See article here.
Although I don't have any particular beef with Eric Holder, I think articles like this are intriguing as they highlight the significant disparity between the tremendous benefits afforded to big banks, including considering mortgage fraud to be the "lowest ranked criminal threat," while locally our District Attorney's office, and similar offices across the state, prosecute as felons people who pass one fake $20 bill. This is an example of an area of the law where justice is unfortunately not blind and punishments are not handed out in proportion to the amount of damage done.
See article here.
Charles Sebesta is an extremely proud man. It is written that, “Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Some years ago I was contacted by an Investigative Journalist who was writing an expose of the Anthony Graves case and calling for the head of Charles Sebesta, the former Burleson County District Attorney.
After I had answered some of her questions, she said, “You are the only lawyer I have talked to who doesn’t have a lot of criticisms of Charles Sebesta’s reign as District Attorney.”
When the journalist implied that I wouldn’t denounce Charlie for fear of retribution, I said, “Charlie Sebesta is a cut dog; he can’t retaliate against anybody.”
I’m not saying the critics are wrong, I can only tell you of my dealings with Charlie. I always liked him even if he was giving me some kind of cheap bullshit on a criminal case. On a personal level he was always pleasant and easy to work with. Charles Sebesta has a website that defends his prosecution of Anthony Graves and strongly maintains that he is the victim here, not Anthony Graves.
I would never have imagined that he would stand accused of trying to use the system to murder an innocent man. I honestly believe that Charlie may have been possessed by an evil spirit; I’m not saying his head spun around and he projectile vomited, but that he lost contact with his personal moral compass due to arrogance and pride.
In a way it makes sense that I would click with Charles Sebesta because we share similar DNA and cultural history:
Scots Irish Blood
Land and Livestock
Small Town Practices
Let’s go to trial
I re-hash all that history to show that I am trying to be as objective as possible about Mr. Sebesta. It is my opinion based on what I know that he should have been disbarred for what he did to Anthony Graves.
I also believe the Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Rangers should conduct an investigation to determine if the charge of Attempted Murder should be filed against Charles Sebesta. Mr. Sebesta needs an investigation to clear his name. I have tried to fathom why an educated, genteel man would try to kill an innocent man and in so doing discredit himself and the entire criminal justice system.
The king decides to kill one of his subjects, has him arrested, thrown in the dungeon and then executed by the Crown. That scenario is why the Magna Carta was signed in the first place, and why I am taking a hard line on Charles Sebesta; he abused his office for the purpose of fostering injustice. That is why although I feel sympathy for Charles Sebesta as a person, I feel even more sympathy for Anthony Graves and his family.
The Disciplinary Committee that threw Mr. Sebesta out of the legal profession, (he had not been actively practicing since his retirement in 2000), was chaired by the First Assistant Brazos County District Attorney, Brian Baker. Brian is a career prosecutor as was his father before him. I have tried several jury trials against Brian and he is both an honest person and very intelligent man.
In view of Mr. Sebesta’s position on this subject; I would suggest a Court of Inquiry to determine for both Mr. Sebesta and Mr. Graves as nearly as possible exactly how Mr. Graves was found guilty and wrongfully convicted.
Yesterday I had the privilege of helping an amazing family adopt an incredible ten-year-old girl. The courtroom was overflowing (Judge Jim Locke told me he had never seen so many people in his courtroom for any type of case) and there were tears of joy and triumphant cheers when the adoption was granted.
Adoptions are my favorite part of family law. Oftentimes the children adopted have come from less than ideal circumstances or Child Protective Services’ care and it is thrilling to help them officially become part of their forever home. I can think of no better way to start the week then with a beaming child proudly proclaiming “YES!” when asked if she wants to be adopted.
Congratulations to the happy family!!
Over 30 years ago I was local counsel on a case that ended up being the basis for a book and then made for TV movie. Unfortunately neither the book nor the movie mentioned me despite the considerable work I did on the case.
A Bryan man hired my client out of soldier of Fortune Magazine to kill his wife. The victim had done nothing to deserve killing, except for spectacularly bad judgment in her choice of a spouse. Her husband was having a torrid affair with a beautiful young woman who happened to be his first cousin.
Instead of just divorcing his wife, hubby decided he needed a large sum of money to accompany his new found freedom. He took a $100,000.00 insurance policy on his wife’s life and then contacted my client for a “high risk assassination.”
My client flew from his home in Florida to do the job. The husband let him in the house to wait for the target to get home from her grocery shopping. When she came in my client shot her behind her ear with her own pistol. She fell on the kitchen floor and was still breathing; so my client put another round through her eye.
When the husband got to the house he decided to send his 12 year old son in to make the discovery of the body. Meanwhile back in Florida, my client had been hired by his girlfriend and her sister to kill their respective husbands, which he did.
Naturally the murder of two men, with no known enemies or criminal connections who happened to be married to sisters aroused suspicion. In a bizarre postscript my client attended one of the funerals posing as his girlfriend’s lost cousin and a freelance photographer.
He took a picture of the widow placing a rose on her husband’s grave. My client decided to make a pilgrimage to Colorado to visit his hero, Robert Brown the publisher of Soldier of Fortune. While in Colorado, he turned himself in to the police and confessed.
