When Our Man Downtown Goes to Trial: The Complex Public Corruption Case of John Wiley Price

According to DCAD, John Wiley Price owns this home at 406 E. 5th Street in North Oak Cliff.

According to DCAD (and the SUV out front), John Wiley Price owns this home at 406 E. 5th Street in North Oak Cliff.

By Ashley Stanley
Special Contributor

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price has been active in our community for more than four decades. It has been said that his extracurricular activities include “The Dallas County Community Leadership Luncheon,” nightly host of KKDA’s “Talk Back, Liberation Radio,” and a drive time radio crusade known as Liberation Nation KNON 89.3,” but they forgot to include corruption charges by the federal government of the United States of America.

It is 4:18 a.m. and I can’t sleep because I am afraid I won’t hear the alarm, which is set for 5:45 a.m. I am getting up early because I want to be as close as possible to the front of the line when they open the courtroom doors. On day one of the trial, Thursday, February 23, 2017, I was 6th or 7th in line and I arrived at 8 a.m., so I am guessing on the first day of opening statements it will be even more congested with reporters. My hope is I can get through security and arrive in line by 7:45 a.m.

This is the first time I have had the privilege of being in the courtroom of a federal case and might I be so bold to use the word “fascinating.” The defendant, Mr. John Wiley Price, represents District 3 on the Dallas County Commissioners Court and is affectionately coined “Our Man Downtown.” He came to this position as the first African-American county commissioner In Dallas and took office on Jan. 1, 1985.

According to the Dallas County’s webpage regarding JWP, he is a “respected leader who applies the discipline of management and stewardship to every aspect of his personal and professional life.” Come again? Wouldn’t it be judicious to assume if that were true, he would not be in this situation? (Asking for a friend.)

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn is the same judge handling this case as the Don Hill trial back in 2009. The best account of this federal corruption case was written by Sam Merten with the Dallas Observer, “How the Feds Convicted Don Hill.” I sat next to Mr. Merten on Day One of JWP’s trial and he answered every question I had about the due process. He is one patient man, because I had a lot of questions. It could be because he loves the art of journalism and capturing a good story, or it could be because I live with him and he realizes the importance of keeping the woman happy.

One of the original jurors turned up with serious health issues, so a replacement juror from the alternate pool was chosen; however, it took the attorneys about 30 minutes to agree. The trial moved forward with three instead of four alternates at approximately 9:51 a.m. Alternates do not know they are alternates to keep everyone engaged in the information presented. The idea is if you know your vote doesn’t count, you might begin to nod off and/or possibly not care. Those are my words, but they seem appropriate.

It was stated many times by Judge Lynn to the jurors that they cannot talk about the case. In fact, at one point she said it twice in a row, “You cannot talk about the case. You cannot talk about the case.” The defendant is accused of bribery, more specifically accepting bribes, and Judge Lynn wants to make sure the jurors understand the severity of what they are participating in. She even gave them a charge. She said, “I want you to be well-informed and honor your oath.”

Oaths were taken and the proceedings began with a word-for-word reading of the indictment, which was more than 100 pages long. Pretty heavy stuff. I was so hungry by 11 a.m. that I ran to Cindi’s New York style deli for a quick bite. I left on page 16 and returned on page 42. If this is any indication of the length of the trial, I would say, “Buckle up, Bessie.”

I am honored to be given the opportunity to cover this trial as a special contributing writer. I hope to produce many intriguing and thought-provoking posts, that not only highlight the facts, but bring to light the complexities of people, their relationships, and the inner workings of their mind, all right here in downtown Dallas.


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