Pubdate: Fri,  1 Aug 2003
Source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (TX)
Copyright: 2003 The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Author: P. Christine Smith
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


District Attorney Faces Probe By State Bar

TULIA - The State Bar of Texas has opened an investigation into
District Attorney Terry McEachern, who asked Swisher County
commissioners Thursday for money to hire a lawyer to assist him.

Commissioners Denied The Request.

McEachern asked commissioners for $5,000 to hire a lawyer to review
and assemble documents amassed during cases he built against 38
defendants in the Tulia undercover drug investigation of 1998 to 1999.

Despite dozens of convictions, the cases have since fallen apart, and
most imprisoned defendants have been released on personal
recognizance bonds.

On Tuesday, the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended to Gov. Rick
Perry that he pardon 35 of 38 people convicted. Two people who did not
receive recommended pardons are in prison for crimes not related to
the Tulia case. An other person received deferred adjudication.

The cases were built by discredited undercover officer Tom Coleman,
and McEachern prosecuted them.

According to a letter sent by the county's insurance carrier,
Professional Claims Managers Inc., to Swisher County Judge Harold
Keeter, the State Bar has initiated a grievance against McEachern.

Specifically, the State Bar alleges that McEachern attempted to
bolster Coleman's testimony, failed to disclose certain aspects of the
investigation and background regarding Coleman, made false
representations during the criminal trials, and failed to turn over
evidence that would have helped the defendants, the letter states.

Mark Pinckard, who is with the bar's disciplinary action arm, said he
cannot comment on investigations.

McEachern first tried to have Professional Claims Managers Inc. pay
the cost of attorneys fees related to the State Bar investigation. The
company denied the request.

McEachern requested a special meeting of the county commissioners.
Keeter and commissioners Lloyd Rahlfs, Joe Bob Thompson and Tim Reed

McEachern told the commissioners that special prosecutor Rod Hobson, a
Lubbock attorney, took three boxes of files related to the Tulia drug
cases. McEachern claims that those files contain information that
would clear him of the allegations made by the State Bar.

Citing budget constraints, the commissioners and Keeter told McEachern
that they could not support giving him any amount of money to defend
himself in this matter.

"This is stuff that is out of control," Rahlfs told McEachern in the
meeting. "Our county has been strapped."

Swisher County has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in
settlements and legal fees to the defendants and their attorneys,
Rahlfs said after the meeting.

County employees, Keeter said, have not received raises in four years,
and taxpayers face a tax increase in 2004 to help the county cover its

When it became clear that the commissioners were refusing McEachern's
request for $5,000, he began to negotiate for smaller amounts, asking
for a half or a third.

"I understand why you want to set a limit on it, and I'm not going to
be back to see you again," McEachern told the commissioners. "I ask
you please not to abandon me. You haven't abandoned me in the past,
and I appreciate that."

At one point McEachern added, "If it seems like I'm begging, it's
because I am."

Rahlfs and Thompson told McEachern that they fail to see why it's the
county's responsibility to pay for his defense against State Bar
allegations, calling it a personal matter.

McEachern also stated in the meeting that he would be devoting 80
percent of his time over the next 30 days preparing to defend himself
at a State Bar hearing. It was unclear if he meant 80 percent of his
personal time or 80 percent of his time as an elected official.

McEachern declined comment after the meeting.

After the meeting, Rahlfs said he was struck by the 80 percent

"He's an elected official; you are accountable to the people that
elected you to office."

For McEachern, the State Bar investigation is not his only legal
problem this year.

In June, a judge found him guilty of aggravated driving while
intoxicated stemming from a Nov. 27 incident near Ruidoso, N.M.
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