The Insider

Logic's Not In It
The most tantalizing rumor wafting on the chill January winds has Sylvester Turner shelving his mayoral ambitions, at least for the time being, to back his longtime friend and ally, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, for the post. In return for Turner's stepping aside for Lee in the municipal arena, the congresswoman would promise to back Turner in a bid for her 18th Congressional District seat, should she be elected mayor. Aside from the state House seat Turner now holds, Lee's seat -- she represents the most liberal congressional district in the South -- is probably the one elected post Turner would have a reasonable chance of winning.

The hyperkinetic Lee, who is believed to have been born with a rare genetic condition that leaves her unable to stop campaigning for office, even while asleep, is starting her second term in Congress. She could run for mayor this year without sacrificing her congressional seat -- just as she was able to retain her at-large post on Houston City Council while campaigning to unseat Craig Washington from Congress in 1994.

The entire scenario, however, rests on one perhaps implausible assumption: that Turner has realized the lingering negative fallout from his first-round court victory over Channel 13 and reporter Wayne Dolcefino will make it difficult for him to mount a viable mayoral race.

Of course, logic rarely rules politics, but a former Turner associate dismisses the entire scenario. He believes Turner makes way too much money as a lawyer to live on a congressional salary -- an argument that's not entirely convincing, since the mayor's salary is less than a congressman's. Then there's the notion that Turner is bound and determined to run for mayor to avenge his loss to Bob Lanier in 1991, and nothing will dissuade him from running this year -- not even common sense.

Hollow Victory
The seemingly never-ending crusade by assistant district attorney Don Stricklin to nail former state district judge Lupe Salinas ended with a whimper last week, as visiting Judge Curt Steib acquitted Salinas of failing to accurately report the campaign purchase of $88 worth of flowers he gave to his wife, who served as the treasurer for the judge's campaign fund.

Steib had earlier dismissed felony perjury indictments against Salinas, a decision the district attorney continues to appeal. Stricklin had hauled the Salinas case before four grand juries in an epic two-year effort to secure indictments, but he meekly allowed the misdemeanor case to be submitted to Steib rather than exercising the state's option for a jury trial. Since Steib had earlier demonstrated a lack of sympathy for the D.A.'s case, Salinas attorney Dick DeGuerin claims Stricklin in effect tanked the final round.

"I knew they couldn't make their case, and in the last week or so before it went to trial they finally realized it too," says DeGuerin. "I think that Stricklin saw the handwriting on the wall, and it was less trouble and easier and less embarrassing to them to have it done by a judge. They can always say, 'Well, the judge is just sticking up for another judge.' "

The district attorney's pursuit of criminal charges against Salinas had already knocked him out of contention for an appointment to a federal judgeship, and doubtlessly didn't help him in his unsuccessful bid for re-election last November.

Considering the number of grand juries the D.A.'s office went through to get the indictments in the first place, perhaps Salinas should just be thankful Stricklin didn't have the option of taking his crusade to another judge or two after Steib threw the case out.

In-house Counsel
While Salinas, a former assistant district attorney, had to bear the cost of hiring his own defense lawyers to beat the D.A.'s efforts, Brett Ligon, who currently works as an assistant prosecutor, had it much easier when confronted with a lawsuit by a former schoolmate at South Texas College of Law.

Ligon and Lisa Michele Tilton-McCarthy, a clerk for U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore, had been sued in state court by Jonathan Dean Sykes, who claimed the pair had falsely accused him of stalking and harassing them in statements they made to other students and South Texas staff last year.

Tilton-McCarthy hired her own attorney to defend her in the suit, but Ligon got free counsel courtesy of the D.A.'s staff attorney, Scott Durfee.

The allegations in Sykes's suit do not appear to involve Ligon's duties as an assistant district attorney, but Durfee claims that since Sykes had previously written to the D.A. challenging Ligon's behavior and qualifications for his job, he was entitled to the free taxpayer-funded representation. On that point, District Attorney Johnny Holmes agrees.

In any case, Durfee shouldn't have too much work to do on taxpayer time for Ligon, since Sykes attorney John Eikenburger says his client is going to drop his lawsuit.

Still, when it comes to legal confrontations, life seems to be easier when you're one of the D.A.'s hounds rather than one of his quarry.

The Insider awaits your New Year's tidings at 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax), or by e-mail at Insider@houston-press.com.

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