The Defendant was a big tough looking man who had killed numerous people while serving in Vietnam. When I saw him on TV, he reminded me of Bluto from the Popeye comics. I got a call from the District Judge’s office notifying me of my appointment with instructions to go see him in the jail at once.
My office was located across the street from the jail, so I got there very quickly. The jailers said, “The consultation rooms are full but you can talk to him in the kitchen, we’ll have to lock you both in.”
Being locked up with a Bluto-looking hired killer was unsettling enough, but when the kitchen door closed I realized there were knives, cleavers and other cutlery hanging on the kitchen wall.
My client turned to face me and he was indeed a bid Bad Ass Looking Dude. He was also crying hysterically. “Mr. Banks, they’re gonna kill me! They’re gonna kill me.” I thought “This guy is as big a Weenie as I would be if I was in his boots.” From that time on I was very comfortable talking to him.
The local victims’ family was given the choice of seeking the death sentence on my client or the husband. They opted to have the husband prosecuted for Capital Murder and my client received three (3) life sentences in return for testifying against the husband and his girlfriend and her sister.
At the husband’s trial the courtroom was packed with both spectators and security. I was directed to sit next to my client while he testified against the husband.
He made a very effective witness and the jury ended up sentencing the husband to Death by Lethal Injection. When I got off the stand the Sheriff (a good friend of mine) said, “You looked pretty calm up there Phil, I guess all those death threats against your client didn’t scare you any.” I was blissfully unaware of any such threats when I was sitting next to him but instead I indicated to the Sheriff that I wasn’t concerned about such nonsense.
The State of Texas put the husband to sleep and although I am not a big death penalty man (unless somebody hurts a member of my family) I thought he had it coming for sending his son into the house to find his murdered mother.
I ended up actually being friends (as much as I could) with my client. He was genuinely remorseful about the killings he had done at home and abroad. At one point he asked if I could get my Pastor to come visit him.
I told Father Oxly about the situation and said “He probably should have gotten the death sentence for what he did.” Father Oxly said “ I guess we are all lucky to not receive the penalties we deserved.” Father Oxly and my client and I all prayed together in the jail that day and in the years since I have come to appreciate the wisdom and goodness of Father Oxly’s observations.
Below please find two local media articles from the case:
There are certain cases you have history with:
In 1960, I was a 3rd grade student at David Crockett Elementary School in Bryan, Texas. Me and my friends would frequently fish for crawdads in a creek near the school. The creek was fed by water from the Bryan Municipal Lake. One day there were more crayfish that we had ever seen; they were all dead, floating in a green foam-like substance. No crawdads were ever seen in that creek again.
A few years later me and my friends would dive for golf balls in the lake to sell back to the golf pro shop. When I was in college, my folks had a place on the Brazos River where we would run trot lines to catch catfish. We would seine the Bryan Municipal Lake to get Bait fish for the trot lines.
In the 1990’s it was revealed that a cotton poison (arsenic) manufacturer named Elf Atochem had dumped Arsenic into our town. First they put Arsenic into the Municipal Lake for many years and when that was finally curtailed, arsenic was discharged repeatedly and illegally into the air over our town. In recorded history there had never been a toxic arsenic experience of this magnitude for this duration. People began noticing that families who lived near the plant had numerous health problems. The cancer rates for the exposure area were off the charts. Tragically a great number of the children born to mothers who lived there had serious birth defects during pregnancy.
An ex-employee of Elf Atochem had been screwed out of his retirement by the company so he blew the whistle on them. A massive Toxic Tort Claim Action suit was filed in Federal Court in Houston. Many members of the Class happened to be clients of mine, so they hired me to represent them in court.
When I realized there was a connection between Elf Atochem and the dead crawdads and the poisoning of Bryan Municipal Lake I almost came unglued. I thought about myself and all the other children playing in that poison lake and I became very angry. You might even say over the year I went mad; because the case became an obsession with me.
Besides representing a number of individual claimants, I was named as Class Counsel for the cancer victims in the Class. I spent years and years working on the case trying to get justice for the families who had been needlessly devastated by this criminal toxic exposure.
There were at least two massive obstacles in the case.
1. Since there had never been so much arsenic exposure before there was no basis for comparison and virtually no research to show the results of a massive continuous exposure.
2. Because of the myths of “Tort Reform” being sold to the public; the court favored corporate wrong doers like Elf Atochem and would protect them for the people they injured.
Even if a lawsuit were successful there would be years and years of appeals with the spectra of corporations and their insurers going out of business before any money could be recovered.
The defendants hired powerful and talented law firms from across the country in addition to the famous Vinson Elkins firm in Houston. As a tail grabbing street lawyer from Bryan, Texas I was impressed with the quality of my competition. After a while I got tired of them repeating the line that we couldn’t prove that arsenic exposure was harmful to people’s health. No scientific evidence, blah, blah, blah.
Finally at one of the settlement conferences, I heard that line once too often and I told that Silk Stocking, big Dawg how I really felt:
Phil: I want to know if you will be willing to put your asshole where your mouth is.
