Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Does Matt Bingham need a dose of the "Joel Baker treatment?"

Is Matt Bingham going to run for re-election?

 
Back in 2015 he said he wouldn't seek another term.  But recent events make me wonder if he might change his mind.  First, Judge Jack Skeen announced that he will try to stay on the 241st bench.  Then a few days later Bingham's First Assistant, April Sikes, announced on Facebook that she is dropping out of the running for the DA's seat.  Interesting.  Was Bingham thinking that Skeen might retire during his current turn and that he might get appointed to the 241st bench without the expense and inconvenience of an actual election?

Speaking of elections....

 

So what is the "Joel Baker treatment?"

 
Go back to the 2014 election, in which incumbent County Judge Joel Baker ran against John Furlow.  Baker had a lot of support in the community, mainly because of his father, the late C.C. Baker.  But in the seven-odd years Baker had been in office, he had also made many enemies.  Oh, Baker ended up barely winning the election, but the campaign didn't go well for him.  For one thing, allegations surfaced that Baker may have benefitted from a police cover-up of an incident in which Baker was investigated on suspicion he had tried to make illegal video recordings of a young woman.  You see, somebody apparently had it out for Baker and had gone down to the police station with Freedom of Information forms in hand, managed to find the police report, then publish it on the internet for all the world to see.



But Baker's troubles didn't stop after he won the election in a 57% to 43% landslide.  Baker then made the mistake of accusing his political opponent of stealing his campaign signs and even got the help of Tyler PD to investigate what became known as the "Great Campaign Sign Caper."  This scheme backfired on Baker, as, well, the old alleged "peeping-Tom" incident came out during the trial, and Baker would later lament, "I felt as if I were on trial."  The whole thing ended up in a mistrial anyway, and that dangerous menace-to-society accountant who challenged Baker's authority walked.

And the troubles just kept coming, and coming.  Even the local news outlets turned on him.  When he tried to secretly enact an unconstitutional plan to deploy automated camera units to fine speeders in school zones, he was outed by his former allies at the Tyler Morning Telegraph.  Other elected officials cried foul, and Baker was eventually prosecuted for Open Meetings Act violations.  And even though it was evident that Baker's every move was being watched, he still thought he could get away with some personal naughtiness.  But that caught up with him, too.  And in March, 2016, it was revealed that Baker exchanged over a thousand obscene messages--including partially-nude photographs--with a woman he'd never met.  Some of the messages had been sent and received while Baker was supposed to be in hearings of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, on which he served as that body's vice-president!.  That was the end of Baker, and he ended up resigning in disgrace.

I wish that the Joel Baker thing had never happened.  But, since it did, it taught those of us in the Opposition a thing or two.  Namely, we now know where to look for trouble.  So where would I look?

 

First, I'd look for any improper "personal entanglements" within the D.A.'s office.

 
Now I'm not accusing anybody of anything here--I'm just saying that's the first place I'd look.  You know, it's a tight-knit group...all those late nights at the office, looking over each other's briefs or whatever lawyers do.  Things happen.  But here's the deal:  Some of the  highest-paid county employees work for the DA.  Wouldn't it be scandalous to find out that maybe someone got special consideration because they were somehow favored by higher-ups...for reasons other that lawyerly excellence?  Imagine what might happen if someone went down there with Freedom of Information Act forms and got ahold of a bunch of interoffice e-mails, etc!  No telling what they might find!
 
...You know how quickly the boys found you … all those tedious sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars … while you could only dream of getting out … getting anywhere … getting all the way with the D.A!

Then, I'd try to find out whether any county property has been put to inappropriate use.

 
I'd start by honing in on equipment and funding that was obtained via "civil asset forfeiture."  You know, that thing that allows the county to confiscate your property and money just because you are accused of a crime?  The stuff they don't have to give back even if the charges against you are dropped or you are acquitted?  Apparently "civil forfeiture" money is sort of treated like a kind of "slush fund" by some DA's, and it is oh, so tempting to just help yourself to it.  For example, former Dallas County DA Craig Watkins recently bit the dust politically after it was discovered that he used civil asset forfeiture funds to pay for damages he caused in a motor vehicle accident--in his personal vehicle.  Again, I'm not accusing anybody of anything here.  But I'm just thinking that if I were given one of those sweet police-edition black Tahoes to drive around in...I'd really be tempted to round up all my homeys and paint the town red.  Or maybe take it on vacation, or whatever.  At least load up the whole family and go out to eat.  Something?


