The Insider

In his testimony last week, Bell consistently denied the various accounts of his allegedly improper conversations with Williamson, Meadows and Meadows's partner Allan Port, and Vinson & Elkins attorney Margaret Wilson. After the first three days of the hearing, Bell's word was pitted against that of the four attorneys and a district judge, and the tape West had made of his office confrontation with Bell.

But then it got much worse for Bell.
When Williamson walked into court on the fourth day of the hearing, accompanied by Holmes and armed with her tape recording, Bell's long face froze. In her testimony three days earlier, Williamson had recounted a phone conversation with Bell in which he described himself as "a friend" of Chevron and asked for guidance from someone "with cojones" at the company to tell him what to do, Bell had flatly denied making those statements. In fact, Bell claimed he had actually instructed Williamson to "have the balls" to tell Chevron she had misunderstood his initial conversation at the dinner.

The recording revealed that Williamson's account of the conversation was accurate. "I'd like to know from somebody what they want me to do," Bell told Williamson on the tape. "Somebody with cojones big enough to tell me what they want me to do. Because, right now ... I feel like I'm bending over backwards to try to help Chevron, I really do. 'Cause I want them to get a fair case."

Williamson produced the tape after the commission rested its case against Bell without calling Harmon as a corroborating witness for her testimony -- a move that left Williamson believing she was being tarred as one of a number of liars. So Williamson contacted commission executive director Bob Flowers, revealed the existence of the tape and met with Holmes the next morning.

"When I heard that he had testified in a manner wholly inconsistent with his conversation with me, I felt like I had an ethical obligation to inform the commission of the tape," says Williamson.

Of Bell's allegation that she is part of a conspiracy to get him, Williamson says, "If it weren't so serious, it would be laughable." Until she was directed by Bell to deliver a message to Chevron, Williamson says, she did not know the company's lawyers, and she says she knew West only in passing.

Bell's attorney, Ed Murphy, said he's confident that the tape proves no more than that his client and Williamson have differing recollections of their talk.

Williamson isn't the only attorney who took issue with Bell's truthfulness. A series of contacts and conversations between the judge and Vinson & Elkins's Wilson makes up the second series of ethical violations alleged against Bell by the judicial commission.

Bell's conversations with Wilson came several months after the Williamson incident and his recusal from the Kennedy Heights case. Wilson represented Catholic church officials in a suit filed by several young men alleging sexual misconduct by a priest in Corpus Christi and was seeking transfer of the case from Bell's court back to Corpus. Wilson testified last week that Bell called her in March of last year to discuss his problems with the Kennedy Heights case. Near the end of the conversation, Wilson said, she asked Bell whether he was going to rule on the change of venue for her clients, and he replied that she should tell them "they had nothing to worry about."

"It was obviously improper," Wilson said. "He was telling me how he was going to rule without the other party in the case being on the line." In the following month, Wilson testified, Bell called her repeatedly to offer her court assignments and then invited her to lunch several times. Wilson said she declined all the offers, telling Bell she didn't think the contacts were a good idea.

When Bell finally ruled on the transfer motion, he granted it to all the defendants except Wilson's clients, leaving her puzzled. Wilson testified that Bell approached her at a June birthday party last year at Judge Elizabeth Ray's house and told her he had not ruled on her motion so she could "bust" the judge on appeal.

That comment "clearly didn't make sense," Wilson said. "It meant to me that somehow he had ruled wrong on purpose to do me a favor."

Even more bizarre was Bell's claim that he recused himself from Wilson's case because she had mentioned to him that a Catholic cleric was fasting until the case was transferred.

"I had a mental picture of a priest fasting in prayer -- a little guy fasting in the sunlight coming up through a stained glass window," Bell testified. "It was a thing in my head." Wilson's transfer motion was later granted by the judge who took over consideration of the litigation from Bell.

In a replay of the Williamson episode, Bell claimed in court that Wilson had simply misunderstood him and he had never told her he would rule for her clients or that he had deliberately misruled to allow her to "bust" him on appeal. The cumulative import of Bell's testimony would seem to be that he is a most misunderstood man.

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