Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dallas County DA Watkins accuses attorney general of politics in mortgage fraud case

By TIARA M. ELLIS - The Dallas Morning News - Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins and the Texas attorney general's office are at odds over what Mr. Watkins calls a political maneuver meant to embarrass him.

Central to the conflict is the release of a letter by the attorney general's office concerning a real estate fraud investigation that Mr. Watkins' staff asked the attorney general to investigate and prosecute.

Mr. Watkins and his wife, Tanya, own a title company through which authorities believe a man scammed a Dallas family out of their home with forged documents. Mrs. Watkins could be called as a witness in the mortgage fraud case, which would present a conflict of interest for Mr. Watkins and his office.

Because the state released the letter to a news organization under the Texas public information act, Mr. Watkins refused Friday to deputize an assistant attorney general to work on a gambling case in Dallas County.

"It's apparent to me that the AG is using this opportunity to play politics," Mr. Watkins said. "I would hope that I'm wrong. But now I have an issue of confidence as to what they are doing over there."

But an official with Attorney General Greg Abbott's office in Austin said in an e-mail Monday that Mr. Watkins' ire is misguided.

"Craig Watkins is subject to open records laws just like all other public officials," Jerry Strickland, communications director for the Office of the Attorney General, said in an e-mail. "It is unfortunate that a criminal case has been impacted simply because Craig Watkins appeared to expect that public information concerning him would be withheld from disclosure."

But Terri Moore, first assistant district attorney for Dallas County, contended Monday that the letter is part of an ongoing investigation and part of attorney-work privilege. As such, she said, it is not releasable under the public information act.

In the letter to the attorney general's office that was released, Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Richard Zadina wrote that "Mr. Watkins apparently rendered some legal services for the title company ..."

Mr. Watkins denies performing any legal work for Fidelity National Title, the company he and his wife own, or practicing law in any other capacity. Mr. Watkins said he agrees that the AG's office needed to investigate the mortgage fraud case. But he plans to find out why Mr. Zadina wrote that the district attorney was practicing law, which is prohibited.

Mr. Zadina did not return messages Monday.

In the meantime, the attorney general and district attorney remain at an impasse. It's not clear if officials in the attorney general's office plan to continue their investigation into the mortgage fraud case.

"The best thing we can do is distance ourselves from them," Ms. Moore said. "We want to have integrity in our process."

Mr. Watkins said if it is necessary, his office has the resources to prosecute the gambling case and could have an outside attorney prosecute the fraud case.

"We wouldn't have had an issue, but for them playing politics," Mr. Watkins said. "This has nothing to do with dispensing justice."

MEDIA TALK: Study Finds Gender Imbalance on 3 Newspapers' Op-Ed Pages

By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA - The New York Times - June 23, 2008
In the great marketplace of ideas, the opinion pages of major newspapers offer nonjournalists — mainly academics — a rare chance to reach a big audience and influence public policy. So which college professors win the competition for that limited, coveted space?

Overwhelmingly, they agree with the editorial page, and they are men, according to researchers at Rutgers University. Unfortunately, those findings do not suggest the kind of forum for diverse views that newspapers say their opinion pages should be.

The authors of the study are Bob Sommer, who teaches public policy communications and is president of Observer Media, publisher of The New York Observer, and John R. Maycroft, a graduate student in public policy. They combed through 366 opinion articles written by college teachers or researchers and published by three newspapers: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Star-Ledger, the largest-circulation newspaper in New Jersey. Their study will be published in the journal Politics and Policy.

At each newspaper, 90 to 95 percent of the published articles agreed with the editorial page stance on the issue at hand, they wrote, and when the opinion pieces disagreed, “it was usually in a point/counterpoint format where at least one of the authors by definition had to take a view in opposition.”

The study says that men wrote 78 percent of the academics’ opinion pieces in The Star-Ledger, 82 percent in The Times, and 97 percent in The Journal. “Of all our analyses,” the authors wrote, “this is perhaps the most astonishing.”

They did not say whether the disparity was, in part, a reflection of the gender makeup at some university departments and institutes.

The study also found a pronounced tilt toward academics from a handful of high-prestige universities, including Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago.

Editors at The Journal and The Times declined to comment.

Josh McMahon, the op-ed page editor at The Star-Ledger, said he was surprised by the conclusions, adding that they did not reflect conscious biases.

“I’m often conscious of picking pieces I don’t necessarily agree with,” he said. “My only guideline is picking what I find interesting.”
Read more in the New York Times

Monday, June 2, 2008

Clinton Wins Puerto Rico Primary

By International News - June 2, 2008
U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton has won Sunday's Democratic presidential primary contest in the commonwealth territory of Puerto Rico, soundly defeating rival Senator Barack Obama by a two to one margin. VOA's Michael Bowman reports, the Clinton victory comes near the end of the U.S. presidential primary season, and will only slightly erode Obama's lead among party delegates that will determine the Democratic presidential nominee.

Conventional wisdom holds that, at this point, Hillary Clinton has only the faintest hopes of securing the Democratic nomination. Nevertheless, she is finishing the primary season on a strong note. In recent weeks, she has scored overwhelming victories in the states of West Virginia and Kentucky. Now, she adds Puerto Rico to her win column.

Exit polls in the island territory showed her winning among all age groups, and among both men and women. Puerto Ricans may vote in primary contests, but not in the presidential election in November.

Obama still holds a comfortable lead among party delegates accrued from states and territories that have held primaries and caucuses since the beginning of the year. But Clinton's recent victories have, by some calculations, put her ahead in the popular vote tally of all ballots cast in the primary season to date.

Clinton highlighted her popular vote totals in a victory speech to supporters in Puerto Rico.

"More people have voted for us than for any candidate in the history of presidential primaries," said Hillary Clinton. "We are winning the popular vote. And it is important where we have won. We are winning these votes in swing states and among the very swing voters [that] Democrats must win to take back the White House."

Clinton added that so-called "super delegates" - party elders and elected officials who may endorse any candidate - will ultimately decide who becomes the Democratic presidential nominee. She urged super delegates to pick the strongest candidate to go up against Republican John McCain in November, and said she is that candidate.

But the Obama campaign counters that Clinton's popular vote argument is flawed, since it does not take into account vote tallies from many caucus states.
Read more