Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Draft Ronnie Earle

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - July 1, 2009

McBlogger wrote:
One of the reasons I like Earle is the fire and passion he brings to everything he does. He's the kind of candidate who won't let Republicans in this state know that it's OK for them to vote for a Democrat, he's the kind of man who can convince them the Republicans are full of shit, with a smile on his face and a beer in his hand. Read more on

Texas Needs You Ronnie Earl

Vince Leibowitz wrote on Capitol Annex:
The next big question folks are probably asking is, “Why Ronnie Earle?” I think that the answers are pretty obvious, but I’ll elaborate.

Ronnie Earle is a classic progressive, good-government Democrat with the capability to inspire people and, ultimately, reach across party lines and actually win in places in this state Democrats haven’t won in a while.

Last year, I contacted then-DA Earle about participating in a panel that we were assembling for Netroots Nation called “Blogs As The Ethics Watchdog.” We wanted him to participate because we thought he’d have a unique perspective on some of the issues bloggers in Texas had covered since, after all, his office investigated them. Shortly after that, I got the opportunity to hear him speak at a fundraiser in East Texas (if memory serves, I even got to introduce him, because I’d suggested him as a speaker). I couldn’t quote you chapter and verse of his speech, but it was inspiring and, through that speech, Ronnie Earle articulated (perhaps without even realizing it) a vision for Texas that is different from the kind of thing you typically hear gubernatorial candidates talk about. Given that he wasn’t a candidate for anything at that point, it was particularly impressive.

Ronnie Earle talked about a vision for a Texas that is proactive and not reactive when it comes to public policy areas like crime and education. He talked about a Texas where the interests of children and the elderly come first, and not the interests of big business or big donors. He even set forth a few ways Democrats could accomplish those things, but I won’t try to recount them today.

In July of last year, I got to hear Ronnie Earle speak again in a more casual atmosphere at the Netroots Nation panel. By that time (and even when he spoke at the spring fundraiser), he had been mentioned as a possible candidate for statewide office. As I listened to some of what he said in the Netroots Nation panel, though, and recalled the earlier speech I heard, I decided that if Ronnie Earle ever ran for statewide office, he was a candidate I would support.

Since he hasn’t made up his mind yet, and since I know a number of people who feel the same way I do, now is the time to offer a little encouragement–hence

Just as is noted on the draft site, Texas needs Ronnie Earle right now. Texas Democrats really need Ronnie Earle right now.

The Impact Players: The Earle of Democracy by Mark Donald, Texas Lawyer
..He half-expected these and more after his two-year investigation into alleged violations of Texas campaign finance laws led to 32 indictments spread among three political associates of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and eight corporations.

“There is a basic rule that the Mafia follows,” Earle says. “And it is used as a template by most politicians that I have investigated: Deny the allegation and attack the allegator.”

Returned on Sept. 26, the indictments seem fairly straightforward. Section 253.094 of the Texas Election Code prohibits corporations and labor unions from making political contributions or expenditures and 253.003 makes it a crime to accept them. Each offense is punishable as a third-degree felony, although the statute has been interpreted to exempt corporate money spent on administrative expenses such as rent and utilities.

The indictments accuse John Colyandro and Warren Robold, who were affiliated with Texans for a Republican Majority [TRMPAC], and eight of the PAC’s corporate donors of accepting or making banned corporate contributions. James Ellis, who was also associated with TRMPAC, and Colyandro have also been indicted for money laundering, a first-degree felony. Each of the defendants has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The factual allegations surrounding the investigation and indictments, however, are so dense, interconnected and politically charged, they make Republicans look like Machiavellian power mongers and Democrats look like paranoid conspiracy theorists.

According to press accounts from the Texas Observer to the New York Times, Tom DeLay sought to increase his Republican majority in Congress by increasing the number of representatives from the Texas congressional delegation. “I’m the majority leader and I want more seats,” he told the Washington Post.

If Republicans could gain a majority of seats in the Texas House in the 2002 election, they could elect a DeLay-friendly speaker [Tom Craddick, R-Midland] who could then help push through a DeLay-engineered redistricting plan, which would then increase the size of the Texas delegation in Congress — which is what happened.

