The Insider

Can You Spell Alzheimer's?
The soured romance of lawyers Ron Wardell Jr. and Melanie McKenzie had already given state District Judge Mark Davidson plenty of headaches, but Davidson managed to compound them with an ill-advised e-mail last week that has an appeals court judge steaming.

After Wardell and McKenzie broke up last year, Wardell began stalking his former girlfriend. McKenzie, who's with the firm of Crain Caton & James, sought and secured an injunction from Davidson to stop Wardell. The harassment continued, however, and Davidson, after being assured by Wardell's attorney that the Fullenweider & Wardell partner would cease and desist from pursuing McKenzie, gave Wardell a suspended 60-day jail sentence, plus six months probation. The sentence provoked a Chronicle editorial chiding Davidson for not getting tough in protecting a stalking victim from her harasser.

When Wardell violated the court order by continuing to phone McKenzie, Davidson tried to hold a contempt proceeding to jail the lawyer. But a three-judge panel of the 14th Court of Appeals, in a two to one majority decision by Justices Leslie Brock Yates and Maurice Amidei, issued a writ of prohibition blocking Davidson from acting.

Having been bashed by the media, Davidson decided to do a little bashing of his own, e-mailing a handful of fellow judges a "Look What They Did" memo that referred to Amidei as "Maurice 'Alzeimers' Amidei." As the 44-year-old Davidson later explained to several colleagues, the misspelled nickname that he bestowed on the 64-year-old appellate judge grew out of Amidei's representation of a client in Davidson's court several years ago. According to Davidson, Amidei's client approached the bench and asked for a new lawyer. When Davidson asked why, the client responded, "Because my lawyer has Alzheimer's."

Unfortunately for Davidson, one of the recipients of his e-mail then photocopied it and faxed it to Amidei, who was awake at his bench and not amused.

"He even misspelled Alzheimer's," observes Amidei.
Although Amidei believes Davidson's comment is slanderous, he says he's not sure what to do about it.

"I feel it was improper," says Amidei, "and really, he ought to respond to me first."

Davidson was noncommittal when we asked him whether an apology will be forthcoming.

"I didn't know it had gotten back to him, I haven't talked to Justice Amidei and I don't discuss private e-mail that I may have sent to colleagues with anybody," he said.

Putting the Bite on Taxpayers
Lloyd Kelley has made a big deal about cutting costs since he took over the controller's office, but that didn't stop him from using $5,000 in city funds to pay Galveston attorney Anthony Griffin for representing Kelley in a fruitless bid to delay the January election to fill a vacant City Council seat.

In a transparent attempt to curry favor with Kingwood residents, Kelley had asked a federal judge to postpone the balloting because the newly annexed voters in the Livable Forest were not eligible to participate. The legal action went nowhere, but Kelley, who is said to be contemplating a run for a statewide office as a Republican -- perhaps for land commissioner -- managed to suck up to lots of GOP-oriented voters at taxpayers' expense.

City Attorney Gene Locke, who makes no effort to disguise his low opinion of Kelley's courthouse maneuver, says $5,000 is the maximum the controller could have paid his lawyer without getting City Council approval, something that a discussion among councilmembers a few months back made clear would not be forthcoming.

We Need a Vacation!
Speaking of dubious public expenditures, we noticed this week's agenda for Commissioners Court included a request for $2,800 to fund attendance at a seven-day "criminal law seminar" in Saint Kitts, British West Indies for the judges of the 182nd and 337th state district courts.

Those two judges (who, unlike other jurists requesting authorization to attend conferences, were not listed by name on the commissioners' agenda) happen to be the husband-and-wife team of Jim Barr and Jeannine Barr, last seen together at a hearing called by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to consider allegations of improper conduct by Gentleman Jim, including his off-color comments to female prosecutors assigned to his court.

Although we went to press before the commissioners met to consider the Barrs' request, check back next week to find out if those old softies granted our stressed-out public servants their much-needed island getaway.

Let Them Eat Cake
The first mass campaign feed of the 1997 mayoral season left plenty of downtown workers hungry after Rob Mosbacher's cache of Luther's smoked best faded in the face of hundreds of would-be diners who showed up at the Mosbacher tent in Sam Houston Park brandishing blue "VIP" passes. In fact, so many people turned out last week for the free barbecue that accompanied Mosbacher's formal declaration of his candidacy that The Insider was left wondering whether "VIP" didn't actually stand for "Very Inconsequential Peons."

To ensure a substantial crowd was on hand for the evening news and the camera crew filming the event for future Mosbacher commercials, the Mosbacher campaign spent three days chumming downtown office towers with more lunch tickets than there was chow. That tactic rekindled not-so-fond memories of Elyse Lanier's over-invited Museum of Fine Arts luncheon to celebrate Bob's inauguration back in 1992.

Some of those who actually got a free lunch at Mos-bacher's expense didn't stick around for the candidate's announcement speech. A group of secretaries tagged with Mosbacher stickers and carrying plates of food had the effrontery to start back to work before Mosbacher took the stage.

"Remember," one alerted her co-workers as they exited the tent, "get rid of the Mosbacher stuff before we go in the office."

They must work for Bob Lanier.

