To cross the rabbi’s eyes

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Amarillo – To defend yourself against the charge of murdering your own parents, you should plead that, since you are now an orphan, you deserve leniency.

Not. That’s chutzpah. This is meshuga.

The McLennan County Appraisal District moved out of office space leased from Hoppenstein Properties, Inc., of Amarillo, even though there was still time to run on its agreement. When the tax men moved out, they still owed either $474,638, or $418, 591.27 – or maybe, as the jury wound up seeing things, $373,638, or as the Seventh District Court of Appeals at Amarillo decided by their own calculations, $461,995.16.

It gets complicated, but one thing the appeals court definitely decided in the dispute is that when a Waco jury in the 170th District Court “simply awarded a judgment of $373,638,” it was unsupported by any fact, figure, or basis of contract law.

How it derived that that sum is unknown…Nor does the District cite us to any evidence or methodology from the…amount can be calculated.”

What happened is simple enough. One day in the year 2009, the District took the advice of its chief appraiser and decided to move out of the building it had leased from Hoppenstein in favor purchasing a new building.

How to beat the lease?

The appraiser showed them the way. He recommended, in the words of the appeals court, that “a new building be purchased, and advised it that the District had the discretion to end the contract by simply omitting from future budgets money earmarked for lease payments.”

Such a deal. The appeals court explains it this way.

They concluded that, “we note that the conduct of the District tends to run afoul of general contract principles. For instance, where one assumes an obligation, he generally cannot excuse his non-performance by voluntarily pursuing a course of conduct that leaves him unable to perform.”

Predictably, no one is happy.

Though the jurors rendered judgment in favor of the former landlord, Hoppenstein, “neither party was satisfied.”

According to Hoppenstein, “the trial court should have 1) granted its motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the amount of lost rent to which it was entitled and 2) awarded it attorney’s fees.”

The District’s appeal held “that 1) the trial court should have granted its motions for summary judgment and judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the basis there was no funding for the lease after December 31, 2009, thereby bringing into effect a contract provision which specifically released it from liability, 2) the contract impermissibly created debt and was void, and 3) the trial court erred in not excusing two jurors for cause.”

It’s hard to say, but it’s safe to assume that no one is less unhappy now that in May of this year, the 17th District Appeals Court affirmed the jury’s judgment.

Hoppenstein gets not a penny more in lost rent and attorney’s fees because of two well-chiseled provisions of the law.

In the first place, the trial court did not err by denying a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict because a couple of cases on point established that, as Hoppenstein asserted in their appeal, “The movant must establish both that no evidence supports the jury’s answer and that the evidence conclusively establishes the answer sought in the motion.”

The appeals panel agreed heartily, and responded by saying “To that, we add a principle uttered by our Supreme Court in City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 802 (Tex. 2005). There we were told that it is not necessary to have testimony from both parties before a jury may disbelieve either; yet, a jury may not ignore undisputed testimony that is clear, positive, direct, otherwise credible, free from contradictions and inconsistencies, and could have been easily controverted.”

From there, the Court gave a recital of the testimony of Hoppenstein’s bookkeeper, $474,638.24; entries in the general rent ledger, $477,778.39, and the District’s calculation that the outstanding amount was $461,995.16.

Attorney’s fees?

It’s a provision of the Local Government Code that “Attorney’s fees incurred by a local government entity or any other party in the adjudication of a claim by or against a local governmental entity shall not be awarded to any party in the adjudication unless the local governmental entity has entered into a written agreement that expressly authorizes the prevailing party in the adjudication to recover its reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees by specific reference to this section.”

There is no such written agreement that “expressly authorizes” the payment of attorney’s fees in the record. The lease stipulated only that the matter be settled by existing law.

The big enchilada on the District’s plate:

THE DISTRICT AND LANDLORD MUTUALLY AGREE THAT DISTRICT’S OBLIGATION TO PAY THE CONSIDERATION HEREIN EXPRESED MAY BE MADE ONLY AND SOLELY FROM FUNDS AVAILABLE FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS AGREEMENT. THE LOSS OR REDUCTION OF FUNDS BY THE DISTRICT SHALL RENDER THIS AGREEMENT NULL AND VOID AS TO THOSE PROVISIONS FOR WHICH FUNDING IS NOT AVAILABLE.”

