out who in the heck Joey Milner was.
Touchstone got mad at that suggestion and barked, "He could have been Joe Bum as far as I was concerned!"
Yeah? That's why you make the call and find out he's the Citizen of the Year.
Instead, they show him all these surveillance pictures of black activists he doesn't know and breathe on him for a while and then toss him out with a sort of warning to keep his nose clean.
I kept calling the marshal's office. The marshal himself, Dub Bransom, never called me back. Maybe he was busy putting the arm on some fool who had beat Ronnie Kendall at tennis.
On another call to the marshal's office, Deputy Marshal Tony Odom told me they had to talk to "various individuals" involved, and Milner was supposedly one of the many protest organizers with whom they spoke. Well, they left one out. I asked Marvin Crenshaw if the U.S. marshals had ever called him about it.
"No," he said. "Never. I've never spoken to anyone there about it."
Wait -- he's the guy with the posse of protesters. He's a real genuine black activist. Show him those same pictures, he'd not only know every one, he'd know their mothers' names.
I don't know if the judge himself called the marshals. His office told me they had described my request for comment to the judge, and he told them he had been out of town for two weeks and had no idea what I was talking about. So maybe his wife is able to dispatch the marshals herself.
I called Ronnie Kendall and left a message. As before, she did not reply.
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The point is, this definitely came from Ronnie Kendall, and there is good reason to believe it came from her husband, too. And this was a roust -- the kind of stop-and-frisk, push-'em-around, make-'em-pee street justice that bad cops used to hand out all the time in southern Dallas.
Milner said to me, "I think Ronnie was sending out a message not to mess with her."
I think the message got through. The last time I talked to Milner, he was talking tough, but I could also hear the shakes way down in there.
Bottom of the page? Rick Stacy, leader of the good-ol'-boy faction, stomped heck out of the new-money mayoral candidate in the election held just a few days ago in Southlake. Twenty years ago, if you had told me I'd wind up rooting for the good ol' boys, I would have called you a liar.