Today in Texas History – September 27

From the Annals of Corruption – In 1993, Senator Kay Baily Hutchinson (R-Texas) was indicted on charges that she misused state facilities and employees while she was the Texas state treasurer. In one of the most unusual legal proceedings ever, KBH eluded conviction and really even a trial.  Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earl seemed to have a fairly strong case against the Senator based on telephone records and other documents showing that Treasury Department employees were campaigning for KBH from state offices.  The trial judge was John Onion, the former presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  Onion refused to rule on the admissibility of evidence seized pursuant to a grand jury warrant from the Treasurer’s office.  The most curious aspect was that strong precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals holds that a government employee such as KBH does not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in the government records that comprised the primary evidence against KBH.  In other words, she had no standing to challenge the admissibility of the evidence because the documents being relied on by the prosecution did not belong to her.  By refusing to rule pre-trial, Onion denied the state the chance to appeal.  Once the jury was empaneled, Earl refused to go forward and KBH’s attorney Dick DeGuerin asked Onion to instruct the jury to return a not guilty verdict which they did.

Red thinks the fix was clearly in. Then Gov. Ann Richards was facing the possibility of similar charges based on her own alleged use of government employees for political purposes.  Onion, a Democrat, was tight with Richards and Earl had long known Richards in Travis County political circles.  The word on the street was that Earl was instructed by Richards to fall on his sword and that Onion was complicit in the strategy.   However it came down, it was a huge political win for KBH.

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