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John Wiley Price Trial: a Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s 10 Things to Know

Back in July 2014, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price was arrested by federal authorities on corruption charges.  It was a real shock.  The entire city reeled from the news of District 3’s “Our Man Downtown” being indicted.

For details, read our July 2014 post “The John Wiley Price Case: a Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Predictions.” Also, check out the actual 100+ page indictment from the federal grand jury we provided.

This week, two and a half years later, the criminal trial begins.

 

john wiley pricetrial

My July 2014 Predictions for the John Wiley Price Case Were Correct

First of all, let’s consider those predictions.  How did my July 2014 Predictions fare?

1.  No Plea Deal

Well, as I predicted, John Wiley Price did not take a plea deal.  I predicted he would not plead guilty to any charge.  I could not see Commissioner Price negotiating a plea deal.

I was right.  John Wiley Price has entered a “not guilty” in this case.  He has never wavered.

2.  Case Will Be Tried

I predicted the John Wiley Price case would go to trial.  And now, it has.  They began picking a jury this week.

Why? I still stand by my reasoning here, as explained back in July 2014:  “Price is going to argue his side of things before a jury.”

Ten Things to Know About the John Wiley Price Corruption Trial

Now that the trial is underway, let’s consider a few things that everyone here in Dallas should know, at least from a criminal defense perspective.

1.  The Prosecutor

When John Wiley Price was arrested, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana was in charge of the prosecution.  At that time, she was Deputy Criminal Chief in charge of the Fraud/Public Corruption Section.

Saldana got promoted.  First, she was appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Texas in September 2014. Then President Obama chose Saldana to be the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  She retired from public service last month.

This means that for most of the criminal case, post-arrest, there has been a different head prosecutor on the John Wiley Price case than the one who oversaw things during the investigation and grand jury proceedings.

We’re seeing Deputy Criminal Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Miller at the helm now, working with two Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Walt M. Junker and J. Nicholas Bunch.

They’ve had plenty of time to prepare for trial, the transition happened early on in the case.  Expect the prosecution to be well versed in their evidence and strategy.  For instance, AUSA Walt Junker compiled and submitted both the January 2017 Government Witness List and Government Exhibit List.

(Thanks to Jason Trahan at WFAA for uploading these filings on Scribd.)

So, does a change in lawyers for the government make a difference here?  No.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has been preparing for this trial for over two years now.  Saldana’s departure was early on, and doesn’t weaken the prosecutor here.  No advantage for the defense.

2.  The Jury

As I explained in my earlier post, the John Wiley Price jury will be made up not only of Dallas County residents.  Because it is being tried in the Dallas Division of the Northern District of Texas, the federal jury pool encompasses not only Dallas County, but neighboring counties, too.

These counties (Ellis, Kaufman, Collin, Rockwall, Johnson, Navarro, and Hunt) are known to be conservative in their viewpoints (and verdicts).  That’s an advantage for the prosecution.

3.  The Judge

U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn has presided over this case from the get-go.  She is the Chief District Judge for the Northern District of Texas.  She took on the job of top trial judge in this federal district last summer, when the Honorable Jorge Solis retired.

Judge Lynn has served as a federal district judge for 17 years.  She replaced Judge Barefoot Sanders.  Judge Lynn was appointed by President Bill Clinton in November 1999.

Judge Lynn is a federal judge with lots of savvy and a history of the case.  She’s not new to the details here, or the positions of either side.  Educated and experienced, she’s more than capable of running this courtroom well.  A good thing for both sides since this will be a trial with national media coverage.

4.  The Courtroom

The trial is a federal proceeding.  It will take place in Judge Lynn’s courtroom, located at the Earle Cabell Federal Building and Courthouse, 1100 Commerce St, Dallas, TX 75202.

This is a downtown Dallas location.  Witnesses and onlookers will have to deal with downtown traffic and downtown parking prices as well as the security and privacy protocols of any federal building these days.

Anyone wanting to visit and watch the proceedings should be advised that things might be a bit frustrating at times (from finding a parking space, to the cost of a cup of coffee down here).

5.  Witnesses

Hundreds of witnesses may take the stand in this case.  The defense witness list is huge.  The prosecution’s witness list has 150 names on it.

