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Leading Off (10/10/14)

Baylor Hospital Could Lose Hundreds of Millions in Federal Funds. Inspectors for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently found several instances of psychiatric patients walking away from the emergency department at Baylor University Medical Center. The violations potentially could cost the hospital up to $300 million in annual revenue it receives from Medicare, though Baylor is devising a plan to fix its problems, which it will submit to Texas Department of State Health Services by Monday.

Judge Rules Texas Voter ID Law Unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos issued an opinion late Thursday holding that the 2011 bill requiring photo identification for anyone to cast a valid election ballot places an undue burden on the right to vote and has a discriminatory effect on Hispanics and African-Americans. Attorney general Greg Abbott, who is also running for governor (in case you haven’t heard), announced immediately that his office would appeal the decision. It’s not clear yet how the ruling will affect the election that’s only a few weeks away.

Dallas Stars Lose Season Opener. They played great against a great team, but fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in a shootout.

Scam Targets Morning News Subscribers. Do not send $600 to an Oregon post office box to get the newspaper.

Today is Double Tenth National Day in Taiwan. It commemorates the start of the 1911 uprising that led to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and establishment of the Republic of China. It’s also an office holiday for D Magazine Partners, celebrated in lieu of Columbus Day this weekend because of the horrific crimes Christopher Columbus committed against the native peoples of the Americas. (To be honest, I think it’s just because we decided we preferred getting a Friday off to getting a Monday off.)

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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: Akin vs. Dahl

It’s fitting that we’re posting this story during the annual run of the State Fair of Texas, since it concerns the later years of George Dahl, the architect who deserves much of the credit for the acclaimed Art Deco buildings at Fair Park. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t focus on the legacy of Dahl’s work but instead the unhappy family saga that consumed much of the final decade-plus of his life.

The facts, as presented in David Bauer’s article in the April 1979 issue of D Magazine (one of the 40 greatest stories we’ve ever published), are that Dahl’s daughter Gloria and her husband, Ted Akin, filed for guardianship of the then-83-year-old Dahl in April 1978. They said they’d done it because of their concerns about Dahl’s failing mental competency in business matters. Dahl believed they were motivated by greed, looking to take control of the millions of dollars in the trust that had been established in the name of his late wife, Lillie, of which Dahl himself was the sole trustee. They also were seeking to prevent him from marrying Joan Renfro, a much-younger woman whom they suspected of being only after Dahl’s money.

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Why Was John Wiley Price Trying To Get a Court-Appointed Attorney?

Yesterday, Judge Renée Harris Toliver denied the county commissioner’s request to have court-appointed counsel represent him on public corruption charges. But why did he request such a thing in the first place? He’s been represented by Billy Ravkind forever. Can Price really not afford him now? Or is this a gambit to start laying the groundwork for a future appeal and/or forcing the government to pay for his defense? Or some other thing I’m just not smart enough to see? I’ll hang up and take your answers in the comments.

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Why Are District Attorney and Judicial Elections Partisan?

Yes, Republican Susan Hawk, who’s seeking the Dallas County district attorney’s job, is most likely making the argument out of convenience and self-interest, but isn’t she absolutely right that we shouldn’t be electing our top prosecutors based upon party affiliation?

“Our District Attorney should be focused on law enforcement, not partisan politics,” Hawk said in a prepared statement. “Today, party politics permeates our DA’s office, from hiring and firing to who gets prosecuted and who goes free. When it comes to upholding the law, it shouldn’t matter if you are Republican or Democrat.”

Hawk is running for DA against incumbent Democrat Craig Watkins, an unabashed Democrat who contends political ideology should be considered by voters when choosing a district attorney.

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Billionaire Bites Back: Judge All But Tosses Dallas Art Collector’s Lawsuit

The tawdry tale of a multimillion dollar work of art, a widowed patroness, a powerful Mexican billionaire, and the little, red faced museum stuck in the middle of all of it took yet another turn in its four-year-long court battle. Dallas mega-collector Marguerite Hoffman’s lawyers convinced a jury late last year that debt baron David Martinez broke a confidential agreement when he sold at public auction a painting by Marc Rothko, which was sold to him by Hoffman in a hush-hush deal. Now, a judge ruled Friday that Martinez did not violate any agreement.

To recap:

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D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: Injustice For Willard Bishop Jackson

Life was going well for Willard Jackson in January 1972. The basketball team he coached at Dallas’ Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High School was undefeated. They’d won the city championship two seasons before and finished second the previous year. There was talk of an opening soon at South Oak Cliff, and he’d been told his name was at the top of the list. The 29-year-old envisioned his future: a few years successfully coaching high school and then he’d take another step to the collegiate level.

If only he hadn’t stopped in for a drink at the Sportspage bar on Inwood Road one Saturday night, that might have been. Instead, as recounted by one of the 40 greatest stories ever published in D Magazine, Jackson was arrested and charged with the rape and robbery of two women in an Oak Lawn apartment weeks earlier. In “A Case of Rape,” Jim Atkinson writes of how our justice system delivered injustice for Jackson — convicting him of a crime he didn’t commit despite what seems to be overwhelming evidence in his favor (including a solid alibi and the confession of the actual perpetrator.) It’s a heartbreaking tale, and Atkinson’s article was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.