The appeals court countered very neatly by replying in this way.

There is evidence of record illustrating the coffer used to fund the District’s expenses contained monies sufficient to satisfy the lease obligation. But, instead of using the monies for that purpose, the board of directors charged with disbursing or budgeting the funds opted to use them to acquire another facility…In other words, monies were available to satisfy the District’s lease obligation, but the District not only opted to use them for another purpose but also swayed those in charge of their dispersal to divert them to that other purpose. Under those circumstances, it cannot be said that the funds were unavailable.”

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River tale – east and west

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Cross the Brazos, and where have you gone? If you head east, you’re in a place where all the rules apply, whether you’ve broken them, or not.

Head west, and you enter a world of privilege, power, political connections. It means a lot, most days, and every night.

Let’s take a look at the case against James Johnson. One day in 2013, he was driving through East Waco in his 1996 Cadillac, the one with the big gangster wheels and the skinny little tires. A cop thought he saw something wrong, so he pulled him over and took him to the station for a breath-a-lyzer test, under suspicion of DWI.

He blew less than the legal limit for intoxication, but that didn’t matter. The cops pressed their charge, anyway.

Prosecutors finally withdrew from the case, saying there was  little likelihood of obtaining a conviction.

But all was not well, not for Johnson. More on that later.

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 6.38.58 PMThen there’s another 2013 case, this one made against Sarah Cross.

She is a business owner who is married to a local business owner, a man in the security business. Her employer, a Mr. Hobbs, learned she had embezzled more than $40,000 from his company, given herself a raise, paid her family’s health insurance premiums, banked his money.

He pressed charges. At her arraignment, she entered a plea of guilty. The judge ordered her to pay restitution of slightly less than $400 per month, to start soon after her probation period for the suspended sentence began, to continue until she had paid back $30,000. So far, so good.

At this point, Eric Carrizales, an investigator for the McLennan County Criminal District Attorney who was hired especially to look into cases of possible fraud in obtaining legal services for the indigent, entered the picture.

When he looked into the Johnson case, he learned that there were more than the one nearly 20-year-old Cadillac registered in Johnson’s name. There was an even older Caddy and a Chevrolet slightly older than both. A clear case of fraud. You see, Johnson is a permanently and totally disabled SSI client who is unable to work.

In fact, if you ask Jeff Foxworthy, he would tell you that if you mow your yard and find a couple of cars you didn’t even know you owned, you might be a redneck. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, Johnson gets less than $1,000 per month from his disability check.

Cue the laugh track, Mr. Foxworthy.

Carrizales did not look into the appointment of Cross’s lawyer. He didn’t even make a cameo appearance because that appointment never generated any paperwork. Judge Ralph T. Strother of the 19th District Criminal Court appointed a lawyer. He signed an order. No papers are filed in the indigent defense coordinator’s office.

He charged Johnson with fraud by tampering with a government document.

Ms. Cross filled out no documentation in the appointment of her lawyer, but if she had done so, honestly, it would have revealed she had a sizable income from her tanning salon business, a business with a healthy inventory of goods.

Here’s the upshot.  Neither one of them were convicted for fraud in obtaining legal services.

Go figure.

Johnson’s address is east of the river; Cross’s abode is located to the west of that mighty organ.

Johnson stands guilty of driving while black; Cross is guilty by her own admission of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from her employer. When contacted, Mr. Hobbs revealed that he was never informed of any forward progress in the case. Suddenly, one day it was settled, and that was that.

And the floggings will continue until morale improves.

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Of a one-man crime wave

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One man, one dog…a helicopter…

Valley Mills – Sgt. Randy Threlkeld knows his people, and he knows Brad Taylor as a man with rabbit in his blood. “He’s a runner,” he said, minutes after he and other officers rousted the 37-year-old, 220-pound six-footer out of the woods behind a trailer where an informant said he could be found last Thursday night, May 29.