 

I'd ask why the DA's budget has increased so much in the past 10 years.

 
Maybe this is a good job for the Grassroots people.  They don't like for government to spend anything on anything.  And they REALLY hate wasteful spending.  What's going on here?  Has crime really increased by 49% in the past 10 years in Smith County?  With the glut of lawyers in the job market and attorney's salaries in a nose dive, is it really costing that much more to staff the DA's office?

 

Finally, I'd look at professional ethics.

 
Yeah, I know my first two examples involve ethics.  But I'm talking about the kind of thing that could get a lawyer's license taken away.  How 'bout the "Mineola Swingers' Club" debacle, that was overturned?  We know that potentially exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense and from the juries.  But by whom?  Prosecutor Joe Murphy claimed he never saw the missing evidence and pointed the finger at investigators.  But if it were to somehow come out that Murphy and/or Bingham did know about such evidence and withheld it, that would be a big deal.  A career-ending deal.  A former prosecutor from Williamson County, Ken Anderson, was prosecuted for doing just that.  And his successor, John Bradley, tried to block the defendant's plea for exoneration and was run out of town on a rail by his conservative constituents.  He has subsequently been unable to find work in the U.S. and is in exile on some little primitive island in the South Pacific!  And for that matter, why in the HELL did Bingham import that whole mess from Wood County, anyway?  Pretty much every child abuse expert in the country would say the whole thing was implausible from the get-go.  The Mineola police and Wood County had already investigated the allegations--and found NOTHING!

And speaking of ridiculous cases, let's go back to that "Great Campaign Sign Caper" thing.  Why didn't Bingham laugh in Detective Mathews face when he presented the case to him?  The only evidence against Furlow was the word of the thief who actually admitted to stealing the signs.  Sure, Bingham tried to isolate himself from embarrassment by hiring a special prosecutor.  But it was Bingham who made the decision to pursue the prosecution in the first place!  And, if Bingham and Tyler PD were so interested in justice, WHY IN THE SAM HILL DIDN'T THEY PROSECUTE THE GUY WHO ACTUALLY STOLE THE SIGNS?  Why did we, the county taxpayers, end up footing a $42,000 bill for what ended up in a hung trial and yet another black mark on Smith County's criminal justice system?  For $800 worth of signs.  That weren't stolen by the defendant.  I'll stop there before I put my fist through my computer monitor.

And then there's Kerry Max Cook.  Kerry Max Cook, dammit.  No way to get around Kerry Max Cook.  So when Kerry Max Cook showed up again a few years back, seeking full exoneration, former prosecutor David Dobbs maintained that Cook HAD to be guilty, because, well, we said he was guilty.  Never mind the fact that Cook came armed this time with DNA evidence that almost certainly would have led to acquittal.  So Bingham deputized former prosecutor David Dobbs (who was the last prosecutor who tried--and failed--to convict Cook) and did some posturing about not letting Cook off the hook and not letting him get access to some $3 million in compensation he would get if he were found actually innocent.  But then they turned around and struck a deal with Cook's attorney to drop all charges.  Ah, but the catch was that none of the former prosecutors involved--Jack Skeen, Jr., David Dobbs--would not be subjected to any scrutiny for the alleged prosecutorial misconduct that led to Cook's wrongful convictions!

 

So here's the deal, Mr. Bingham.

 
I'm sure you'll keep your word and won't run for D.A. this time, am I right?  But none of this goes away.  Maybe you are thinking in a couple of years after Skeen keels over dead or retires or whatever, you can be a big-shot judge.  Run for office or try to get appointed by the governor...and all this stuff will come up again.  I don't care if it is ten years from now, twenty years from now.  If I can get my old craggly fingers working and continue blogging or whatever we will be doing in the future, I'll be here, asking these same old questions!

Enough is enough, voter-sheeple of Smith County.  Binham and Skeen need to go.

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