In a rare move, District Attorney Devon Anderson intervened in a misdemeanor case to personally dismiss a DWI charge against prominent Houston defense attorney Tony Buzbee, the Houston Press discovered Monday morning.
In a statement to the Press, Anderson said the reason she decided to dismiss the case was that it was "the right thing to do."
"He qualified for pre-trial intervention and completed all of the requirements typically mandated for a first offender DWI defendant," Anderson said. "He did not contribute to my campaign in 2016 cycle."
Yet even though Anderson's own DWI diversion program requirements state that it is a one-year program, the case was dismissed after only eight months. (There is no record of the program in Buzbee's file, though we are waiting on a formal records request.) Asked to explain how one "completes" a one-year program four months early, spokesman Jeff McShan said the "circumstances [are] out of our control," referring us to Buzbee's defense attorneys.
Allen Tanner, the attorney of record, declined comment, and Paul Doyle, who signed on as Buzbee's attorney in one of seven case reset forms, did not return our phone call.
While it is true that Buzbee did not donate to Anderson during this election season (he made a $10,000 donation to her during her 2014 run), Tanner and Doyle certainly did. The two attorneys have collectively donated nearly $30,000 to Anderson's campaign since 2014, with more than half pouring in this year. Tanner donated $6,000 total, with $2,500 in October alone, and Doyle donated a whopping $22,500 total, with $13,000 in October alone.
McShan did not return our follow-up request regarding these donations and any possible connection to Anderson's direct involvement in the case.
Emailing the Press from London, Buzbee, who often donates to various local and state politicians, said it would be "silly" to connect his 2014 campaign contribution to Anderson to the case dismissal. He said the case was dismissed "because there wasn't enough evidence to prove in court that I was driving while intoxicated. I shouldn't have been arrested in the first place." Asked to clarify whether the dismissal had anything to do with his completion of a pretrial intervention program, he did not respond.
Further making the case an anomaly, the judge on the case, Bill Harmon, has historically been opposed to Anderson's DWI diversion program, attorneys told the Press, and it is unclear why he would make an exception for Buzbee. Harmon did not return a request for comment.
Defense attorneys who handle DWI cases told the Press Monday that Anderson's direct involvement in a misdemeanor case struck them as "incredibly odd," as attorney JoAnne Musick put it.
"It's not unusual that Buzbee was given the diversion program. But it is virtually unheard of for it to be dismissed early (before the one-year period lapsed) and even more unusual that Devon would sign the dismissal," Musick said in an email. "Usually that is left to the chief prosecutor in the court who has the file on the completed diversion."
She added that Harmon also must have had "a change of heart" in order to give Buzbee the diversion program, which will allow him to expunge the charge in two years. Interestingly, Buzbee has already filed for the expunction December 13 despite the program's rules, court records show.
Buzbee is perhaps most known for representing former Governor Rick Perry on his abuse of power charges, which were ultimately dismissed.
We will update this story if we hear back from Anderson, Harmon, Buzbee or Doyle with our additional questions.
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