He’s run from the law previously, so he’s charged with the enhancement of a prior conviction for the offense – along with robbery, and obstruction or retaliation – in Bosque County.

There are two other warrants for Taylor’s arrest  obtained by the Waco police, and Sgt. Threlkeld found out he could apprehend him at a residence on “the hill,” an area of Valley Mills heavily populated with the family of pro ball player Barry Sadler, last Tuesday.

True to form, Taylor made a run for it and gave K-9 officers and patrolmen the slip.

Lot #9 on Green Meadow Circle is part of Misty Valley Trailer Park. It backs up to a creek.

In the tense moments before the inevitable knock on the door, Deputy Kyle Williams of the Bosque County Sheriff’s Office took up his station at the rear door of the trailer – just in case Taylor decided to make his usual escape out the back.

According to Sgt. Threlkeld, he could see a white man and a black man he knew has Taylor making tracks for the back door, but Taylor couldn’t get the door open.

That’s when he head the door break with a loud crack, and Taylor tumbled out into the bushes, headed for the creek bed. K-9 Buck bit his pants leg, holding him in place while Deputy Williams shot him with his Taser. A Department of Public Safety helicopter kept the heavily wooded area lit up like a baseball diamond all the while as passersby stopped their cars on the highway to watch and hundreds of people stood around in the trailer park keeping the cops and their quarry under close scrutiny.

When Taylor tried to get up and run again, he only made it 10 feet before the deputy gave him another jolt.

That’s when he gave up, and they slapped the cuffs on him.

It was only then that the deputy noticed he was bleeding from numerous cuts and scratches he got flying through the bushes in pursuit of Taylor. Both he and the suspect were treated at Goodall-Witcher Hospital in Clifton – Deputy Williams to head for the cop shop to finish his reports, and Taylor for the lock-up and an appointment with the Magistrate.

He is held under three $50,000 bonds for a total of $150,000, and considered a flight risk. Two other charges await him at Waco.

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Feds lock horns – West evidence blocked by ATF

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West, Texas – Think of it this way. If you were the King or Emperor, wouldn’t you prefer to have subordinate agencies fighting with each other for influence rather than a cohesive power base beneath your station that could easily rise up and attack, depose you, cause a need for abdication?

From the minute the Adair Seed Co., doing business as West Fertilizer, blew sky high in a burnt orange mushroom cloud in April, 2013, taking fifteen lives, damaging 200 homes, three schools and injuring hundreds, there was an unreal air of secrecy about nearly everything connected to this weird event.

Let’s start with the wildly varying and ridiculously inaccurate estimates of the death toll and damages. Everyone from CNN to “The Daily News” of New York, the Washington “Post,” and the Wall Street “Journal” got into the act, and they all used the same sequence of numbers – 160, 16, 600, and no, not 666 – that totally enigmatic sequence used when hard changes come on Satanic holidays, or when it’s totally apparent that the media d’mainstream is on a fishing trip because 1) no one knows, and 2) the authorities aren’t telling.

To learn more, follow this link: http://www.google.com/m?hl=en&gl=us&client=ms-android-sprint-us&source=android-browser-type&q=west+fertilizer%2C+160

Indeed, they were. You couldn’t talk to officials, ask questions, look around, take pictures – or do much of anything else. And it didn’t feel good, no matter how down-home and friendly the good old boy map salesman put it with a chuckle in his voice. Stinks to be on top of a big story and get absolutely nowhere because of a bunch of hardheaded cops.

But it was a crime scene that revealed no crime, and few clues as to why the fire and explosion occurred, and that’s simple enough to understand. The ATF and State Fire Marshal’s Office ordered in bulldozers, trucks and trailers, cranes and loaders to haul off the scrap. They blocked any investigation by other agencies such as the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

Follow these links to learn more:

Safety Board says law enforcement nationwide …watchdogblog.dallasnews.com/…/cheThe Dallas Morning News

by Reese DunklinMay 23, 2013 – Updated, 7:15 P.M.: I’ve received a Chemical Safety Board … the country have hampered its work investigating deadly chemical industrial accidents. … The state and ATFattempted to fully cooperate,” even so, and cited examples: … evidence and keep other agencies from blocking access to records.