Higher than a Kite?
It's a safe bet that socialite Jan Becker didn't pass on birthday greetings to Richard "Racehorse" Haynes when the legendary defense attorney turned 70 last week. A few evenings before celebrating his entry into his eighth decade, Haynes distinguished himself in Becker's eyes while taking his turn as an auctioneer for a University of Houston art student scholarship benefit at Bistro Vino. Various celebrities, including Hakeem Olajuwon, Carl Lewis and Denton Cooley, had designed kites to be auctioned off, and the normally bourbon-smooth Haynes had started to introduce Becker's creation.

According to witnesses, Haynes referred to the "gorgeous and trim" Jan Becker, and then added the qualifier, "or at least she used to be." The crowd hushed while Racehorse, whose face suddenly matched his bright red UH blazer, labored to extract his hoof from his mouth, an effort that apparently did not assuage Becker's bruised feelings. She began circulating through the crowd, huffing to guests that Haynes was "drunk" and "an asshole." A short time later, Haynes did little to disprove Becker's first characterization when he fell off the raised platform in the Bistro Vino courtyard and landed on his duff. He regained his perch and completed the auction.

At least one witness says Haynes did not appear inebriated, but the lawyer himself did not return a phone inquiry on the subject from The Insider. It was quite the party week for Haynes, who two nights later was up late celebrating his birthday at Patrenella's in the Heights, where he was gifted with a 1965 Corvette Stingray by family and friends.

Becker is a close friend of Chronicle fluffmistress Maxine Mesinger and is a buyer of costume jewelry for the haute clothing emporium Tootsie's in Highland Village, where Mesinger's husband Emil also toils as a jewelry salesman. And Becker got a measure of revenge on Haynes a few days after the auction, thanks to her buddy Miss Moonlight, who gently flexed her claws by writing: "Neither the rain nor auctioneer Richard 'Racehorse' Haynes's topple off the makeshift raised platform during the auction dampened the crowd -- after, of course, we learned that Haynes was O.K." (Mad Max also reported that Becker's kite, plus a $1,000 shopping spree at Tootsie's, had fetched $1,600 from the same buyer who had purchased Mesinger's creation.)

Becker didn't return a call from The Insider, but we did manage to speak to the long-suffering Emil. "I hope you don't put that in your paper -- it was ridiculous," volunteered Emil, who then confided, "I think he was a little drunk, but don't put that in the paper, either." During a later conversation, Emil asked that we not use his name, but allowed that "you probably will, because it's that paper."

Sorry, Emil, but it's like your wife always says: If we know, we tell.

The Truth? We're Out. Sorry.
Randalls truly is your remarkable store: If you happen to be a journalist checking out reports of its impending purchase, you can get most anything there but the truth.

Three weeks back The Insider queried Randalls flack Cindy Garbs about reports that a New York investment firm was negotiating to purchase a majority interest in the Houston-based grocery chain. Absolutely not, declared Garbs, who went on to explain that the report was just one more in a cyclical series of rumors pushed by Randalls competitors. "I'm glad you called us first," gushed Garbs.

We won't make that mistake again.
Garbs was unrepentant last week after the announcement that Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. had purchased a majority interest in Randalls.

"Hindsight's 20/20," explains the publicist. "I was doing what I thought was appropriate at the time. I did not know definitively what was going on, except that I had heard the same rumors you had heard ... and I am not going to court your favor by answering something that is only a rumor to me."

Garbs neatly sidestepped the fact that she had indeed answered the question -- with a lie. According to her way of thinking, the sale really hadn't happened until Randalls issued a press release.

That tactic might net Garbs a bonus from her employer, but it shouldn't get her the time of day with reporters in the future.

Wedge Issue
Guests at a downtown reception for "investment guru" author Peter Tanous got an extra scrap of news last week when Texas Democratic Party chairman Bill White, a former Energy Department undersecretary for Bill Clinton, took a bow before the crowd wearing his new corporate mantle.

White launched Frontera Energy last year after leaving the Clinton administration to seek the state party chairmanship. Now he's the new CEO of Wedge Group, a Houston-based holding company housed in that green-light-trimmed downtown skyscraper and controlled by Lebanese billionaire Issam Fares. Wedge Group, according to White, is involved in several U.S. businesses in the areas of energy services, real estate and engineering.

Interestingly, Fares is a pal of George Bush and was the former president's guest at last year's Gridiron dinner in Washington. He is reportedly very cozy with elements of the Saudi royal family, particularly Prince Turki bin Abdel-Aziz, and has been a notable contributor to the Republican Party, a situation that will likely swing in the Democrats' favor once White settles in at the helm of Wedge. Since each of the holding group's operating companies is run by individual executive officers, White says his main tasks will be exercising investment judgments, selecting personnel and mapping corporate strategy. He declined to discuss the financial terms of his deal with Wedge.

White will continue as state party chairman, and doesn't expect his new duties at Wedge to interfere with those political chores. As for Frontera's oil and gas operation, White says the start-up company "has reached a critical mass where I can step back a little bit" and leave the day-to-day operation to the company's CEO.

Friends of White suggest his move to Wedge was motivated by a need to boost his income after his stint in Washington.

"There's economic benefit to it," White acknowledges, "but I can make a lot more money doing other things than this. I'm doing these particular companies because I like the businesses."

On the other side of the deal, Wedge can certainly use a political player of White's skills and connections.

"I don't think it will hurt," says White of his service in the Clinton administration. By that he meant his experience "managing a place with 160,000 people and cutting the budget by $2 billion," not the access he's likely to have to the Democratic administration.

Call The Insider at 624-1483, fax him at 624-1496 or e-mail him at Insider@houston-press.com.

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