Coloring Book

Page 3 of 4

Larry Jarrett, Democrat. Criminal defense lawyer, former assistant U.S. attorney, ex-Marine. Jarrett has been active in southern Dallas but doesn't have old ties there. He's bright, quick on his feet, probably the best-equipped of the Democrats to reach out and pick up white and Latino support.

Toby Shook, Republican. The current felony trial bureau chief under Hill. He's the county's star prosecutor. As a so-called "super-chief" under Hill, Shook has shouldered considerable management responsibility at the same time he's been in court winning against some of the nation's ablest defense lawyers. Shook is Bill Hill's anointed successor.

If the general election were a contest based strictly on prosecutorial acumen, it would probably be Shook versus Jarrett.

Craig Watkins, Democrat. Young, bright, personable, Watkins is the man with the heavy-duty Democratic party support and credentials, having come within 10,000 votes of beating Bill Hill last time around. He says southern Dallas is a fundamentally conservative culture that will flock to support law enforcement when it believes law enforcement is on its side.

Dan Wyde, Republican. Until recently a county criminal court judge, Wyde gets a certain rap from other Republicans for being too maverick. But, of them all, he's least prone to pander on crime-fighting, most candid about what the DA really needs to do to handle a huge caseload, like not accepting so many bad cases from the cops. Republicans listen to these ideas with furrowed brows, then stamp and clap when the others come out against crime.

Buried in here is a very important question: Which one of these candidates will bring the best combination of competence, toughness and fairness to the job? This time you have to look more closely, because the broad categorical imperatives of party and color are going to provide so little help.

Yeah, you might wake up and find the color of official Dallas has changed. But that alone will not tell you whether anything significant has taken place. And this is, after all, a significant job.

And moi? I told you. I want a bass boat.

The DMN's Racism Geiger Counter
When I interviewed B.D. Howard, a black Democratic candidate for district attorney, he offered a recent Dallas Morning News investigative series as evidence that the DA's office has been too white too long. In "Striking Differences," a series that ran last August, the News presented what it said was evidence of systematic racism in the way District Attorney Bill Hill's staff picks juries.

My problem is that I think the News series was deeply flawed in its approach, dishonest in its disclosures about reporting methods and wrong in its conclusions.

I've written about this before (September 1, 2005), and I hate to beat a dead horse. OK, I don't mind beating a dead horse. I like beating a dead horse.

The News stories said Hill's staff uses a system of racist subterfuge to keep black people off juries in Dallas County. One problem with that: Down deep in the story, the News' own numbers showed that the number of black people on juries in Dallas County is exactly what it should be.

But aha! The News said it had a special, semi-secret statistical device, sort of like a racism Geiger counter, which showed that the DA's staff was racist, even if the ultimate numbers came out OK sort of by accident, which was how the News characterized it. Believe it or not.

I have gone back and forth with people at the News about this series. Two weeks ago, the main author of the series, Steve McGonigle, an award-winning veteran investigative reporter, published an article defending the series in the IRE Journal, the official organ of the National Association of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

McGonigle made an astonishing claim: He said that, in the weeks before his series was published, Hill tried to use a criminal investigation of circulation fraud at the paper as a club to bully the News out of publishing the stories. "From our first interview with him, he linked our conversation with his investigation of the newspaper's circulation," McGonigle wrote in the IRE Journal.

In the last year, the Morning News, along with several other major daily newspapers around the country, has been the target of civil suits and government probes regarding circulation practices. Circulation is the number of readers and subscribers a newspaper claims to have.

At one point Hill was investigating whether the News' admitted overstatements of circulation amounted to a fraud against advertisers. That probe is generally believed to be closed, although some elements of it may have been folded into ongoing federal inquiries.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze