Shaka's Last Supper

He wouldn't eat it, so they did!

Governor George W. Bush's high profile as the Republican standard-bearer gives Houston death penalty opponents a rare opportunity, opined Bright. With international attention focused for the next five months on executions, he advised activists to work for reforms, including state legislation to create public-defender systems free from the influence of judges and prosecutors.

After the speech, Bright said he was disappointed by Democratic contender Al Gore's tepid response to the Graham execution. The vice president earlier dodged questions from reporters by saying he had not briefed himself on the details of Graham's case, putting himself in the same category with Mock.

"I think Gore's taking the tack that he's going to let whatever happens [on the death penalty] happen to Bush, and he's not going to be involved in it at all," Bright said. "But I think it's too big an issue, with too many people being killed for it not to be an issue."

Bright urged attorneys to volunteer to take more death penalty cases.
Troy Fields
Bright urged attorneys to volunteer to take more death penalty cases.

On the other hand, Gore could just make like Cannon and sleep through the whole damn thing.

This Old House

When you pose like Harris County Judge Robert Eckels as a poster boy for ethics reform, you better not live in a glass house. Or a teardown, for that matter.

Last September, Eckels and wife Jet went looking for more living space. Rodriguez Investment Company paid $227,000 for their home at 4014 Piping Rock near River Oaks. In the same time frame, the company was bidding and winning a chunk of prime north Montrose land owned by the county and occupied by the Juvenile Probation Department. Eckels voted to ratify that deal when it came before Commissioners Court.

Rodriguez, as it turns out, is also the investment buyer for Stature Construction, owned by Jorge Casimiro, an influential Republican supporter of Eckels and an appointee of Eckels and county commissioners to the Hospital District board. After buying the Eckels home, Rodriguez quickly transferred the title to Stature, which demolished the house and is replacing it with a new house valued at more than $1 million.

Casimiro says the deal is squeaky-clean, and that the judge got no preferential treatment or inflated purchase price. When he learned the house was available, Casimiro offered to buy it. Eckels was interested because he needed a quick sale in order to buy a new home at the Woods of Wimbledon, in the Champions area north of town. Both deals were handled through Southwest Bank of Texas, the depository for county funds.

Like he said regarding a similar chain of connections involving his campaign headquarters on Woodway (see Insider, June 8), Eckels says he did not realize any financial gain by using Casimiro for the sale. He says he was unaware that Rodriguez Investment had a pending purchase of county land and that he would have recused himself from voting on the matter had he known.

Eckels also confesses that since he moved to Woods of Wimbledon (which has no tennis court), commuting times have eaten up the precious early-evening time he used to spend with his daughter Kirby Rae.

Now it can be told: Living on the outskirts of Harris County can be damaging to the family life of its officials.

Don't make the Insider commute long distances for his news items. Call him at (713)280-2483, fax him at (713)280-2496, or e-mail him at insider@houstonpress.com.

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