A federal judge Tuesday delayed a decision on the request from Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price for taxpayer help with legal expenses in his bribery and tax fraud case.
Price did not attend the hearing before U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn and the judge was annoyed by his absence.
She said Price had failed to properly complete the required affidavit disclosing his assets and liabilities and should have appeared in person to explain.
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“When he’s seeking to have his fees paid, then it’s my obligation to scrutinize his financial records,” Lynn said.
The judge said she reviewed Price’s political campaign contribution account and found about $60,000 that could be used for legal fees. She said the records show Price already used $2,000 to pay legal expenses in another matter from campaign funds and she found charitable contributions were also made from his campaign account.
“You can’t make charitable contributions and then ask the people to pay your lawyers,” Lynn said.
The judge said good lawyers in Dallas might be willing to accept Price’s case for a $250,000 fee.
“If Mr. Price cannot get $250,000 out of his assets and his salary stream, I’m missing something,” she said.
Lynn agreed to reconsider the issue at a 3 p.m. hearing next Tuesday but said Price must appear in person and testify under oath if he wishes to pursue the request for legal assistance.
Price was represented in court Tuesday by attorney Billy Ravkind who said he has not been paid by Price since accepting several pieces of real estate from the county commissioner in 2012.
Ravkind said he told Price it was not necessary to attend Tuesday’s hearing.
“I didn’t know he was supposed to be here,” Ravkind said.
Price instead attended the Dallas County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday morning.
“I’m elected to be here, so I was here, and I waived appearance,” Price said.
The long-time commissioner is currently paid $141,000. In a 2011 raid, federal agents seized more than $200,000 in cash from a safe in Price’s Oak Cliff home. Records show Price still owns real estate and automobiles. The government claims Price received nearly $1 million in bribes for county business that were not reported on his income tax forms.
Records show the government has collected an amazing quantity of evidence against Price, nearly the size of all the holdings in the Library of Congress. Price said estimates he’s received for legal expenses are far higher than what Lynn suggested Tuesday.
“The oversight just to review that is a half a million dollars. We haven’t even gotten to the case yet. So I mean, maybe you have a couple million dollars for a defense, I don’t,” Price said.
Criminal defense attorney Victor Vital, who is not connected with the Price case, represented Sheila Hill, the wife of former Dallas City Councilman Don Hill, in the last big public corruption case to be tried in Dallas. Judge Lynn heard that case in 2010. Hill received 18 years in prison and his wife received nine years. Vital said defense attorneys representing several defendants in the Hill case received a total of around $1 million in fees but evidence in the Price case may be more voluminous.
“What some attorney is going to have to do is essential shut down their law practice for a matter of months,” Vital said.
He said it might be possible to find an attorney who would do that for $250,000 but it would be far less than what the government spent building the case against Price.
“They spent tremendous amounts of money to do that. So what we’re really talking about here is, what do we want to do to give the defense some toe hold into a reasonable defense against a thorough investigation that the government put together,” Vital said.
If Lynn rejects public assistance for Price now, it does not mean he could not receive it later.
“She’ll let him come back after he exhausts and or sells some of his private assets,” Vital said.
A Price motion to separate the bribery and tax fraud accusations into separate trials was withdrawn Tuesday. Prosecutors said the accusations are intertwined and trying them separately would be unreasonably repetitive and costly.
A motion to separate co-defendant Christian Campbell for his own trial was denied.
The trial is tentatively set for January 2016.