Federal chemical safety agency complains of lack of access …The Dallas Morning News

by Todd Gillmanin 64 Google+ circles

May 21, 2013 – The agency probing the fertilizer blast in West says turf fights with other … The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, in a letter released Tuesday, accused the … Firearms and Explosives of hampering its work by blocking access to key … and his team gain access to debris and other evidence removed by ATF and …

www.nbcdfw.com › newslocal

National Chemical Safety Board Says ATF Investigators …

May 22, 2013 – Safety Board Says ATF Blocking West Probe … injured about 200 others, hampering its investigation, the panel’s chairman said. … However, a Boxer spokeswoman said the senator had asked the agencies to respond … In his letter, Moure-Eraso said the board sent 18 investigators and other experts to West …

ATF Accused Of Blocking Investigation Of West Explosion …

dfw.cbslocal.com/…/atf-accused-of-blockinginvestigation-of-west…

May 22, 2013 – It’s among the lead agencies investigating the fire and explosion at the West … The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is required by federal statute to conduct … Moure-Eraso says the ATF actually turned away two board members, …

Agencies accused of blocking West blast probe – Houston …

May 21, 2013 – The ATF removed key chemical evidence from the site without consulting the … Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board – often found itself on the outside … Coast Guard and other agencies took charge of the investigation. … wrong, the board has yet to conclude its investigation and issue its findings.

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And then there was the story propagated by independent insurance adjuster Cynthia Colvin-Montgomery (“We work for you not the insurance company”).

Ms. Montgomery is a former ship fumigator who has extensive experience with pest control on seed grain-hauliing ships in the Port of Houston. She claims that an electrician who sought her services worked earlier on the day of the blast to determine the cause of a fire in the area where the explosion later took place.

There was damage to an electrical circuit when a battery charger for a golf cart went out of whack, she said. The man had delayed his repair to prepare an estimate, she said.

ATF officials later repeatedly denied there was any truth to it, but did acknowledge that there were pieces of the golf cart found as far away as two miles, indicating the buggy was near the epicenter of the explosion, and that it was a possibility that the problem may have arisen in electrical circuitry in the building.

Finally, a check of law enforcement records revealed that there were hundreds of break-ins and intrusions at the plant over a period of decades that yielded pilferers quantities of anhydrous ammonia for making meth, vehicles they stole, components for agricultural equipment, heavy machinery, computers – and the like.

There were no burglar or fire alarms, sprinkler systems, fences, video – nothing to say go away, stay away, this means you.

And then there was the abortive “press conference” in the County Commissioners Chamber in which the McLennan County Disaster Coordinator stonewalled, backpedaled, and managed to avoid answering a single question while the county’s attorney snarled and threatened, and County Commissioner Will Jones sat by and looked pretty.

The media – national, local and metromess – departed wailing and with a gnashing of teeth.

Now comes the Chemical Safety Board and says the entire thing was avoidable. A fire protection system would have seen to that, but who knows how it started, why, or where?

No one.

Why?

Because the ATF and State Fire Marshals office had bulldozers and front end loaders, cranes, and trucks take all the debris away before they let the other investigators on board the “crime scene.” For Pete’s sake. I am sincere. I have spoken.– The Legendary

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Cops roust robber in K-9 chase – ‘He’s a rabbit…’

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Valley Mills, TX – A foot chase through this hilly central Texas community on Hwy6, 25 miles northwest of Waco, left dozens of motorists gawking beside the cars they left parked in the road as a DPS helicopter combed the woods looking for a man wanted on armed robbery and other as yet unspecified charges.

Brad Taylor, a black man, is known as “a rabbit,” according to Officer Randy Threlkeld. He has an extensive history of running from officers when they are ready apprehend him on arrest warrants.

Wanted on multiple charges in McLennan and Bosque Counties, he evaded capture on Tuesday evening in a neighborhood of Valley Mills called “The Hill,” as deputies and K-9 units chased him, then lost the trail. That episode attracted nationwide attention on “America’s Most Wanted.” The neighborhood known as “The Hill” is heavily populated with members of professional baseball player Barry Sadler’s family.

