Shared from the 12/20/2016 Houston Chronicle eEdition

DWI case tossed by DA

Anderson backs her personal dismissal of Buzbee’s charge



Outgoing Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson personally has dismissed the drunken-driving case against prominent Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee.

Buzbee, who was arrested on March 31, had his case dismissed Dec. 9 after completing “pretrial intervention,” a type of informal p r ob at i o n that, if succ e ss fu l ly completed, means a case will be tossed. It is common among first o f f e n d e r s , especially shoplifters or other nonviolent crimes.

On Monday, Anderson stood by her decision and issued a brief statement: “Based on the circumstances of the case, this was the right thing to do. He qualified for pretrial intervention and completed all of the requirements typically mandated for a first offender DWI defendant,” she said. “He did not contribute to my campaign in 2016 cycle.”

The dismissal raised eyebrows around the courthouse for several reasons.

First, the elected district attorney signed off on the case personally, which is exceedingly rare, especially misdemeanors.

Second, the DWI pretrial intervention program, which lets people walk away from their first offense without a conviction, generally lasts a year. Buzbee went from arrest to completion in just over eight months.

Also, the judge presiding over the case is the only jurist in Harris County who does not allow pretrial diversions for DWI cases. The DWI pretrial diversion program, formerly known as DIVERT, has firmly drawn guidelines — the terms of which generally are spelled out in a contract that a judge signs off before it begins. There is no such contract in Buzbee’s file.

Generally, when a DWI case that is eligible for the pretrial diversion program falls in County Court at Law Judge Bill Harmon’s court, it is transferred to a different court. That did not happen in Buzbee’s case.

On Monday, Harmon acknowledged that he signed the dismissal forms for the high-profile Houston lawyer but declined to comment at length. The judge said he had not approved any diversion for DWI suspects, and would continue to refuse to participate in the program.

Harmon chalked up the handling of case to the district attorney’s discretion.

“The district attorney has the discretion of placing defendants on pretrial diversion and dismissing the cases,” he said. “It’s solely in their discretion, whether I am in agreement with it or not. It’s what the district attorney gets to do.”

‘Expected this result’

Buzbee, who emailed from Europe, said his case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

“My case was dismissed because there wasn’t enough evidence to prove in court that I was driving while intoxicated,” he said. “I shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place.”

Although the dismissal form has a category to show insufficient evidence, that reason was not indicated.

Buzbee noted that he is not a criminal lawyer and said he had no involvement in the process.

“I hired great lawyers and expected this result,” he said. “I’ve never met Devon Anderson and don’t know who signed the dismissal. I would assume it is the judge who dismisses cases, not a DA.”

Buzbee’s DWI attorney, Allen Tanner, declined to comment on the case.

Buzbee said it was “silly” to link political connections to a dismissal by the elected district attorney 21 days before she leaves office.

“I give money to most of the politicians in Houston and the state of Texas. To try to connect one thing to the other is silly.”

Well-known fundraiser

Courthouse observers said Buzbee’s statement makes the dismissal look like a gift from Anderson as she prepares to leave the office.

“Based on what (Buzbee) said, this is definitely not a diversion. If it’s not, then it is nothing but a political favor,” said JoAnne Musick, past-president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association. “Unless (Anderson) just completely lied on a court document, because it appears, on the dismissal, that he completed a diversion — that he participated in some sort of program in lieu of prosecution.”

Buzbee, who is a regent at Texas A&M, his alma mater, worked on the team representing Rick Perry after the then-Texas governor was indicted in an abuse-of-power case in 2014.

The trial lawyer has been a fundraising powerhouse for candidates and causes he has championed.

Earlier this year, he hosted a lavish Republican fundraiser for then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. In 2014, he opened his River Oaks mansion to raise more than $100,000 for Democrat Adrian Garcia’s mayoral race.

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