Friday, June 24, 2011

Oil field courthouse war plays out in suits, motions

Gilmer – Political warfare is protracted, feudal, highly symbolic and lasting. It is touched off by the slightest gesture, the symbolic act, the tiniest detail, and often leads to a centuries of adjustment, rapprochment, polarization, disaffection, hatred and healing.

The psy-war is deadly, internecine, emotionally draining – a study in dominance and submission, money, power, prestige and stealthy legal strategies.

There are no real winners. The damage is profound and the public suffers when they can't get their day in court, their hearing before a judge, the facts of their special case recorded by officers of the law.

In this courthouse war, the power players, the knights and bishops, the keepers of the castles, the kings and queens, and rulers of the party, made a rash decision that the public would no longer have their say, would no longer be allowed to voice their opinions, comment on events, or ask questions - rhetorical or otherwise.

A County Commissioner, irked by the strident tone of certain constituents' comments during the period set aside for all such invective, made a motion to end that portion of the agenda - once and for all.

The motion was seconded, the question called and the rest is turning into history - the kind that is dyspeptic, unpleasant and ultimately, laughable, even when it hurts.

Jimmy Caughran went to the Upshur County Commissioners' Court meeting on November 30 of last year and fixed all that with duct tape, which, as any country boy will tell you, is good for fixing just about anything that's broken.

Outraged, the County Judge had the bailiff remove Mr. Caughran from the chamber for his disruptive behavior – that of applying the duct tape to his mouth.

The results have been horrendous, to say the least

Here, in this decent little city perched at the apex of a legendary oil field, a decent little old man touched off a smoldering feud that will be played out in the mine fields of the clerks' offices, the full frontal killing fields of the courtrooms, the venue of the sound byte, the press conference, and the column inch.

The conversation in barber shops, hair salons, church socials and family reunions will resound and remark for decades over what is taking place here - and now.

The names of the places roll off the tongue and out of the pines, places of legend in the East Texas oil fields.

Reading all about it, one runs across the magic names - Longview, Big Sandy, Pritchett, Gilmer, Tyler, Kilgore, the places where wildcatters and shirt tail drillers, plungers, gamblers and great grandfathers threw it all on the line and came up winners on the black gold.

Down this road, Dad Joiner and H.L. Hunt brought in that first gusher, the one that spelled the end of the Great Depression in certain places and bank accounts. Down that way, Elvis sang up a storm in road houses and beer joints, made his first radio appearance at a country station in Gladewater, and went back to Memphis a winner, a proven entertainer with a pocket full of money plucked from the jeans pockets of hands who earned it on the drilling floor, the derrick and the pipeline – only to see it recycled and come spewing out of the tail pipe of the King's long, pink Cadillac.

Everywhere and nowhere is more than an hour's drive down sandy oil roads snaking through the pines and smooth highways streaking from hill to hill and over green fields studded with creeks and lakes, pastures of plenty, and slowly-working pump jacks pulling the big money out of the ground thousands of feet below, in the stratified rock.

A doctor becomes miffed by the way he's treated in a tax collector's office in the Lubbock courthouse over personal property taxes. That leads to events that eventually unravel a presidency and to cause one of the most adroit players in the history of the U.S. Congress, the sitting Vice President, to arise from under a hot towel in the White House barber shop and say, “Billy Sol who?”

Suddenly, every day is get Lyndon day, and it's not long before the whole world stares at television screens as events unfold in Dallas over the course of a terribly depressing weekend in late November.

A few years later, some political exiles – most of them once involved in the failed fiasco of a faux invasion staged to touch off a war in the sugar cane fields of a hell hole Caribbean island called Cuba – are paid to burglarize a political office in a fancy business and hotel complex. Caught red-handed in the act, they were then paid even more to keep their mouths shut.

There followed the revelations of a once-loyal executive of the secret police they call the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Passed over for a promotion he felt he rightfully deserved, he began to blab anonymously to a couple of newspaper reporters who worked for a sheet that was finding itself in a bind to get at their stock and trade – information - and an entire government collapsed; the way the nation keeps records, and the public access to those records, went through an unprecedented sea change.

Hard times.

They called it Watergate. What it was really about was a record period of inflation and a bodacious recession caused by the finance of an inconclusive and undeclared war in Vietnam.

A drunken group of Napoleon's troops raped a young Sicilian girl one afternoon. Her mother ran through the streets of the village, screaming, “Ma fia! Ma fia!” - my daughter, my daughter – and the men of the island, outlaws placed beyond the protection of the law by many generations of invasion and occupation, founded a feudal and warlike society to protect the honor of their women – a society which branched out into other, more lucrative activities.

The rest is history. Ask Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Dewey, once appointed Special Prosecutor for New York State in the prosecution of Charles “Lucky” Luciano - or, that is, check the record. Mafia dons released from local Sicilian jails led American troops through the mountains, giving invading commanders vital intelligence in their pursuit of Nazi and Fascist defenders.

A small yellow pennant with the single letter “L” flew from the radio antennas of their Jeeps, the jail doors opened and suddenly, everyone knew all about where to apprehend Mussolini and Hitler's tanks, their columns of infantry.

A black Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus and a second period of Reconstruction ensues, one which leads to a flip flop in the nation's two-party system, one in which conservative Democrats become Republicans and federal Courts order all kinds of social changes in the way things are done in courthouses, schools, universities, offices and places of business throughout America.

Funny how the wars, the revolutions, the vast social movements and tax revolts often come down to the most idle actions of the powerful and the slightest remarks of the leadership.

As a result of his order to have Mr. Caughran removed from the Commissioners' courtroom, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct suspended County Judge Dean Fowler from hearing misdemeanor, probate and other cases assigned to the constitutional court by the Texas Constitution.

The District Court is taking up the slack.

He, County Sheriff Anthony Betterton, and County Commissioner Lloyd Crabtree soon found themselves charged with official oppression, a misdemeanor crime for which they were indicted by the Grand Jury.
After District Attorney Billy Byrd recused himself from the case, the Special Prosecutor Rick Hagan, a Longview attorney, defended the case against motions by their attorneys that allege prosecutorial misconduct because Mr. Byrd tape recorded conversations with the defendants after taking a statement from Jimmy Caughron, the man who was ejected from the courtroom, the duct tape still covering his mouth.

But, wait, there is even more to the story.

The defendants have now lodged a countercharge against the District Attorney for allegedly paying his employees bonuses from funds he collected from ink-happy consumers and placed in the bad check fund.

Apparently, some folks think writing a check to a merchant is the same thing as signing a promissory note, that the District Attorney will collect the money over a period of time for the merchant, and all will be well. It usually is, until they legal lions of the courts begin to quarrel.

More hard times.

Same story about the economy, the finance of the never-ending, undeclared war, and the economic doldrums of recession, depression, and inflation.

If you can't cover a check, you pay a fee to the District Attorney who is collecting for the merchant. If the District Attorney can't give his staff raises, he finds the money in the bad check fee funds.

The upshot: The District Attorney has been charged with misuse of public funds. DA's have lost their offices, their law licenses and their good names for less.

The special prosecutor charged the Sheriff and the County Commissioner with the Class A misdemeanor of accepting a gift from the attorney who has represented them in court.

One more thing: The prosecutor charged County Judge Dean Fowler with official misconduct for failing to file an affidavit with the County Clerk to disclose his relationship with the First National Bank of Gilmer, which loaned Upshur County $1.43 million.

That ought to hold them.

Whew! Hot, ain't it?

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