Spotlight on Prosecutor

By Ralph Blumenthal, The New York Times, October 11, 2004

...On Sept. 21, after nearly two years of investigation, the latest of three successive grand juries indicted three top fund-raisers and eight corporate givers for contributions to the political action committee of Texans for a Republican Majority, a group that is linked to Mr. DeLay, of the Houston suburb of Sugar Land, and Tom Craddick of Midland, a fellow Republican who is speaker of the Texas House. The charge is funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit corporate money to Republican statehouse candidates in 2002.

The candidates’ victories set off a redistricting effort to solidify Republican control of Congress in 2004. “Clearly corporate money was used in political campaigns, and that’s against the law,” Mr. Earle said.

The Texas Association of Business, another group involved in the inquiry, boasted in a 2002 newsletter that it “blew the doors off the Nov. 5 general election using an unprecedented show of muscle that featured political contributions and a massive voter education drive.”

Mr. Earle said, “Nobody can just violate Texas law, brag about it and then get away with it.”

He was non-partisan in prosecuting elected officials who misused their office for personal gain:
Mr. Earle has been recognized as an innovator for working, sometimes with his wife, Twila, to mobilize communities to fight crime. “Mostly, I got tired of waiting for something terrible to happen before I could do anything,” Mr. Earle told a 2002 conference on drugs at Rice University.

Meanwhile, he racked up some other prominent prosecutions of Democrats, winning a guilty plea for misuse of office against State Treasurer Warren G. Harding in 1982; a guilty plea on financial disclosure violations from the Texas House speaker, Gib Lewis, in 1992; and various convictions against state legislators of both parties. But he lost a felony bribery case against Attorney General Jim Maddox, a Democrat, acquitted in 1985.

He has even prosecuted himself:
Among those he successfully prosecuted was himself. As he announced in a news release on March 14, 1983: “I have discovered that my officeholder campaign finance reports were not filed for 1981 and 1982.” He filed them belatedly, he said, apologizing to his constituents for the misdemeanor and adding: “I have today caused a complaint to be filed against me in this matter and this afternoon I expect to pay a fine assessed by the court.” It came to $212, including court costs.

(By Ralph Blumenthal, The New York Times, October 11, 2004)

He focuses on Crime Prevention:

Guarding Death’s Door
By John Cloud, Time Magazine, July 14, 2003
Earle’s capital locale has extended his visibility beyond the county. He was one of the first prosecutors in Texas to create a victim-assistance program, in 1979; later he helped write a state law requiring every D.A. to open an office to connect crime victims with social services. He helped start Austin’s Children’s Advocacy Center, which works with abused kids, and a family-justice division of the D.A.’s office, which prosecutes those accused of domestic violence and helps their families get back to normal. A lot of prosecutors view such do-gooderism as a waste of time, preferring to devote themselves to cases guaranteed to go Live at 5. Earle, by contrast, rarely appears in court. He would rather attend, as he did recently, a conference in a motel ballroom off Highway 35 to talk about how to fight substance abuse. Predictably, those in the movement for community justice, which tries to combat the sources of crime as well as punish it, swoon over him. “He has a track record going back years of working toward crime prevention by working in the community,” says Catherine Coles, a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government who studied Earle’s office in the ’90s.

...“At first, I thought justice was vengeance,” he says, settling back into the chair in his second-floor office, which is not far from the pink-granite capitol. “D.A.s feel they have to give voice to the anguish that victims feel. And I tell you, that’s a righteous anger. You look at these guys”–the killers, he means–”and some of them are monsters, just awful.” Many prosecutors don’t concern themselves with why they become awful, but Earle has a theory: “People learn to act through what I call the ethics infrastructure, that network of mommas and daddies and aunts and uncles and teachers and preachers”–he continues the list for some time–”who all teach us how to act. And that infrastructure has atrophied. When I was growing up”–Earle is 61 and was raised outside Fort Worth–”my mother had seven sisters and a brother. My dad had six siblings. So I had all these aunts and uncles plus my mother and father, and that structure is powerful. People don’t have that now. And nobody is taking care of the children.

