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‘1 District Attorney FOR 83rd DISTRICT ATTORNEY DATELINE BIG BEND The Law West of the Pecos BY BILL ADLER 101 he courtroom on the second floor of the ornate Recon struction-era Presidio County courthouse would make a splendid movie set: high ceilinged, oak paneled, tin chandeliered and sweltering enough on this preheated oven of an early summer morning to make Atticus Finch himself swoon. The main methods of cooling are open windows and closed venetian blinds. \(There also is a forlorn window unit, which provides only comic relief and drones so loudly as to render the judicial proceedings nearly inaudican seat a hundred or so spectators, and though it is not filled to capacity, there are a goodly number of Big Bend politocrats in the audience: county clerks, campaign workers, assistant district attorneys, recidivist letters-to-the-editor sorts. They are here to witness the latest round in a good old-fashioned frontier brawl: the race for 83rd District Attorney. The six-county region of West Texas that comprises the 83rd judicial district sprawls westward from Reagan County to the Mexican border precincts of Presidio windswept district spans some 300 miles, the warring candidates, Frank Brown and Steve Spurgin, are practically neighbors. Trial lawyers both \(Brown in Alpine and ambulance driver for the Big Bend Regional Medical Center is safe from pursuit by either one. Steve Spurgin beat Frank Brown, but failed to win a majority, in the Democratic primary on March 14. \(An also-ran from the April 11 runoff Spurgin beat Brown again by the teensiest of margins: a single vote out of nearly 5,000 cast. Brown called for a recount, which duly determined that Brown had indeed lost by two votes. Unsatisfied with the outcome of the recount, and convinced that Steve Spurgin had canoodled the election away from him, on May 15 Frank Brown filed an election contest essentially a civil suit against his opponent, alleging scores of 83rd District residents, primarily elderly MexicanAmericans in Fort Stockton, voted illegally with the help of Spurgin campaign workers, and that Spurgin himself committed election-law violations. Spurgin countered that he had evidence that some Brown supporters in Fort Davis so enjoyed their experience in the Republican primary in mid-March that they stepped across the hall in mid-April to vote in the Democratic runoff election as well a violation of state election code. “How long can this drag out?” wondered a character in an editorial cartoon Gary Oliver drew for the May 18 Big Bend Sentinel. “Don’t hold your breath,” warned another character, reading a newspaper story headlined: “KENNETH STARR TO INVESTIGATE DA ELECTION.” Starr has yet to shine his flashlight under the covers of this race, but only because he’s been crowded out by nearly every badge this side of the Pecos; the region is positively infested with prosecutors and their private dicks. You’ve got the Texas Attorney General and an incumbent D.A. investigating a would-be D.A.; a county attorney, his shamus, a D.A., and the A.G. investigating a weekly newspaper’s in vestigative reporters; investigative reporters porters investigating reporters; and wouldbe D.A.s, of course, investigating one another. When this campaign ends, if it ends, it could touch off a depression. The hoo-ha began even before the runoff ballots were counted. First, on election day in Alpine, managers of the weekly Avalanche revealed to the Brewster County Attorney that a county election judge had allowed three of the newspaper’s staff \(among they filled out voter-application forms a violation of the thirty-day waiting period required under state election code. An April 13 front-page story, “VOTING TEST EXPOSES ELECTION IRREGULARITIES,” explained that the three reporters took advantage of the Democratic Party’s one-stopshopping special because they had reason to believe the election judge had compromised the “integrity of the election procedures.” County Attorney Steve Houston wasn’t buying it. He declared he would bring the perps swiftly to justice, and announced that heading his investigation was a retired F.B.I. agent. A rival weekly, the Alpine Observer \(yes, there’s a newspaper war in Brewster Nixon in heat. Under the above-the-fold headline, “ILLEGAL VOTING UNDER INVESTIGATION,” the Observer harrumphed that this particular form of voter fraud is a third-degree felony punishable by 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 25, 2000