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New Reasons to Think Texas Executed an Innocent Man

Yesterday a new nonprofit news organization focused on reporting on the criminal justice system published its first story, and it centers on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Corsicana man who was executed for setting fire to his house to kill his three young children in 1991. We’ve discussed the case before, which received long-form treatment several years back from the New Yorker, as well as episodes of Nightline and FrontlineYou’ll also likely remember how Gov. Rick Perry replaced members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission before they could consider new evidence that cast doubt on the science that was used at the time of Willingham’s trial to determine that arson was the cause of the fire.

Well, the news in the Marshall Project piece is that a jailhouse informant, Johnny E. Webb, has recanted his testimony and that there’s evidence — despite what the prosecutor has insisted for 20 years — that a deal was made to lessen the informant’s jail time in exchange for saying that Willingham had confessed to him:

In taped interviews, Webb, who has previously both recanted and affirmed his testimony, gives his first detailed account of how he lied on the witness stand in return for efforts by the former prosecutor, John H. Jackson, to reduce Webb’s prison sentence for robbery and to arrange thousands of dollars in support from a wealthy Corsicana rancher. Newly uncovered letters and court files show that Jackson worked diligently to intercede for Webb after his testimony and to coordinate with the rancher, Charles S. Pearce Jr., to keep the mercurial informer in line.

The Innocence Project filed a grievance against Jackson with the State Bar of Texas, saying that he violated his ethical and constitutional obligations.

Willingham was executed in 2004.

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Spencer Barasch ‘Transitions’ out of Andrews Kurth

Back in May, I wondered how much longer Andrews Kurth could continue to employ Spencer Barash, a lawyer that we had to remove from our Best Lawyers list because of some Allen Stanford-related shenanigans he was involved in (you’ll have to follow some links; it’s complicated). Well, an alert FrontBurnervian points us to a story (paywall) in The American Lawyer that says Barasch is on his way out. Explaining why Barasch’s profile page had vanished from the Andrews Kurth website, a managing partner told the magazine: “Spence Barasch is still a highly valued member of Andrews Kurth. However, he is in the process of transitioning his legal practice. Under those circumstances, we have agreed that it’s best not to continue to publish his website biography during the transition period. The firm continues to fully support Spence in all of his endeavors.”

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The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail: A Visit to the Hole

I’m afraid I’m now being kept in the Seagoville federal prison Special Housing Unit, or SHU, known more informally as “segregation” and even more informally as “the hole.” Several of my fellow jail unit inmates and I were brought here in the wake of a June 17 incident that the Department of Justice is billing as a “semi-disturbance” for which we are to be investigated and perhaps punished — though not necessarily in that order. One awaits one’s disciplinary hearing in the hole, and if one if found guilty, one is sentenced to … the hole. More than a week after being confined, I’ve yet to even be charged with an infraction.

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Larry Friedman, the Lawyer With the Most Interesting List of Clients in Dallas

We mentioned the Crosland divorce earlier today. Luke says Mary was having an affair with the couple’s plastic surgeon and claims she secretly sold a $1 million diamond ring to promote a book she wrote with the doc. Usual Dallas stuff. What caught my eye was the name of the wife’s attorney: Larry Friedman. The man has been on our radar since at least 1997. Interesting guy. Even more interesting list of clients. I searched a database of Morning News articles to remind myself whom Friedman has represented recently. This is just going back to 2010. I’m sure I’ve missed some. Imagine all these folks together at Friedman’s holiday party:

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ExxonMobil CEO Sues to Stop Fracking-Related Project Near His House

I’m not sure if this is a full-blown hypocrisy alert, but the Wall Street Journal reported late last week on a lawsuit in which Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil, has joined some fellow Denton County homeowners in attempting to block a fracking-related project.

Cross Timbers Water Supply Corporation wants to build a 160-foot water tower to supply natural gas drilling sites in the area. Neighboring property owners, including Tillerson, are concerned about the impact on their property values of heavy trucks frequently visiting the tower, creating additional noise and traffic.

The Raw Story cites some of Tillerson’s past critical statements about those who oppose hydraulic fracturing in the drilling process to imply his participation in the suit is a pot-kettle-black situation.

But Tillerson says this is about the devaluing of his property from the presence of the water tower, not fracking itself.

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Leading Off (1/17/13)

Harold Simmons’ Secret Will. The widow of the recently deceased Dallas billionaire/evil genius has asked that all documents related to his probate case be sealed. Presumably this is because his heir is a journeyman minor-league ballplayer who’ll have 30 days to spend $30 million before he can inherit the bulk of the fortune. So everybody plan to vote “None of the Above” in this year’s gubernatorial election.

Judge in Munoz Case Recuses Herself. State district judge Melody Wilkinson didn’t explain why she doesn’t believe she should hear the case of the family who have filed suit against JPS Health Network for the right to take pregnant and brain-dead Marlise Muñoz off life support.

Cupcake ATM Gets an Upgrade. The ability to buy a cupcake 24 hours a day wasn’t, apparently, good enough for the people of Dallas. Sprinkles’ new technology will better meet our insatiable appetites, dispensing up to four cupcakes in a single transaction.

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Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr Elects New CEO, COO

Dallas law firm Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr PC is ringing in the new year with newly elected leaders at the helm. Taking over as CEO is Phil Appenzeller Jr., a member of the firm’s litigation practice group who most recently served as chief operating officer. Moving into the COO spot is E. Lee Morris, a member of the firm’s restructuring, creditors’ rights, and finance practice group.

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