Photo: TOM REEL
One of Houston’s wealthiest attorneys is fighting the release of court records that detail what some local defense lawyers say was special treatment from Harris County’s outgoing district attorney.
Prominent trial lawyer Tony Buzbee also is seeking to get his arrest erased from his record.
District Attorney Devon Anderson dismissed Buzbee’s drunken driving case on Dec. 9, saying he completed pretrial intervention, a form of probation typical for first-time driving-while-intoxicated suspects.
What is not typical is that Buzbee did the usual year-long probation in just eight months. Nor is he observing the two-year waiting period usually mandated before seeking to have the case erased from his record. He filed for the expunction just days after Anderson personally signed the dismissal.
EARLY CHRISTMAS GIFT: Outgoing DA dismisses DWI for Buzbee
“It appears to have been an under-the-table deal with Devon Anderson,” said Tyler Flood, the president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association. “I already have clients calling me saying they want the ‘Tony Buzbee deal.'”
Flood and other defense lawyers have questioned the treatment Buzbee received from Anderson and the judge presiding over the case.
Buzbee, responding by email from London, credited his attorneys.
“I was not intoxicated,” he wrote. “I vowed to fight the case, to audit the crime lab, to take my case to trial and prove my innocence, as well as prove a point.”
He said he hired good lawyers who found problems with the handling of his case, including alleged police harassment and missing police records from his arrest.
“My lawyers suggested that rather than spend thousands on fighting the case, that I participate in a program where I would only have to not drive for a time, take an alcohol course, get evaluated for my proneness for re-offending and make a donation to MADD,” he wrote. “Frankly, because a new DA was coming in, and my desire for closure, I took the deal offered. I did all the things the DA required, and I did them quickly.”
DA took personal interest
He noted that he practices civil law not criminal law and said he was not familiar with the typical pretrial diversion program most DWI offenders go through.
The case is unusual because Anderson personally signed the dismissal and said Buzbee completed all of the usual mandates.
“Based on the circumstances of the case, this was the right thing to do,” she said in a brief statement earlier this week. “He qualified for pretrial intervention and completed all of the requirements typically mandated for a first-offender DWI defendant.”
A request to the district attorney’s office for a copy of the pretrial diversion contract, which outlines conditions and consequences of failing to meet those conditions, was sent to the office’s general counsel, who said lawyers for Buzbee have objected to its release. Such contracts generally are publicly available. The office of general counsel said Buzbee’s lawyers have informed it that they will seek an order from the Texas Attorney General’s Office forcing the district attorney to withhold the contract.
“I am told that what I did is called pretrial diversion,” Buzbee wrote from overseas. “I don’t know if the deal I reached with the DA is standard or not. I don’t have a copy of it, but it is in writing. It has no prohibition regarding expunction. As I said, I fulfilled the requirements, and have put this all behind me.”
Questions on judge’s role
He said he had never met Anderson but credited her with “trying to maintain some professionalism after several individuals compromised my case and royally pissed me off.”
Another reason this case and its resolution is unusual is that the judge presiding over it is the only jurist in Harris County who does not allow pretrial diversions for DWI cases. County Court-at-Law Judge Bill Harmon is opposed to any DWI pretrial diversion program and often cites Harris County’s record number of drunken-driving fatalities as the reason.
When a DWI case eligible for the pretrial diversion program lands in his court, it is often transferred to a different court. That did not happen in Buzbee’s case.
Deal offered was unique
Earlier this week, Harmon acknowledged that he signed the dismissal forms and said he had not approved any diversion for DWI suspects. He said he would continue to refuse to participate in the program.
It’s those inconsistencies that bother Flood and other members of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.
“Our target is not Tony Buzbee. That’s not what HCCLA is about. He hired good lawyers and got a good result,” Flood said. “Our problem is the appearance of impropriety between the district attorney and the judge.”
The deal Buzbee was able to obtain from Anderson was extraordinary, Flood said.
“He’s the only person in the whole county who is not excluded from filing for an expunction immediately after his case is dismissed on a DWI on a pretrial intervention.”