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Ronnie Earl, Superprosecutor

Now, here's a man who's confident. Travis County Prosecutor Ronnie Earle didn't seem able to get an indictment against Tom Delay, so instead he's opted for a "moral indictment" in the New York Times. The man is nothing if not confident:

Last week Congressional Republicans voted to change their rule that required an indicted leader to relinquish his post. They were responding to an investigation by the Travis County grand jury into political contributions by corporations that has already resulted in the indictments of three associates of Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader. . . .Yet no member of Congress has been indicted in the investigation, and none is a target unless he or she has committed a crime.

(emphasis added) Surely pride goeth before that particular fall? Are the prosecutors of Travis County, Texas so astute and discerning that they have never brought a man before a grand jury unless they have actually committed a crime? Certainly he meant to write "is suspected of" a crime. Either that, or the entire process of criminal adjudication that follows an indictment is a rather expensive superfluity.

I've already written that it was dumb of the Republicans to try to change the rules to help Delay. But according to Mr. Earle--who of course hasn't a political motivation in his body--this strikes at the very rule of law, threatening our society, our social order, and the work of our law enforcement officials.

There is no limit to what you can do if you have the power to change the rules. Congress may make its own rules, but the public makes the rule of law, and depends for its peace on the enforcement of the law. Hypocrisy at the highest levels of government is toxic to the moral fiber that holds our communities together.

The open contempt for moral values by our elected officials has a corrosive effect. It is a sad day for law enforcement when Congress offers such poor leadership on moral values and ethical behavior. We are a moral people, and the first lesson of democracy is not to hold the public in contempt.


If one wanted a paragraph more finely crafted to make Mr. Earle look like a political hitman, it would be this. He so overstates his case that one would have to be excused for attributing political motivation to him, lacking any other coherent explanation.

After all, let's get one thing straight: the rule that was changed for the sake of Tom Delay wasn't a general law. It doesn't affect general citizens. It doesn't even affect all lawmakers, only members of a particular party. It's a rule for determining the standards under which they will reject their leadership, and the change was at worst one from a bright-line rule (anyone indicted must step aside) to a slightly more discretionary standard (a committee must recommend whether to remove anyone indicted within 30 days). If one believes that Mr. Earle is acting out of partisan motives, then even if hypocritical it may not be immoral to change the rule: enforcing it could be a manifest injustice.

This is the hypocrisy strikes at the very heart of our rule of law, making the jobs of enforcement officers more difficult? But if this rule is so important, certainly the fact that it's never been enforced by the Democrats upon their leadership is that much more toxic to the rule of law? Or is "hypocrisy" somehow more corrosive to more fiber than allowing an indicted man--remember, no man is even a target of a grand jury in Travis County, Texas unless he's committed a crime--hold a leadership position? Is allowing an indicted Democrat to be chair somehow moral because, hey, at least they didn't change the rules?

It's all very well to say, "Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall." But this rule is not a law, at least not in the general sense. (Do internal party rules have the force of federal law? Can they, since they're not passed even unicamerally?) Whether Mr. Earle is concerned with justice or simple politics, the heavens are not falling around him. Which, again, does the man no favors when one tries to guess his motivations.