Yankee Big Dawg Lawyer: I beg your pardon.
Phil: You don’t think arsenic can hurt you, come on down to Bryan and we will give you an Arsenic Water Enema and see what happens.
Yankee Big Dawg Lawyer: There is no reason to be uncivilized.
Phil: I think it was pretty F_ _ _ ing uncivilized for your people to poison our town.
The case was finally settled in 2001; we decided to recover what we could for the people in the Class, not what they really deserved. In the years since, I have come to believe that we made the right call; because a whole lot of people getting something is better than all of them getting nothing.
In retrospect I am extremely proud of my work on the Elf Atochem cases. It isn’t often you get to hold corporate criminals responsible for things they did in your childhood.
Last night, Amy was one of the TV Auctioneers for the local public access channel (KAMU-TV)'s fundraising auction. Members of the Brazos County Bar Association manned the phones and provided the on-air talent for the fundraiser. It was a great event, great fun, and we raised a bunch of money to help continue to bring wonderful programming to the area on KAMU-TV. It was an honor to participate! Baby Philip even made his TV debut! Special thanks to all the friends and family that watched and called in to bid.
Atticus Day 2015 was a great success. Over 60 lawyers and community members gathered in the Atrium of the Brazos County Administration Building to hear anecdotes from Atticus Day founders Shane Phelps & Phil Banks and to hear the wise words of Judge Jim Locke and Judge Cathy Cochrane. Here are a few photos of the event taken by Studio82's Donny Hall.
This Friday, April 24, 2015 is the Seventh Annual Atticus Finch Day. The event was started by Philip Banks and Shane Phelps in order to promote the ideals embodied by Harper Lee's fictional character Atticus Finch in the local legal community. The big idea is that our law licenses are powerful tools that we should all strive to use for the good of the community.
I especially love the Atticus idea of fighting for the underdog. I've always admired that my dad, Phil Banks, takes on clients that are faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and bleak possibilities...just like Atticus did in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Please join us in the Brazos County Administration Atrium on Friday at 11:30, and wear your seersucker if you've got it! -Amy
Many years ago, in a Galaxy Far Far Away; I was the Municipal Judge of the City of College Station, Texas. My appointment to that post, was not without its critics and detractors.
One old high school friend opined that I was the best qualified for the post because I had committed virtually every Class C offense imaginable. While that was something of an overstatement, I had happily and consistently violated all statutes regulating the consumption of alcohol.
Accordingly I did not regard under 21 years old possession/consumption of alcohol as a crime calling out to the Lord for vengeance. I gave many of the defendants deferred adjudication (non conviction probation) and ordered them into Alcohol Education.
This leniency brought me into the crosshairs of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.). I believed I was unfairly and inaccurately targeted in the M.A.D.D. newsletter and in retrospect I did not handle it in a tactful and diplomatic manner.
When I talked to the local M.A.D.D. President (a very intelligent and articulate lady) she said “I don’t appreciate being called a liar!!”
I responded “Ma’am, if you will quit lying about me I’ll quit calling you a liar": and things went south from there. I felt and still feel like I was right, but I should not have been so personally truculent. The attached article from June 12, 1990 is a by product of that exchange.
After high school, I didn’t have much contact with John Jr. (Squeaky). On one memorable occasion he rode by my folk’s house on College View in Bryan; while I was sitting on the front porch with a high school friend drinking a beer.
John had already been indulging, so he joined us and we started discussing topics of the day. John was very unhappy about the “busing” of students to achieve racial balance. He launched into a very eloquent denunciation of this concept and while waving his arms, lost his footing and fell into my mother’s hedge.
We pulled him out of the hedge and he continued his oration as if nothing had happened. During this time I learned that Squeaky had secretly placed a football goal post on his grandfather’s ranch and had taught himself how to kick a football.
He had never played in junior high or high school so I was amazed to see him suited up with the Aggie football team during the pregame and booming kicks through the uprights on Kyle Field. He was a walk-on and never got to play in a regular season game; but the fact that he was willing to even try out for the team showed his enormous courage and spirit.
It was when I served as his campaign manager in the 1978 Democratic Primary, that I became close to John and realized that underneath his surface he was a man of great intellect, compassion and sensitivity. He was an original, completely honest and devoid of any pretense or hypocrisy.
Despite his natural shyness and other personal issues he was able to defeat a brilliant young attorney named O.E. “Ed” Elmore, who had just moved to town and subsequently became a successful and respected member of the Brazos County legal community. John ran extremely well in the Black and Hispanic precincts and I believed it was because those voters knew instinctively that John Jr. was a fair and sympathetic man.
Our local bar just observed the 6th annual Atticus Finch day, and in retrospect John M. “Squeaky” Barron, Jr. had many of the qualities that made Atticus Finch such an iconic linchpin for the legal profession. I appreciate all the kind words and encouragement I have received for writing about Squeaky. It has been very therapeutic for me to reminisce about him. As is often the case, we don’t realize how much we care about certain people until they are gone. Thanks for helping me to remember a very special man.
Phil Banks, Amy Banks, and Joe Patranella are attorneys in Brazos County, Texas.