Cleaning a smear

Dallas police ignored or dismissed Assistant City Attorney Robin Page's claims that she was the target of a deliberate smear campaign, so now they have a federal lawsuit to defend.

That's how Page's attorney, David Miller, puts it, although he says his client wants more than an apology for being labeled a suspect in a nonexistent bribery case. "Given her profession and the fact that this has done significant damage to her ability to move up in it, when an economist crunches the numbers, damages will probably be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars," Miller says.

Page's suit, which was filed earlier this month in district court, accuses three ranking officers with the police department's code enforcement division of concocting false charges against Page in an attempt to shift blame to her for their poor record in pursuing several high-profile slumlords. (Page's story was detailed in "Anatomy of a smear" in the November 18 Dallas Observer.)

City Attorney Madeleine Johnson, who is named as a defendant in the suit and whose office is responsible for defending it, said the city "denies in good faith all of Ms. Page's claims." She said that because her office is involved on both sides of the case, an outside attorney in an Austin-based firm has been hired to handle the defense.

Page was an assistant city attorney assigned to bring cases against code violators targeted by the police for maintaining substandard properties with a history of being the scenes of drug-dealing, prostitution, and other crimes.

"Without notice to the Pages, without any opportunity of explanation, without any shred of probable cause, without any lawfully obtained warrants," the police department launched an investigation of Page and her husband, James Page, the suit alleges. This came after print and television reporters began asking questions about the landlords in early 1999.

The suit alleges that police were aware they weren't preparing cases well enough to hold up in court and decided to shift the blame to Page. They did this while knowing that Page wrote a memo in November 1997 asking them to follow stricter guidelines in conducting their investigations.

Police alerted local banks that Page and her husband, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, were suspected of fraud, tampering with government documents, and money laundering. The suit also names as defendants then-acting City Attorney Angela Washington and former Executive Assistant Police Chief Willard Rollins for launching internal and administrative investigations of Page.

"Armed with only half the story, print and television reporters converged on Ms. Page convinced that they had another story of a public official gone bad," the suit states. "At least one reporter was told that cases against certain alleged slumlords were dismissed because 'Ms. Page was on the take.'"

Page was put on four months of paid leave and asked to report back to work in July 1999. "Still adamantly unwilling to recognize that any mistakes had been made, Johnson placed Ms. Page on probation, criticized her for purportedly excessive absences, and demoted her back to the beginning prosecutor level," the suit states.

Johnson said she would not speak to the police department's actions, which predated her time in office. But she said that Page was in no way demoted. "She didn't lose time or salary," Johnson says. She explained that Page was reassigned to prosecution so she would not be in a position as legal advisor to the police department. "That was in Robin's and the city's best interest," Johnson says. She says that the city's prosecution department has been beefed up with more experienced lawyers, including Page, to address complaints that that section was staffed with inexperienced lawyers who rarely prevailed against experienced defense lawyers hired by slumlords. Page and two others have been given the title of senior prosecutor, Johnson says.

The suit, which asks for unspecified actual and punitive damages, alleges violations of due process, invasion of privacy, interference with Page's employment contract, conspiracy, and infliction of emotional distress.

Page has continued to work in the position of city prosecutor. "I'll probably end up here," she says, adding that the matter has destroyed her career with the city.

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec