The Insider

That statement apparently is not true. Bacarisse says he first took the matter to the D.A. and then notified Judge David West, who was then chief administrative judge for the county's entire district court system.

Wood's message put a stopper on the e-mail round table, but the dialogue reportedly continued with some intensity at the judges' board meeting later in the day. Sources say Wood grew so upset with Brister that she shouted at him. (Wood did not return a call from The Insider, and Brister refused to discuss his exchange with Wood, saying, "If I do, she'll do it again.")

The board meeting did result in a unanimous vote by the judges to request that the State Bar of Texas investigate lawyers who might have been involved in the case rigging.

Judge Doug Shaver, who succeeded West as the chief district administrator, signed the request and appended the list of cases the assistant clerk had assigned.

"We were advised that the clerk admitted to misfiling some cases for which she was paid to attempt to disguise her activities," wrote Shaver. "If true, this listing will include some attorneys innocent of wrongdoing." Shaver also suggested that assistant district attorney Knoll might assist the State Bar in any investigation.

Exactly what the Bar can investigate seems to be a point of dispute. Without doubt, the assistant clerk was very methodical in her efforts to assign cases to selected courts. Although Bacarisse says he thought the office's assignment system was tamper-proof, the woman figured out an unauthorized computer command that assigned suits to courts of her choice. Supervisors detected her freelance work because the system's internal monitors reported unusual computer activity by the clerk.

Bacarisse says he then alerted the D.A.'s office, and investigators suggested he alter the computer system to take away the particular option the woman was using.

"That way, we could find out how serious she was about jiggering with the system," explains Bacarisse.

Sure enough, the next morning the woman tried to reassign cases, found her trick no longer worked, then figured out another, albeit more blatant, method for rigging the cases. She would enter the case data up to the point where it would normally be sent for random assignment. Then she would back the case out of the system and manually type in the court assignment. After several weeks of observation to confirm her actions, Bacarisse intervened and fired the woman, and Knoll began his investigation.

Bacarisse says he notified West about the investigation and left it at that. After West left his administrative post late last year, "I think it fell through the cracks," Bacarisse says of Clerkgate.

Knoll suggests that the judges, by seeking a Bar investigation of lawyers suspected of bribery, are getting ahead of the facts as he knows them in the case.

"I'm kinda getting concerned because there seems to be a feeling out there this clerk has confessed," says Knoll. Shaver's letter calling for a probe "way expands what this woman said," the assistant D.A. adds. "This woman has not come in and said she took a bribe to do all these things. She was wishy-washy, like 'I might have accepted a lunch' and 'I didn't know who ....' "

The clerk never named names or acknowledged knowing any of the lawyers whose cases were rerouted, says Knoll.

While Bacarisse indicated the woman's boyfriend was one of the Nigerian-surnamed lawyers whose divorce cases were directed to Ritter's family court, Knoll says he doesn't know that for a fact and is skeptical of what he terms "office gossip." And he isn't impressed by the assignment of 12 cases handled by the same two lawyers to one court. "It's not much of a pattern," he insists, "and it wouldn't be enough for me to accuse that lawyer of any misconduct."

Knoll says that all he was left with at the end of his investigation was "the option of approaching the lawyers on this list and asking them if they wanted to come down and confess to us that they had paid a bribe to a clerk to have a case misfiled. And that's a fruitless exercise."

Maybe so, but it appears to be one that is now in the State Bar's court.

Sweet Nothings
Hakeem Olajuwon is fast becoming the nation's premier Islamic role model, elaborating in countless media interviews on everything from his Ramadan fast to his arranged marriage to an 18-year-old recipient of a scholarship from his charitable foundation. But some of the precepts of the religion are, at least as articulated by Hakeem, more than slightly at odds with modern American feminist sensibilities.

You'd never guess that from Linda Lorelle's recent fawning tour of Olajuwon's Sugar Land-area mansion, though. The Channel 2 anchor gushed on about Hakeem's magnificent house, including those custom-designed "separate entrances for men and women" that were under construction. And then there was the fact that Hakeem's bride was so "sweet and shy" but couldn't appear on camera because, as Hakeem explained to Lorelle, a Muslim cleric had advised him that televising the sweet woman was against his religion.

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