If Law & Order was still around — the real one, not the weird, Meloni-less SVU — it would have more than enough fodder for a season of "ripped from the headlines" episodes just with the courtroom drama coming out of Houston.
Androvett Legal Media & Marketing has released its list of the Top 10 South Texas legal stories of the year, but we've got our own take. Here is CultureMap's views on Androvett's picks (the full list is here), as well as some big cases we think they missed.
1. Breath-Alcohol Testing Scandal Rocks Houston Courthouse
People like to say it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. But in the case of two Houston district attorneys, it's the cover-up of the cover-up. When questions emerged about the validity of HPD's breath alcohol tests, two district attorneys were caught accessing secret grand jury transcripts about a BAT van cover-up and potential retaliation.
Now contempt-of-court charges have been filed against the attorneys as well as two court reporters for their insider snooping.
2. Harris County Commissioner Eversole Takes Plea Deal in Bribery Case
Continuing the trend of city officials breaking bad, former Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI, avoiding a second trial for bribery (the first ended in a dramatic mistrial) over charges that Eversole took money and "landscaping services" from his friend, Houston real estate developer Michael Surface, in exchange for county contracts.
3. Rape Case Tears at Fabric of Cleveland, Texas
It's not just the horrific nature of the case, although that's enough: An 11-year-old girl gang-raped over the course of four months by 19 men and boys in the hardscrabble town of Cleveland, only for the case to come to light when a video of the encounters spread through the local high school. The case inflamed racial tensions in the town — the victim is Hispanic, most of the accused men are black — and coverage by The New York Times made its own round of news by printing comments that focused on the girl's dress and appearance.
6. Former KBR Employee Loses Sexual Assault Case
It took two years for Conroe native and former KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones to earn the right to sue her former employer for events that she said occured upon her arrival in Iraq, when she claims she was drugged, gang-raped and locked up in a storage container when she tried to report the assault. But while her story inspired new rules about defense contractors and mandatory arbitration from Sen. Al Franken, Jones's case was not as compelling for a Houston civil court jury, which ruled against her charges of rape, fraud and a hostile work environment and awarded KBR $145,000 in legal fees.
7. ‘The Hammer’ Pounded by Money-Laundering Conviction
He hasn't seen the inside of a jail cell yet, but former Sugar Land congressman and majority whip Tom DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison and 10 years probation in January 2011, following his 2010 conviction of money laundering for moving $190,000 in corporate donations to Republican candidates for the Texas House in 2002.
After posting a $10,000 bond, DeLay remains free while he appeals his sentence.
10. Feds, Houston Minorities Claim Texas Redistricting Discriminated Against Latinos, Ignored Blacks
As Androvett summarizes, "Despite Texas’ booming population — largely fueled by growth in the state’s Hispanic community — redistricting plans by both the Texas Legislature and Harris County officials showed no gain in the number of majority Hispanic districts. Both the Obama Department of Justice and Hispanic activists in Houston have cried foul in a courtroom filing, alleging that state and local politicians failed to shape districts to reflect the new demographics."
What else made legal waves in Houston? We think these merit a Top 10 spot:
1. The Michael Brown assault trial
Call it strange or sad, but one of the biggest Houston cases in the media revolved around a renowned hand surgeon who was accused of assaulting his wife Rachel during an argument over infidelity. In addition to money and TV commercial fame, Brown's case generated interest with the inclusion of star attorney Dick DeGuerin and testimony about Rachel's relationship with Houston Astros legend Jeff Bagwell before ending in a not guilty verdict.
2. The trial of Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's doctor
The trial might have taken in place in Los Angeles, but Murray, a Houston resident, tried to use his work in the Third Ward to establish his character after a jury convicted him of involuntary manslaughter in the pop singer's death. It didn't help, though: After a thorough denunciation, Murray's judge sentenced him to the maximum of four years.
3. Aransas County judge beats daughter on video
As long as we're stretching the boundaries of our list to South Texas, we can't forget the hidden camera video Hillary Adams posted on the Internet of her father, a family court judge in Aransas county, beating her repeatedly with a belt when she was 16. The hard-to-watch footage quickly went viral and Judge Adams has been suspended from the bench, pending investigation and has been prevented from contact with his younger daughter with a temporary restraining order.
What do you think are the biggest legal cases of the year?