“So it’s almost as if most of the people we send to death row, it’s like we can say, ‘Look what we made you do.’ Most of them–if they had someone who had intervened in their life at an appropriate point, this would not have happened. And that’s sad to realize. That doesn’t necessarily make you squeamish about using the death penalty, but it does make you more discerning about it.”

But Earle has always been a little weird. A close observer of Texas politics e-mailed this description of him: “Thoughtful. Conspiratorial. Crusader. Half-whacked. Smart. Insightful. Wise. Nuts.” Well, not nuts. But most of it has a kernel of truth. Earle’s reputation as conspiratorial derives largely from the workings of his office’s public-integrity unit, a watchdog office that prosecutes those (including elected officials) who commit crimes in the course of their dealings with the state. Earle’s job, in other words, is to root out conspiracies.

Earle is often suspected of bringing partisan cases on behalf of fellow Democrats. And while he has prosecuted 12 Democrats and only three Republicans, his biggest embarrassment came in 1994, after U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a prominent Republican, was indicted for allegedly using state employees to do political tasks. Earle amassed thousands of documents as evidence, and many thought the new Senator could lose her job. But at a pretrial hearing, the judge and Earle clashed over the admissibility of the documents; fearing he would lose, Earle declined to present a case. Hutchison was quickly acquitted, and Earle was portrayed as a fool. Republicans have never quite forgiven him.

...Like most other prosecutors, Earle often sees himself as an advocate–for his constituents, for the state, for crime victims. Because of their role, prosecutors tend to be portrayed in popular culture as modern-day knights. But Earle has come to prefer another metaphor. “I’m the gatekeeper,” he says. “I don’t dare ask my boss, the public, to sit in judgment of somebody that I don’t think deserves to die. That’s why they elect me, to exercise that judgment and not bother them.” Buried in that philosophy is something radical–the notion that the jury system, as it’s currently constructed, can’t be trusted to send only the guilty to death row. Most prosecutors wouldn’t embrace that philosophy, which is why it may take an Earle, not a knight, to slay the demon of error.

In Earle's own words:
Community Restorative Justice and the Future of Democracy

By Ronnie Earle, May 2000
Justice in our culture has many meanings, but mostly it has become a hero word. We have grown accustomed to thinking of it as vengeance, or payback, and usually as one act, as in the execution of a criminal or the movie killing of a bad guy.

Justice in its original contemplation was neither so crude nor so simple. It was a sense of balance, of completeness, of harmony and fairness. It involved the daily, mundane work of building community by taking care of the relationships upon which community is based. It was not as simple as an immediate release of anger; it was certainly more meaningful. The Hebrew word Shalom comes closest to describing this sense of justice as a general sort of okay-ness that was shared in and contributed to by everyone in the community.

Justice is thus an organic product of the community’s institutions, and that is what controls behavior, not the law. The law historically just caught those few who fell through the cracks in the ethics infrastructure; it was never designed to be a substitute for what former Travis County, Texas Sheriff Doyne Bailey once referred to as the institutions of love. It is upon that structure and the connections within it that justice depends.

The community restorative justice movement is focused on connecting people both in and out of government. It is an effort to use the opportunities for intervention provided by crime and related social dysfunction as tools to begin the process of rebuilding the social capital upon which both community and justice are based. It is a spontaneous, grassroots effort to discharge what Dan Van Ness says is the moral responsibility of community to create peace. It seeks to reweave the fabric of community by involving the public in its own protection.
read more

He is not afraid to think outside the box:
The focus of the criminal justice system has been on the trees—response time, arrest rates, conviction rates, length of sentence, crime rates, recidivism rates, and so on. The forest—the place of that system in the culture and its role in values clarification and reinforcement—has seldom even been noticed, except by the popular entertainment media. Community restorative justice asks us to see and care about both the forest and the trees.

Community restorative justice is not easy to understand, much less to practice, except for members of the lay public. They have only to learn a new way. They are not burdened as are criminal justice professionals with the necessity of first unlearning the old; for the pros it is like having to drive the train while trying to build a new railroad without being sure of the destination.

Community restorative justice operates at two levels. First, it asks the agencies that have traditionally operated separately and independently of each other to work together, sharing power and authority with each other. That is hard, especially given the ubiquity of turf wars in social and criminal justice.
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