In City Hall Corruption Trial, the Question Is: Where Does Politics End and Bribery Begin?

This afternoon at the Don Hill et. al. Dallas City Hall federal corruption trial, the defense was hard at work trying to make this thing look like Laura Miller got more than anybody else and got away with it. As in: Why are all these black folks on trial for doing the same thing that rich white lady did?

I know, I know. It's a question that makes white people's blood boil. Former Mayor Laura Miller reported on her campaign finance reports all of her contributions five years ago from affordable housing developer Brian Potashnik, and nobody has ever adduced an ounce of evidence to show any tit ... or any tat, for that matter.

The defendants in this case are on trial for something that seems a lot different, at least in the way the law treats it.

The feds have accused them not of getting campaign contributions and then being nice to contributors (what is called, in some circles, "politics") but of divvying up lucrative construction contracts in exchange for city council and plan commission votes (what is called, in most circles, "bribery").

But that's just how the law treats it. Doesn't mean the jury will.

And, one must say, some of the timing of the Potashniks' most generous contributions to the former mayor's campaign accounts does seem a bit, ahem .. untidy. She gets 10 grand from them one day before voting in favor of their project, five grand a short time after voting for another one. And she does vigorously oppose the projects of another developer, Bill Fisher, who is the main state's evidence guy in this trial.

Caveat: Everybody else voted for Potashnik too, and Miller thought Fisher was a slimeball because he gave a sitting city council member, James Fantroy, a contract to provide rent-a-cops at his projects.

But anyway, it all depends how the jurors see all this. Is the Miller thing an unfair diversion or a fair point to make? Tell you this much: The defense lawyers in this case are good. Ray Jackson handled himself well this afternoon, from what I saw.

And here's a breakdown on the jurors: 30-something attractive fashionista, black; 40-something nicely dressed church-looking lady, black; blond nurse-lady-type, serious, white, late 30s; two 40-something heavy-set black guys in a row, both in starched open-collar shirts, short haircuts, very attentive; 60-something white guy in glasses, open-collar, looks outdoorsy for some reason; 50-something white business lady in suit; 40-something guy, too far away for detailed character assessment; 30-something black woman in white suit, hoop earrings, very short hair; 50-something Hispanic female in black jacket over floral dress; 20-something Hispanic female gray sweater over pleated blouse; 50-something guy in gray Madras shirt, look sort of old Lakewood; heavy-set white guy, late 30s, glasses, office shirt, looks like a lawyer; 50-something woman of indeterminate ethnicity, could be from Michigan Upper Peninsula, Italy or Waco originally; white guy, 40s, burr haircut, works out; 30-something Hispanic woman who looks to me like she's worried about what her husband's doing with their kids.

They seem to be watching and listening closely. I thought Lakewood Larry was taking a snooze, but I wormed around, got a better look and saw that he was taking notes and squinting. I say the odds are even right now. Even Steven.

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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