in Houston, Texas
Harris County asst. attorney - 'ethics watchdog for the county' - urged judge to exercise leniency in Jerry Eversole case
Monday, Jan 23, 2012, 09:17AM CST
By Steve Miller
Lady Justice

A letter to a federal judge from Harris County’s legal counsel supporting ousted Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole was “inappropriate” and demands a revisiting of the county’s ethics policy, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said in an interview.

The letter from First Assistant Harris County Attorney Terry O’Rourke to U.S. District Judge David Hittner asked for leniency – a sentence of probation in a case where the penalty allows up to five years in prison - for Eversole, who was indicted in 2010 for accepting bribes to steer millions of dollars in contracts to a developer, Michael Surface.

Surface was indicted at the same time for conspiracy and giving a bribe.

Among the allegedly steered contracts was a deal for the construction of a building utilized by Harris County Child Protective Services on Murworth Drive.

“In my professional review of the Murworth properties … I found that the county procedures had been followed and that there was no evidence of undue or improper outside influence on the decision makers," O'Rourke wrote, contradicting the federal indictment.

“As a civil litigator with only the burden of preponderance of the evidence, I would not, and did not, recommend the filing charges of either bribery or unlawful gift to a public servant to the appropriate officials. Based on this, I recommend that you grant probation in the case.”

Eversole’s March trial ended in a mistrial, and he subsequently agreed to a plea deal with a single charge of making a false statement to the FBI. As part of the agreement, Eversole also stepped down from his commissioner spot. He received three years of probation earlier this month.

O’Rourke signed his letter with his professional title and provided his office phone and county email address. At the top of the letter, he used his home address and phone number.

Emmett was puzzled by the letter, which he said O’Rourke used to “interject himself into the judgment of guilt or innocence.”

It was ill-advised, Emmett said in an interview last week, “particularly since that office is supposed to be the ethics watchdog for the county.”

O’Rourke, though, said he was simply doing what he felt was right. It was done at the request of Eversole's lawyer, Rusty Hardin.

“It seemed like the right thing to do,” O’Rourke said. “I had some compassion for Eversole, so if there was a motive, that was it. I thought that the easiest thing for me to do was nothing. You don’t get criticized for that.”

He was also persuaded by what he felt was the failure of the feds to prove Eversole had committed a crime.

“Based on what I saw, I would not have removed him from office,” said O’Rourke, who attended as much of the case as he could. He also reviewed the voluminous trail of paper that such a case emits.

“I am of the belief that when you make a bribery case, you have to have persuasive evidence, and I don’t think the government connected the dots," O'Rourke said.

“Jerry Eversole is not a crook," O'Rourke said. “He didn’t take bribes or kickbacks. That’s just not who the guy is.”

Emmett isn’t done with the situation yet. He wants to revisit just how involved O’Rourke’s office can get in such legal issues.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of conversations about the role of the county attorney’s office and the role of ethics,” Emmett said. “We passed an ethics policy over two years ago, and the way it’s being implemented leaves a lot to be desired. It will have to be discussed, and this letter is another piece of it. It relates to the ethics committee and whether the county attorney has told them what they can and can’t do.”
 
 
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Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo 'Lady Justice fountain' by flickr user Leonieke Aalders, used via a Creative Commons license.
Comments
Miguel
Monday, 01/23/2012 - 09:43AM

It's been well known for a long time that Terry O'Rourke runs the County Attorney's office for Vince Ryan and that he takes very good care of any incumbents who need him to look the other way. This is a perfect example of him being a toothless and barkless "lapdog", rather than a watchdog. He proclaims that Eversole is not a crook, yet Eversole himself admitted that he had to lie to the FBI to cover up his financial shenanigans. Shame on Vince and Terry.

puckerup
Monday, 01/23/2012 - 12:00PM

The office of the Harris County Attorney does not represent the average citizen. The office exists to defend and promote the policies and decisions of the Commissioner's Court. Ed Emmett is the only member of the court who has any stones at all and seems bent on hammering the status quo, risking the ire of Soap Box Derby Radack and his band of mutton heads. Bank on it that Democrat Vince Ryan and his lackies O'Rourke and Soard are playing nice with the good ole boys to keep the "D" in front of Vince's political name silent.

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