By Ashley Stanley
For the first installment in this series, click here.
The morning didn’t go as planned. I was hoping to be at the courthouse at 7:45 a.m., remember? It was more like 9:03 a.m. I ended up taking care of other business matters, but nonetheless, made it to the Earle Cabell Federal Building in time to be second in line. Meaning if someone comes out, I go in.
It is not standing-room only. Chief U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Lynn does not want anyone standing except for the security officer monitoring the door. You either have a seat, or you wait outside on a wooden bench. I benched it for 20 minutes until I snagged my opportunity. I made it in. However, while I was waiting outside the courtroom, I overhead two attorneys negotiating (nothing to do with the trial). It went a bit like this:
Attorney 1: “He owes $259,000 and is looking at 21 – 27 months from a policy standpoint.”
Attorney 2: “That’s NOT an option. Right Jimmy, you don’t want to be incarcerated?”
Jimmy is a veteran and answered the attorney’s question very softly while sitting in his wheelchair.
Attorney 1: “Well, I am contesting the hearing. We’ve had two continuances and I will oppose another one.”
Back to the trial, it’s 9:20 a.m. and I’m in. Seated on the second to last row by the door, and behind who I believe is a Dallas Morning News journalist, but not Rudy Bush … who is that other guy? The cute, black guy. [Editor’s Note: We’re pretty sure Ashley has a crush on Gromer Jeffers. Hi, Gromer!]
I entered the courtroom while they were going over embattled District 3 Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price’s bribery charges, counts one through seven. It was said that Kathy Nealy was influenced by the commissioner because she had confidential, “insider,” information during the bid process. Emails, memos, faxes. Many times the statement in JWP’s office would be, “Fax this to Nealy.” The attorney said, “These things should never have left the county, but Nealy had incredible access to Price. She was given monthly retainers in the amount of $5,000 along with success fees, and this was never disclosed to other commissioners.”
John Wiley Price was the IT chairperson and never recused himself from any votes for potential conflicts of interests … Hillwood. Yup, I said it. More reporting on that one, but life and work got away from me this week.
The federal prosecutor then said this statement, “Kathy pays the bribes, and Price takes the bribes. Over $900,000.”
The court holds approximately 50 to 55 people, and we all stared at the TV screens that outline what the prosecutor was showing us while he says, “Follow the evidence. Hold him to that oath. Hold him accountable to every other taxpayer in the city, county, and country.” He turns to the jury and says, “I ask you to return a guilty verdict on all charges.”
Now time for the defense. The first words used to describe this situation is, “disappointing.” It’s disappointing to see someone who is so “active” in the community. She continued, “John Wiley Price and Kathy Nealy have had a friendship over a long period of time. This is a story of a man who not only worked 24/7 for the county of Dallas, but he does the same thing for his friends.”
Defense claims the purpose of this trial is to avoid the statute of limitations. In 2005, “THEY” subpoenaed bank records, but didn’t tell Price or Nealy. These “PEOPLE,” referring to the government as she points to all of the prosecution team to her left.
The defense attorney said this is a “paradigm, a perfect illustration of circular reasoning.” It involves “misrepresentation and is misleading.”
“This money was NOT income,” the defense claims, and “The facts will not support that it is income. The government paid very little attention to the RFPs and RFQs, but it is in fact why we are here. Nealy was a national lobbyist and consultant. She was valued for her skill.”
She goes on to say, “There are strong people in this world and there are weak people in this world. People will not shy away from engaging with Ms. Nealy because she is strong, they are strong and they can do that.” I wasn’t sure where she was going with that, but if I had to put myself in one of those categories, I would choose strong. The kind of strong that comes with a warning label. “WARNING: Contents Under Pressure and May Explode at Any Moment.”
The defense attorney asked the jury to “focus on the facts and you will see this contract was professional and Mr. Price conducted himself consistently. It is ludicrous to suggest he was bribed and utterly preposterous. It did not happen. He is the giver, not the taker. We are here to talk about the where, the who, and the what. The facts, and not interpretations. These are disturbing accusations against the commissioner,” she concludes.
I had to rush off after an hour of this back and forth because my brain hurt so badly. I have no idea how these jurors are going to make it through. I commend every one of them for doing their civic duty. Whatever they decide, it will be the right one. I am confident enough to say, those jurors looked engaged and actively curious about the “facts” vs. “interpretations.” However, we shall see.