Today at the Dallas City Hall federal corruption trial at the Earle Cabell, defendant John Lewis, who has pleaded guilty and is testifying for the government, is being cross-examined by the defense. Lewis says he was part of a plot to buy votes from former Dallas Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill, the lead defendant, for a developer of tax-subsidized affordable housing.
A very young Baker Botts lawyer, Jon Mureen, is standing in for Victor Vital, the lawyer defending Sheila Farrington Hill, wife of the former councilman. Mureen does a good job of getting Lewis to put nicks in the government's case, even though he's a government witness.
Mureen wants to show the jury that the money in the bribery plot to which Lewis has pleaded guilty never went to Hill and that Hill had no knowledge of the plot. He also wants to show that affordable housing developer Bill Fisher, the government's key informant, was a tricky man whose word cannot be trusted.
"You're here today because you feel badly about what you did back in 2005," Mureen asks Lewis.
"It's not that I feel badly. I want to tell the truth."
"You want to clear the air."
"I have nothing to say. I want to answer every question you have."
"You were guilty of extorting Bill Fisher, correct?"
"I have admitted it."
"Mr. Hill was not involved in anything illegal you were doing with respect to Bill Fisher. Correct? He didn't know about it."
Mureen shows him the indictment. He asks, "Did Don Hill require Bill Fisher to enter into the agreement with KDAT [Kevin Dean's asphalt company]?"
"So the indictment's wrong here?"
"I'm not here to make a determination whether the indictment is right or wrong."
"Did Don Hill require Bill Fisher to enter into a sham attorney and consulting agreement?"
"So if the indictment says that, would the indictment be true?"
"Not that I know of. No."
"In any of your interactions with Bill Fisher, did you ever suspect he was an FBI informant?"
"Would you say he has a way of being believable about things even when he's not being entirely straightforward."
"He can look you in the eye and have a way of seeming quire sincere but not really man it."
"I guess. I'm not really sure."
Marcus Busch, the prosecutor, takes Lewis back on re-direct and gets him to say that Fisher never made him do anything he didn't want to do. Busch also plays surveillance tapes of Hill talking with Darren Reagan, a defendant, discussing Fisher's deals. Busch makes the point that the government never said any cash was ever paid directly to Hill from Lewis's plot. Instead, according to the government, money was to be passed to Hill through some kind of complicated leasing agreements.
"You had a meeting before, at least one meeting with Don Hill," Busch says, "and he told you he would approve the zoning if you and Kevin Dean had an agreement in place. Right?"
Busch gets into another issue -- an alleged attempt by Don Hill, before entering into an extortion scheme with Lewis and Dean -- to find out if Darren Reagan's earlier alleged extortion scheme was still alive. According to government evidence, Lewis called Reagan and Reagan said he had given up on his own efforts. Earlier today, during his cross examination of Lewis, Ray Jackson, Hill's lawyer, suggested Hill was only trying to make sure Lewis's proposed deal would not amount to "tortuous interference" with Reagan's deal.
"Mr. Jackson [Ray Jackson, Hill's lawyer] asked you a number of questions about why he [Hill] would ask you to find out if Darren Reagan still retained some kind of interest in Dallas West Village. Mr. Jackson asked, 'Wouldn't that represent tortuous interference?'"
Busch asks Lewis if Don Hill, who is a lawyer, was representing him or Reagan or Dean or anybody else in the deal. The answer, or course, is no. So Busch wants to know what kind of legal advice Hill could have given any of them anyway on tortuous interference.
Now, here, I have to declare to you, Dear Friend of Unfair Park, that I am not a lawyer. I believe that tortuous interference is either when you interfere with a torturer, or, possibly, when you stop someone from baking a fruit-based dessert. But I could be wrong. (I myself have been accused of that tortuous thing on several occasions. I have always been advised by newspaper lawyers, "Not to worry about it" and also to "go back to work.")
Busch says, "Final question. How do you feel today about your conduct in the spring of 2005?"
"Right now? I am ashamed of my conduct."
"No further questions, Your Honor."
Judge Barbara Lynn says, "All right, Mr. Lewis, you may step down and be excused."
Lunch break. Man. For some reason I am just dying to go down the street to that 7-Eleven and buy me an apple fritter. See you at 1:25 p.m., after which we're scheduled to hear the master plan.
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