Let’s play prete 4 a la Wichita Falls Austin O.K., this is a pretend game. Pretend you are the editor of the only daily newspaper in your city. You have just learned the district attorney is in plenty hot water. The district grievance committee of the State Bar of Texas has voted that a grievance against the D.A. for professional misconduct be filed with the State Bar with a request that a formal complaint against the D.A. be filed in court. What do you do about it? If you’re James Barnett, executive vice-president, treasurer and generally the guy in charge of the Wichita Falls Times and Record News, you sit on the story for three and half months and don’t plan to do one bloody thing until after the D.A. gets re-elected, that’s what you do. The district grievance committees of the State Bar function rather like grand juries. They investigate complaints against attorneys, district and otherwise, in formal hearings usually transcribed by a court reporter. If the grievance committee determines, as it did in the case of D.A. Jimmy R. Phagan of Wichita Falls, that the recommends to the prosecutor \(sometimes the D.A. himself: in this case the State prepare a complaint \(the equivalent of an The attorney is entitled to trial by jury. The judge in the case sets the discipline based on findings by the jury. Since it is a civil procedure, disbarment is the harshest possible punishment. If you are pretending to be a particularly prudent editor, you might well say, aha, there is at this point no case against D.A. Phagan. Until Davis actually files the complaint for the State Bar, Phagan has not been, in effect, indicted. Yeah, but the District 13 grievance committee actually held a press conference to announce their request for a complaint. They issued a statement. We have it right here. The Times and Record News did not see fit to print it. Nor did the paper see fit to find out what Grant Davis has been up to during the past three and a half months. Is there, for example, any chance that there never will be a formal complaint filed against Phagan? About zero chance. Davis told the Observer that he has. never heard of a complaint not being filed after a grievance committee has requested one. “In my 13 years in this office, I know of only one case that would even have any bearing on such a question,” he said. As most any, lawyer will tell you, grievance committees, composed of lawyers, seldom move against one of their own unless they have to. Davis’ job is to go through the transcript of District 13’s hearings on Phagan’s case and to glean from it the counts of professional misconduct on which the complaint will be filed. Davis will then report his findings back to the grievance committee and, if the members approve, the complaint will be filed. The only possible hang-up here is that the counts Davis cites may not tally with those originally cited by the committee. The committee may have decided that the D.A. violated Canon XX, whereas Davis, the expert, will notice that in fact he violated Canons XY and YZ. But if you are Barnett, son-in-law to publisher Ray Howard, you do not explain any of this to your public, whose servant Phagan is. And you certainly do not send any reporters scurrying around town in an independent effort to find out just why Phagan is in this mess in the first place. Believe us, it is not hard to find out. The Observer has no contacts of note in Wichita Falls in fact, as best we can figure out, the last time an Observer editor visited the place was in December, 1955. But it took a big five phone calls for us to get the story on Phagan and the guts of the story is a matter of public record in at least two places. As near as we can tell from our five phone calls, everyone in Wichita Falls knows what the story on Phagan is except the people who rely on the Times and Record News for their information. Barnett is among those who do not rely on the paper to get the news. When the Observer asked him about Phagan’s case he replied, “I don’t have anything to say about that.” Had he printed anything about it? “No none of the news media here have.” Why not? “It’s not privileged.” What? “It’s not privileged.” What do you mean? “I mean it’s not privileged.” We still don’t know what he means. None of the information presented here is in violation of the American Bar Association’s Reardon rules for pre-trial publicity, which newsmen hate like hell and ignore all the time anyway and which judges only impose in sensational cases, which this is not. Nor would the Times and Record News be in violation of the Reardon rules if their reporters went to the public records in Wichita Falls and looked at what was in them. As a result of the paper’s abysmal non-performance on this story, it is now in the lamentable position of having to ignore the fall-out from its own sin of omission. An underground newspaper, one issue old, carried the Phagan story. The student newspaper at Midwestern University was about to carry it as the Observer went to press. Students were out around town distributing handbills about it. And Phagan had acquired a write-in opposition candidate named Ray Gene Smith. As further evidence of the thesis that if you ignore it it won’t go away, the Times and Record News itself was picketed last week by a group of students who are so deluded as to believe that newspapers should print the news. The T&RN did not, of course, print anything about the fact that they were being picketed, because if they did they’d have to explain. . . . Local .folk think the T&RN missed another scoop on the picket. As one lawyer put it, “You know, it’s not every damn day something gets picketed in Wichita Falls.” M.I. November 17, 1972 9 MARTIN ELFANT Sun Life of Canada 1001 Century Building Houston, Texas CA 4-0686 #riportz’ Since 1866 The Place in Austin GOOD FOOD GOOD BEER 1607 San Jacinto 477-4171
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