Pubdate: Thu, 18 Mar 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Greg Cunningham
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Rest Of Settlement May Be In $1 Million Range

Cities and counties in the rest of the Texas Panhandle won't have to
pick up an Amarillo-size bill to settle the Tulia drug sting suit
under terms of an agreement that is being hashed out by attorneys.

Sources near the negotiations have indicated the remaining 30 counties
and cities named in the federal lawsuit likely will settle for
substantially less than the $5 million Amarillo paid last week for its
part in the suit.

Several sources with varying degrees of involvement in the
negotiations have confirmed that the overall settlement for all the
remaining municipalities combined is in the area of $1 million.
Counties and cities would pay amounts ranging from a few thousand
dollars to tens of thousands of dollars under the agreement, which has
not been finalized.

Attorneys from both sides of the suit said they couldn't talk about
the details of the negotiations, but they confirmed talks were ongoing.

"We are continuing to negotiate, and we hope we can reach a
settlement," said Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn, who represents the
Tulia defendants. "We're eager to settle this case so that the entire
Panhandle can put this nightmare behind them, like Amarillo did last

The settlement, if finalized, would bring an end to a federal lawsuit
that was filed in connection with the controversial 1999 Tulia drug

The bust netted 46 people, 39 of them black, and brought a swirl of
controversy to Tulia.

Nearly all of the defendants were convicted or pleaded guilty, but a
wave of national interest kept alive the controversy. The defendants
who remained in prison were freed in June after the undercover agent,
Tom Coleman, gave conflicting testimony in appeal hearings and Gov.
Rick Perry issued pardons.

Coleman since has been indicted on perjury charges and is scheduled
for trial in May.

The day the prisoners were freed, attorneys filed the federal lawsuit
against every county in the Panhandle and several cities based on
their involvement in the drug task force that supervised the sting.

Amarillo broke from the pack and negotiated its own settlement,
agreeing last week to pay $5 million and dissolve the task force.

Since then, attorneys for the other municipalities have been hard at
work trying to hammer out their own agreement.

Amarillo lawyer Mark White, who is representing Randall County in the
suit, said the broad strokes mostly have been worked out, with only a
few details still on the table.

"Negotiations are ongoing, and it's really down to a few narrow
issues," White said. "I would hope it wouldn't take too much longer to
resolve those."

As for concern among the public that a large settlement along the
lines of the Amarillo deal could hurt the other counties and cities,
Randall County Criminal District Attorney James Farren said the public
need not worry.

"I think Randall County is simply looking at the cost of litigation,"
Farren said. "I'm confident Randall County hasn't done anything that
would result in a large judgment against it. That's called a nuisance

Globe-News Weekend Editor Kevin Welch contributed to this
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