A former Dallas city councilman gets scolded and his co-defendants are mysteriously absent on the first day of his long-awaited bribery trial.
Developer Brian Potashnik and his wife, Cheryl, are accused of funneling bribes to Don Hill through a conspiracy to gain apartment construction approvals.
Experts say defendants absent at the last minute before trial usually suggests they have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the others.
“That’s never good news for the remaining defendants,” said John Ratcliffe, former US Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. “When one of the major players in a conspiracy pleads, it makes the government’s remaining case much easier.”
Radcliffe said last-minute plea agreements often remain secret until after a jury is seated to reduce pre-trial publicity. Jury selection in this trail is expected to last several days.
“This scrambled the playing field completely, and it changed the whole dynamics of the trial,” said former Dallas US Attorney Paul Coggins.
He said the lead attorney for the Potashniks is a nationally know criminal defense attorney.
“People who were thinking, I could ride on the coat tail of these other defendants who had more resources, a more aggressive attorney, now they have to rise to the fore and defend themselves,” said Coggins. “There aren’t those coattails to ride upon.”
Hill and his lead attorney Ray Jackson were scolded by District Judge Barbara Lynn for failing to abide by her gag order in the case last week. Hill was ordered to have no contact with the media whatsoever during this trial.
Hill and Jackson were also ordered to appear for a second trial in November to face criminal contempt charges.
“When the judge comes down that hard, that heavy, that early, it means she wants this trial to go down without a hitch,” said Coggins.
Four other defendants remain in the conspiracy trial with Hill. The trial is expected to last at least 10 weeks.