At about 10:30 p.m. Friday night, acting on a tip from a confidential informant, Threlkeld learned Taylor was back in the neighborhood of Misty Lane Trailer Park, and the hounds were back in business as a sleek helicopter ran an expanding search pattern with its eye in the sky spotlight ablaze, criss crossing the wooded areas on both sides of the highway.

When he was brought to bay, clad only in gym shorts, the bottoms of his feet, which were covered by white athletic socks, were bloodied from his chase through the wooded area as ambulance attendants placed him on a stretcher to transport him to emergency care.

Perhaps a hundred residents of the trailer park stood by watching as lawmen questioned their quarry about his intentions as he led them on their chase through the woods.

No spanking for judge?

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Judge Elizabeth Coker

Knowledgeable ethics experts such as Jim Alfini of South Texas College of Law are watching the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct closely to see what action will be taken toward District Judge Kaycee Jones of the 411th Court in Polk, Trinity and San Jacinto Counties.

Texting suggested questions for a witness under examination by a prosecutor has already cost Judge Elizabeth Coker her judgeship. The State Bar stopped short of a permanent reprimand for Judge Jones. She will be required to place a notice of her part in the violation of the ex parte rule for judges hearing a cause over the next 10 years only. A grievance committee found cause to enter the reprimand on a finding that Jones relayed Coker’s questions to the prosecutor in a child injury case.

Alfini, et. al., are wondering if the commission should not examine Judge Jones’ fitness to be a judge at all.

It’s just an oil town…

Unterm Rad

Riding the yellow line, out to the beach – with the obligatory two-minutes of sadness for the beasts who plunged into the tar pit knee deep, then struggled until they died to break free of the morass…

LA Woman, sunny afternoon,

drivin’ through your suburbs

Into yo’ blues

Into yo’ blues

Into yo’ blues

Into yo’ blues…

Motel burnin’

murder madness

will change a fool 

from glad

to sadness…

– The Doors

‘Because of the insurance’ the new world order

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Pay or die is nothing new, but one of Texas’ largest health care providers is demanding payment prior to results as a watchword of the Affordable Health Care Act, it seems.

This recording came in over the transom, so it’s a raw piece of intelligence in which an executive of Scott & White is heard to say that 1) not everyone pays their bills, and 2) the hospital giant has no alternative but to make its other patients pay in advance for trauma care.

His interlocutor is heard to say that he and many other families are leaving for better conditions, but the executive is unperturbed. He’s here to stay, and this is the new way.

Unfortunately, because of patient confidentiality laws, it’s not possible to learn much more from this sound byte, but there it is.

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They’ve done it again!

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Somewhere, a copy editor is wringing his hands in utter delight.

Our Story: The deal is this. On a junket to Galveston, Texas, Stephen Crain covered the dedication of Galveston’s jetties to a glorious future as the Queen of Texas deep water Gulf ports, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project.

The city was still on its seeming perpetual quest to outstrip Houston in its bid to dig a ditch 50 miles to the jaws of Galveston Bay and thus become an alternate to a great natural harbor.

A the termination point of a rambling account of his visit, the author of The Red Badge of Courage reported his dialogue with a merchant seaman, who asked “Do you know why so few of our young men are seeking professions in the seafaring trades?”

When Crain said, no, he didn’t, the man replied, “Because saddles are so expensive.”

-30-

End of story.

And then I found this impassioned account of Istanbul’s quest to become a smokeless town, reported earlier in this century in “The Atlantic.”

Get a load of this:

Faruk Tas, the manager of Ali Papa Nargile, dragged on a steady supply of Marllboro Reds. “Where are these people going to smoke?” he said. “I can understand banning cigarettes, but this is a water-pipe garden. This is in our culture.”

He motioned to a friend who’d entered his shop. “Ask him what he thinks about it.”

Do you think the smoking ban will work in Turkey?”

Of course,” replied the visitor, rather dismissively. Then he sat down and lit a cigarette.

-30-

End of story.

I put it to you. It’s loose in the land, once again. Must be something in the air, maybe the water.

For an audio report, click here: