Tony Buzbee, personal injury lawyer and mayoral candidate, recently came to the Houston Property Rights Association to speak about his mayoral campaign. I missed his appearance at the Downtown Pachyderm, so I wanted to catch his speech at HPRA.
The crowd was a little larger than Barry Klein’s typical lunch bunch. Buzbee has created quite a stir and the group wanted to hear what he had to say about Sylvester and a potential Buzbee administration. Buzbee certainly had his crew in attendance.
The style was a little unconventional with an overarching anti-corruption theme. Buzbee weighed into the sacred cows as a rich, self-funded candidate is apt to do. He also talked about Prop B, lobbyists, city contracts, and self-funding.
Without a doubt, the anti-corruption theme is a winner, especially given the opponent [Sylvester]. The problem here is the messenger.
You may remember that Buzbee was arrested for DWI a few years ago driving home from a Rockets game. The arrest occurred on March 31, 2016 and the case landed in Bill Harmon’s court. Buzbee quickly made the $500 bond and hired Allen Tanner and Paul Doyle.
Harmon was first elected to the felony court bench in 1984. After many years of service, he moved to the misdemeanor bench. For years, Tanner was routinely appointed as counsel for indigent defendants in Harmon’s court (think railroad killer). One thing was clear in Harmon’s misdemeanor court – no pretrial diversion in DWI cases.
Shortly after taking office in 2009, Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos created a diversion program for first-time DWI defendants called DIVERT. This was a year-long diversion program that allowed many defendants to save their livelihood while learning an important lesson about impaired driving.
Judge Harmon had a well documented and public dispute with the Harris County DA’s office over the DIVERT program. Harmon was the only misdemeanor judge who refused to permit defendants in his court to participate in this diversion program. That’s right. If your case landed in any of the other misdemeanor courts, you were potentially eligible to participate in the division program. But, not Harmon.
As you can imagine, this was a big deal at the time. A lot of litigation was created over this issue. Hearings. Appeals. But, Harmon never changed his mind. Harmon never allowed DIVERT in his court and when Judge Harmon’s friends or acquaintances landed in his court he recused himself so they could be placed on DIVERT.
Importantly, the Andersons retained the DIVERT program after campaigning that Lykos installed an illegal program. Harris County Republicans, have you learned your lesson yet?
On December 9, 2016, eight months and nine days following Tony Buzbee’s DWI arrest, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson dismissed the case. A month after Anderson lost the election to Kim Ogg, Anderson personally signed the dismissal form claiming that Buzbee “completed all terms of pre-trial intervention.”
Why is this such a big deal? Well, no one I have spoken with about this issue can EVER remember a sitting Harris County District Attorney signing a DWI dismissal form. Then, Anderson’s statement on the dismissal form compounds the confusion. First, Harmon did not permit pretrial intervention for DWI in his court. Second, if Buzbee DID participate in pre-trial intervention, it would have been called DIVERT and the duration would have been at least one year. Third, Buzbee immediately applied for an expunction of his DWI record. This is an important point because the DIVERT contract specifically states that a defendant is not immediately entitled to an expunction. Fourth, it is alleged that Buzbee’s blood alcohol level was over the threshold for diversion. Finally, Buzbee’s attorneys gave hefty campaign contributions to Devon Anderson.
Some may say that a DWI isn’t that big of a deal. But, here, Buzbee is running an anti-corruption campaign when there are many questions about the fact that Anderson personally dismissed his DWI. The facts surrounding this dismissal should be a warning sign to Houston voters.
Obviously, there are other concerns about Buzbee. While he finds himself at many Republican events these days, he financially backed democrats in the 2018 election. Buzbee’s campaign contributions to local democrats helped defeat Republican judges. Following the death of Steve Mostyn, Buzbee filled a big financial gap for the local dems.
Buzbee’s dismissal is a lesson on public corruption at the DA’s Office – a place where corruption should never exist.
At the HPRA meeting, I asked Buzbee about the dismissal. He was prepared for this question. His answer: he hired “very good” attorneys. Remember that Doyle and Tanner gave hefty campaign contributions (thousands of dollars) to Anderson. Ultimately, Buzbee said that further questions about the DWI could be directed to his lawyer, Paul Doyle.
Of course, that conversation will never happen. But, concerns remain. Has the DWI dismissal opened Buzbee up to blackmail? Also, the DWI, subsequent dismissal, and Lindy Lou Layman situation raise serious concerns about Buzbee’s judgment. How will Buzbee use the office of City Attorney? Who will be the City Attorney? The curious case of Buzbee for mayor continues.