Winning friends, influencing people
It sounds like such a good idea: a big, wealthy, downtown law firm opens up a storefront office in South Dallas to serve the black community gratis. You know, noblesse oblige...among lawyers, no less.

Nice plan, but its execution by the firm of Bickel & Brewer leaves something to be desired, according to members of Black Citizens for Justice, Law and Order.

"People come here on a weekly basis, and they turn them down," Daisy E. Jones, executive director of the group, said, as she and about a half-dozen others picketed B&B's storefront office on Martin Luther King near Fair Park this past weekend.

Jones, whose organization provides assistance and legal referrals to people with racial discrimination complaints, claims the group has sent dozens of people to the storefront for help. All have been rejected as clients--by form letter.

Nice touch.
Scott Jones, a firm spokesman, defends the storefront's good works.
"We've certainly done more good than harm, and I would suggest to you we've done no harm," he says. The firm only has so much money to plow into its storefront work, he claims, which is largely either pro bono or at reduced rates, and it has to pick its fights carefully.

Loyalty apparently is one of the criteria. After Buzz contacted the firm, it arranged to have two storefront clients call us with testimonials about the helped they received.

Joyce Hellstern, a partner at the firm, says its lawyers and consultants have provided more than 11,300 hours of work on cases related to the storefront, in seminars, and in community lectures from the time it opened in 1995 till January this year.

Daisy Jones' view? "That's a bunch of bullshit and hogwash."
She and other members of her group complain that the B&B storefront is more a front for public relations than a meaningful help to the black community. She also says that frequently, when she refers clients to the firm, they are reminded by Bickel & Brewer that its lawyers represented at least one black employee complaining of workplace discrimination: DISD's former chief financial officer Matthew Harden.

Would that be as in: "Some of our closest friends are Matthew Harden?"

Publicity-shy Paul
You get lifetime tenure. Everyone calls you "Your Honor," and you get to wear whatever you want--or nothing--under those flowing black robes. Being a federal judge can be one sweet gig.

But is it sweet enough to entice U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins? Maybe so, if the rumors flying about the third floor of the Earl Cabell building are to be believed.

Talk has it that Coggins has agreed to take the federal bench post for which former state Judge Mike Schattman was long ago nominated. Schattman's nomination was dead even before he complained last November to The New York Times about Sen. Phil Gramm's tendency to squelch judicial nominations by parliamentary tricks, before they came up for a vote before the full Senate.

One Democratic lawyer close to Coggins says his nomination is contingent on Schattman being offered a judgeship that doesn't require Senate approval, such as one on the U.S. Court of Claims.

Asked about the rumors, the normally publicity-hungry Coggins was coy.
"Do you know how long it takes [a judicial nomination] to work through the system?" he asked. (No, but we bet he does.) "I plan to be here a long time yet."

Nevertheless, Coggins says he has talked with judges who once served as U.S. attorneys. "They all said they had more fun as [federal prosecutors], but, as you know, those jobs come and go."

Coggins referred Buzz to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost for further details. "Our statement is that Schattman has not been withdrawn at this point, and no other final decisions have been made," his spokesman told us.

Cheap shot
Buzz won't deny that some ugly office politicking can occur in the confines of our downtown offices. (Not with Buzz, of course. We're universally loved). But we are sure that it's not nearly as rough as the game being played down the road in the DISD headquarters on Ross Avenue.

Take the recent case of Robert Johnston, the former board secretary.
Board members Jose Plata and Don Venable schemed to oust Johnston earlier this month. Then they proposed that Venable assume the post temporarily, an idea that board president Hollis Brashear shot down immediately.

But Johnston's departure apparently didn't satisfy the trustees. When Plata discovered that the denigrated Johnston was moving a computer from his board secretary offices to his new quarters as a regular old district employee, he seized the opportunity to embarrass Johnston some more. Plata left a message on his fellow trustees' voice-mail boxes raising concerns about Johnston. There was even, according to Johnston, who learned of the message from other board members, some implications of pilferage. (Pilferage at DISD? That's like gambling in Casablanca.)

Well, the gray-haired former board secretary had heard enough. He called Plata directly and asked him what he was up to. Johnston says he disabused Plata of the notion that he was stealing and explained that he was moving a DISD computer from one office to another.

Plata couldn't be reached for comment at press time because he was attending another one of those marathon board meetings. But Buzz has to ask: When Rome--read DISD--is burning, is a computer shifting offices the proper focus for the board?

--Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams

Bullshit? Hogwash? We love it here at Buzz: [email protected].

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams