Metropolis: Wednesday, June 06, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Currying Favor

An opponent is questioning the D.A.’s actions in a drunk-driving case.

By Betty Brink

“My name is Tim Curry and I am the duly elected Criminal District Attorney of Tarrant County, Texas. Each year I sponsor a dove hunt and dinner for my friends and supporters. The 1999 dove hunt was held at the McDavid Ranch in Parker County, Texas on Farm Road 730.

“Ronald Arrington was one of my guests at the dove hunt and as he was leaving sometime before dark, I had a three to five minute conversation with him. He did not appear to be intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol to me. ...”

— From an affidavit sent to a Parker County attorney on behalf of a Curry financial supporter charged with DWI, dated Oct. 26, 1999.

Sometime around dusk on Sept. 11, 1999, Ronald Carter Arrington left the Parker County ranch where he’d spent the day bagging a few doves, eating barbecue, swigging some beer, and rubbing elbows with other “friends of Tim.” The daylong outing is the major fundraiser that annually fills the campaign coffers of Fort Worth’s 30-year-veteran top prosecutor.

Arrington, a 40-year-old Fort Worth accountant who loves to hunt, put $300 into Curry’s political pocket that night, he said, compliments of his late father-in-law, attorney Charles Baldwin, a long-time financial supporter of Curry. Baldwin had given Arrington and a hunting buddy two $150 tickets, the minimum cost of admission to the annual dove hunt and dinner that year.

Shortly after Arrington left that night, the price for him got steeper — although not as steep as it might have been if his host had been your average Joe Six-Pack instead of a politically powerful district attorney.

A few miles down the road from the ranch, Arrington was pulled over and arrested for driving while intoxicated, according to the report filed by Officer K.D. Rogers, a reserve police officer with the tiny town of Hudson Oaks, just north of Weatherford. He was booked into the Parker County jail and released on a $1,000 bond.

Arrington, in a recent interview, denied that he had been drunk that night. “We [Arrington and Baldwin] contacted Curry,” the hapless hunter said. “I’d only had two beers. ...It was a bullshit set-up by some stupid Keystone Kops out to bust people from Tim’s dove hunt.”

Curry came through, Arrington said, sending the affidavit to Parker County prosecutor Stephanie Alvarado. Parker County records show that the DWI charge was dropped, allowing Arrington to plead guilty to a lesser charge, of “obstructing a highway.” He paid $540 in fines and court costs and was ordered to perform 24 hours of community service.

Case closed? Not quite.

Curry, a 64-year-old Republican, is facing the most serious challenge of his career from former Tarrant County prosecutor and Democrat Terri Moore, who says that affidavit has come to define the “good-old-boy” system here that she wants to change.

Curry called Moore’s accusation of impropriety nonsense. While Baldwin was a friend and longtime campaign contributor, Curry said, he didn’t know Arrington personally. “But I distinctly remember talking to him for about five minutes before he left. He didn’t appear to be intoxicated.”

Curry acknowledged that beer and barbecue are available all day during the hunts and that a bar is set up afterward. “There is a lot of booze,” he said, but the party’s not as wild as it once was. “We used to stay out there until all hours of the morning,” Curry said. “But we’re all getting too old for that now. We shut it down early.” And if Arrington had been drunk, he said, “We wouldn’t have let him leave. We go to a good bit of trouble to make sure no one leaves drunk. ...We have people assigned to keep an eye on everyone. If anyone’s too drunk to drive, I have someone drive him home. This wasn’t the case.”

Asked whether it was wrong for him, as a district attorney, to intervene in a DWI case on behalf of a supporter, Curry said he did nothing improper. “I wasn’t there to help him,” he said. “I just spoke truthfully when I was asked. ...I would have done the same thing for anyone.”

Moore, 44, an attorney who once worked for Curry as a prosecutor and later became a federal prosecutor, finds nothing wrong with elected officials who have information about, or are witnesses to, alleged crimes giving testimony, as in Curry’s sworn statement. But, she said, if that witness is an officer of the court, sworn to uphold the law, “he or she must behave in a way that avoids any appearance of impropriety.”

In this case, she said, what’s improper is what Curry withheld from the affidavit.

“Tim didn’t tell the Parker County prosecutor everything. He didn’t tell him what the event really was,” Moore said. “He didn’t say that he was getting money out of all those folks for his campaigns, including the guy who was arrested, that they came early and stayed late, and that there was plenty of booze there for ’em.”

Curry provided the beer that Arrington admits to drinking that night, she said. “A witness,” she said, “is obligated to tell all the facts. [Arrington] was a supporter, a contributor. This was [Curry’s] major fundraiser. Those facts weren’t told, and therein lies the problem.”

One attorney pointed out that, with Curry providing the beer, the D.A. had a vested interest in helping Arrington get the DWI charge dropped.

But other attorneys and judges, who asked that their names not be used, said that while the Arrington case may be a borderline indiscretion, they don’t think Curry broke any laws or ethical codes by filing the affidavit on behalf of a supporter. As long as the defendant was being prosecuted in another county, they said, it was neither illegal nor unethical for Curry to act as a witness on Arrington’s behalf.

One judge, who supports Curry, went further, pointing out that it’s not the job of the district attorney only to seek a conviction, “but to seek justice.” If Curry thought his testimony would bring justice in Arrington’s case, he was bound by his oath to speak out, the judge said.

There are a lot of things wrong with those arguments, said attorney James Smith, a former Fort Worth cop who is supporting Moore. First, he said, since Curry is bound by his oath to speak out, he’s bound to tell the whole truth.

“What he doesn’t say to the Parker County attorney is, ‘I was getting money from these folks, that this was a fundraiser that helps keep me in office.’ They were doing Curry a favor, and so, did Curry return the favor? If this had gone to trial, that’s what the state would have asked.”

Curry’s testimony helped get a financial supporter’s son-in-law out of a serious DWI charge. His supporters say he acted simply as a witness, just as any citizen might be called upon to do. When attorneys and judges on both sides of this campaign were asked if an affidavit from a neighboring county district attorney would carry more weight with prosecutors than one from an ordinary citizen, Moore’s supporters, not surprisingly, said yes. But even some of those who defended Curry’s act cleared their throats, laughed nervously, and said, “very likely.”



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