Some witnesses may have a lot to say; some not so much.  But one twist in this case is the notoriety of some witnesses taking the witness stand.

Ross Perot, Jr. (Ross Perot’s son) is listed on both sides’ witness lists. The government expects to call former Dallas County Judges Jim Foster and Margaret Keliher. Former Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm is also expected to be called as a witness by the government.

The defense has some celebrity status on its witness list.  Price has named former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk as a witness.  Radio host Willis Johnson is listed.  So is former Dallas Cowboy Pettis Norman, renowned pastor Dr. Zan Holmes, and activist Michael Eric Dyson.

All these names means that in a case already high in public interest, the media coverage will be even higher because of the witnesses that will be coming and going during the trial.

It guarantees lots of news coverage of the case during the trial process.  Whether or not that is advantageous to the defense remains to be seen.  It might be.

6.  Documents

The government expects to introduce over 2000 exhibits in this trial.  Check out the prosecution’s exhibit list here.  It’s intricate.  There are emails; tax records; and other things that might bore a jury that’s tired and ready to get things done.  But these documents are vital to proving up the government’s case.

Meanwhile, the defense has a 22 page exhibit list.  It’s got email, too, along with letters and other documents that pertain to John Wiley Price’s voting on the contracts at issue here.

As I discussed in 2014, a big part of the government’s case is pulling all these detailed documents into a cohesive structure for the jury.  It’s all in the numbers, and dates, and times.  No surprise that they’ve listed 2000+ exhibits. That’s their case.

If the prosecution cannot get all this stuff coalesced into a straight-forward narrative of corruption, then the defense may be able to defeat their arguments.  The number of exhibits here is a negative for the prosecution.

7.  Time to Try the Case

This case is going to take time.  From motions before the judge before the jury is picked, to days and days of testimony, and days where breaks are needed for things like federal holidays, other pressing matters the Chief Judge must oversee, and mundane things like bathroom breaks and lunch hours, it’s going to take a while.

Consider if they begin at eight o’clock and end at five o’clock, it’s not a straight eight hours of trial time.  There will be as little as four hours where actual trial takes place on some days.

John Wiley Price could be defending himself from corruption charges in that federal courtroom for a few months.  Juries get tired.  The longer this goes, the better it may be for the defense.

8.  Prosecution’s Arguments

The federal government alleges that John Wiley Price took almost $1,000,000 (One Million Dollars) in bribes.  The government argues that he took the money in exchange for using his political influence to help get deals done on county business.

Read the indictment for details.

One big thing for the government:  Christian Campbell, alleged “bag-man” for Kathy Nealy (former co-defendant with John Wiley Price).  Campbell is expected to testify for the government against Price (part of his plea deal).

For more on the prosecution’s case, read “Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price’s Federal Bribery Trial Starts Tuesday,” written by Bill Zeeble and published by KERAnews.org on February 20, 2017.

9.  Defense’s Arguments

John Wiley Price refuses to discuss the case.  Never has talked about the corruption charges brought against him.

At the pre-trial hearing, the defense revealed a bit of their side of things.  Looks like Price’s stance will be that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) targeted Price as well as other African American leaders.

Remember now, the FBI raided Price’s home in June 2011.  However, there was no federal indictment of John Wiley Price for another three years (in July 2014).   Expect the defense to make some play with the time frame.

And, we may see Kathy Neely taking the stand in the Price trial for the defense.  While originally a co-defendant, her case was separated from John Wiley Price by Judge Lynn.  Neely will be tried after Price, she is free to testify in Price’s trial.

For more on the defense position, read Jim Schutze’s piece “At Price Pretrial, a Question of FBI Persecution of Black Dallas Officeholders is Front and Center,” published by the Texas Observer on January 24, 2017.

10.  Media Coverage

This is a big case for Dallas and North Texas.  It may garner more national attention, as well.  Breitbart was covering the trial as far back as last November.  The more cameras, the more scrutiny not only on the corruption charges themselves but also on how the government gathered and assimilated that evidence.

See, “Jury Pool in Dallas Corruption Case Polled on Race, Social Justice,” written by Merrill Hope and published at Breitbart.com on November 16, 2016.

Make no mistake:  from a defense perspective, John Wiley Price is not the only one on trial here.

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