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Hmmm... my understanding is less than comprehensive, but I think that the status of party and congressional rules stems from the coordinate-branch doctrine: Courts will not review the internal procedures of Congress or certain tiers of the executive branch. As a matter of practice, the minority party in either house of Congress is free to organize itself as it wants because the House merely gives the minority leader, as a generalized entity, certain powers; the minority caucus names the person to fill that role. (As a side note, the Speaker of the House was originally contemplated as someone not even a member of that body.) Whether any power exists for the majority to interfere in the minority's internal organization, I do not know; it would be odd for either house to violate the comity that tends to result from the up-today-down-tomorrow reality that Congress has operated under since ... I suppose the 1800 elections.
Oh, you know better than to say "Travis County Prosecutor Ronnie Earle didn't seem able to get an indictment against Tom Delay" when we're talking about an ongoing grand jury investigation. Ken Lay didn't get indicted until June of this year even though people were calling for his head in fall 2001; that's how long it takes to build an indictment sometimes. Not that -- unlike House Republicans -- I expect DeLay to be indicted ;-). But it ain't over until the grand jury goes home... and if Earle really is on a Ken Starr-esque fishing expedition, it may not be over until he nails DeLay on something or DeLay leaves office. And why no excusing Mr. Earle (anyone know if he's a relation of Steve's?) from political motivation despite his office's having prosecuted "12 Democrats and three Republicans"? "For most of my tenure the Democrats held the power in state government. Now Republicans do. Most crimes by elected officials involve the abuse of power; you have to have power before you can abuse it." Or do you mean electoral motivation (becoming famous off this case and running for higher office) as distinct from partisan motivation (persecution by prosecuting Republicans)?
Wow, PG, you join Prof. Keller in uncritically quoting Media Matters for America as if it were something other than a hack-partisan source. Though I'm rather surprised. Earle is of course correct in stating this: the evidence that he's prosecuted 12 Democrats and three Republicans does not tend to support a charge of partisanship. However, there's a lot of pieces of information that don't tend support a charge of partisanship: that he likes a certain style of tie, that he appreciates (or loathes) a good ham sandwich, or that the Moon is passing through Venus. And that statistic is just about as relevant. As he points out, Democrats have been in power throughout most of his tenure. It's quite possible that he either (a) didn't have the opportunity, or (b) didn't have the motive (as you point out, prosecuting those out of power isn't career-endorsing) to prosecute Republicans for most of the time he was in office. That simply doesn't apply now. The fact that he might not have restrained himself to protect Democrats doesn't imply that he's acting with due restraint in bringing charges against a political opponent. That could only be assessed by his behavior in this case. (As a stock analyst would say, "Past performance does not guarantee future results.") And if a prosecutor leaves his domain of Travis County to write a meretricious hit piece in a national paper that's filled with ridiculous assertions--of prosecutorial infallability, for one--then there's not a lot of reason to give him the benefit of the doubt based on a single irrelevant statistic.
I grabbed the Media Matters URL, but I could have just as easily cited the Houston Chronicle, which if a biased source seems prejudiced in favor of Republicans. If you're not challenging the accuracy of the statistic itself -- and the only part of the MM piece I quoted was the numbers -- why does the source matter? I'm not going to suspect the earth of being flat just because Ann Coulter says it's round. And I'm perfectly willing to believe that Earle may tend to look for indictments where the evidence won't end up supporting them. The fact that past prosecutions of both Republicans (KB Hutchinson when she was state treasurer) and Democrats (then-Attorney General Jim Mattox) have resulted in directed innocent verdicts and jury acquittals demonstrates that his cases aren't always waterproof. But you still have nothing to show that Earle is particularly inclined to go after Republicans rather than Democrats. The NYTimes piece seems like an angry reaction to the claims about him that have been made by DeLay and his supporters -- claims that have gained a national audience, which he sought to refute at the same level. It's appropriate for DeLay's defenders to seek top media attention to slime the guy, but not for him to do the same in throwing the mud back?
If a thing looks like a pig, smells like a pig, sounds like a pig, and cries like a stuck pig when caught, well in my book it is probably what your senses tell you it is...A PIG! Tom DeLay and the Republicans all seems pretty excited about this indictment of Tom DeLay. Maybe they sense there is a pig amongst them as well. Ronnie Earl looks pretty clean to me...no matter how clever you wrap your fancy words around that concept. He is the GOOD GUY! Tom DeLay looks pretty dirty to me, no matter how well you try and hose him off after he rolls around in his pig pen. Actually it make Mr. DeLay and all his "SECRET ADMIRERS" ie "The Republicans in the House" look pretty dirty, smell dirty, act pretty dirty...well you get the picture. I just wonder why if they all believe in Tommy's story why are they afarid of publishing their names in support of him? Just a simple question that raises doubts in the minds of most of us "REASONABLE PEOPLE"! What are the brave Republicans afarid of? Just my humble opinion. Dennis Skaugrud 19125 98th ave nw Stanwood, WA 98292
Dennis, And, given your "I know it when I see it" justification for a rather Manichaeistic view of the situation, I'd have to say it's rather humble indeed.
Clearly Ronnie Earle gets all of the best press. Do a simple google search to see all the praises for Earle and what a hero he is for prosecuting the big-money fat cat political operatives. He is a darling of the liberal media who don't take the time to look deeper to what is at issue in the TRMPAC indictments. The partisanship is not in his prosecutions, but in the lack thereof. If Earle is so consumed with corporate and labor money influencing politics in Texas, why doesn't he look at all the PACs who did not disclose at all. At issue is what is an establisment and administrative cost, because those costs can be paid for by a corporation. TRMPAC fully disclosed their costs to the IRS as required. The Texas Trial Lawyers reports no administrative or staff costs at all, either to the Texas Ethics Commission or the IRS. Why isn't there an investigation into how much they spend on staff, rent, fundraising, mail and other expenses and who pays for it all? At least TRMPAC disclosed everything.
Well, all you have to do to see how "straight" and honest Mr. Earl is, is to read Byron Yourks column, June 20, 2005, titled, "DOLLARS FOR DISMISSALS" There is documented the scenario where Mr. Earl, without filing charges, uses his incluence as a prosecutor to cause Corporations to give hundreds of thousands, indeed propsed MILLIONs to a Think-Tank run by one of his pals. In any other State in the union it would be time for extortion charges to be brought. But I guess extortion is legal if your the State's top-cop. Where is the FBI when you really need it?

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