Thursday, October 06, 2005

Feud between city, judge goes public Buchmeyer oversees housing suit amid furor

Feud between city, judge goes public Buchmeyer oversees housing suit amid furor
David Jackson Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS (DAL)
Published: APRIL 21, 1991

As far as a federal judge and the city of Dallas are concerned, fairness is in the eye of the beholder. The way some city officials see it, U.S. District Judge Jerry Buchmeyer has substituted political preference for legal judgment in the areas of public housing and political redistricting.
But people who sued the city over those issues say the judge has been forced to do things Dallas officials have shunned: assure civil rights for blacks and Hispanics.

Bitter feelings have bubbled near the surface since 1989, when Judge Buchmeyer held the city financially liable for a segregated public housing system.

Now, thanks to a dispute over a private telephone conversation between Judge Buchmeyer and Mayor Annette Strauss, the feud has gone public. Critics such as City Council member Glenn Box openly refer to "King Buchmeyer,' while civil rights lawyer Mike Daniel said the attacks on the judge were the product of "white Southern trash.' All of this is happening while Judge Buchmeyer continues to preside over an $118.7 million settlement of the public-housing case to be paid out over eight years. The judge also may do further work on the City Council redistricting case.

Judge Buchmeyer, citing pending litigation, has declined to comment on his role in city issues. "The judge is quickly becoming the focus now of another round of battles,' council member Harriet Miers said. "I don't think the continued hostilities that we are experiencing over fundamental fairness issues is good for the city in any of its particulars.' Mr. Box and council member Jerry Bartos, who have accused the judge of lying to cover up a private phone conversation with Mrs. Strauss, said they may seek to have Judge Buchmeyer removed from all cases involving the city. Mr. Box and Mr. Bartos support the 10-4-1 council election system. Mrs. Strass favors the 14-1 election system ordered by Judge Buchmeyer. "As long as we're in litigation, we wan t to feel like we're on a level playing field,' Mr. Box said. Attorneys involved in civil rights litigation say the city is the prejudiced party. They accused the city of unfairly attacking Judge - Buchmeyer in retaliation for his rulings on behalf of blacks and Hispanics. "Judge-bashing has been one of the primary weapons of civil rights resisters for 50 years,' said Bill Garrett, an attorney for the Hispanic intervenors in the council redistricting lawsuit.

Some council members agree. They said that the telephone conversation in November between Judge Buchmeyer and the mayor was insignificant and that the judge's enemies are using it to discredit him. "The fundamental issue is that Judge Buchmeyer has ruled in favor of the disenfranchised in this city,' said council member Diane Ragsdale. "That's the bottom line with respect to all of this.' Mr. Box said he is not the only one who believes that the judge has exhibited bias against the city. "There's plenty of people in the city attorney's office who feel that way,' Mr. Box said. "I personally guarantee you they have expressed it to me many times.' Mr. Box did not cite examples, saying he learned of the incidents in private conversations or in closed sessions of the council. "There are a lot of situations where we could have been and should have been treated differently' by Judge Buchmeyer, Mr. Box said. "I know that's a little vague, but that's all I can say.' City Attorney Analeslie Muncy was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Marvin Crenshaw and Roy Williams, two African-Americans who sued the city in 1988 over voting rights, said the city is unfairly attacking a judge who cannot defend himself because the cases are pending before him. They also accused the city of trying to cover up what they call its past abuses of minority rights. "The city's out of step and out of time with all of these situations they've been accused of, and they're guilty,' Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Crenshaw said Judge Buchmeyer has been dragged into a dispute not of his making. "If there's a war going on, there's a war between those who want to keep the city 20 or 30 years behind and those of us who want to be progressive, who want to move the city forward,' Mr. Crenshaw said. "That's who the war is between.' In a 1989 ruling, Judge Buchmeyer, citing a set of what he called "tragic facts,' ruled that the city segregated public housing through the use of the Dallas Housing Authority.

By that time, Judge Buchmeyer had written another opinion on racial discrimination in Dallas, this time on voting rights. Judge Buchmeyer wrote that minority participation in Dallas politics has been a question of "what blacks and Hispanics have been permitted to do by the white majority.' He struck down the city's 8-3 election system, which allowed the mayor and two council members to be elected at large.

Judge Buchmeyer eventually ordered a May election under a 14-1 single-member district system. Critics said the judge should have permitted an election under the 10-4-1 system, which provided for 10 single-member districts and four regional seats with the mayor elected at large. Voters approved that plan in 1989.

Many minorities favor a 14-1 system with only the mayor elected at large, which they say will provide them better representation. - Voters narrowly rejected the 14-1 plan in December.

During that campaign, Judge Buchmeyer was frequently attacked.

Those attacks escalated this month when news of a conversation he held with Mrs. Strauss became public.

According to sworn statements, Judge Buchmeyer told Mrs. Strauss in a Nov. 27 telephone conversation that even if voters rejected 14-1, the law would obligate him to order a 14-1 election for May. Mrs. Strauss made the judge's intentions a campaign issue but denied having spoken directly with him. In a statement, Mrs. Strauss accused the judge of telling her to deny that their conversation took place. The mayor admitted lying during the campaign about not having spoken with the judge. Council critics contend that Judge Buchmeyer lied to an appellate judge who reviewed and dismissed a complaint over the conversation with the mayor. Judge Buchmeyer wrote that he spoke first to "all of the attorneys' involved in the case. But City Attorney Muncy and a hired lawyer said the judge never spoke to them about the phone call. Others involved in the case said Judge Buchmeyer didn't tell the mayor anything more than he had told attorneys. They added that Judge Buchmeyer could not have permitted a 10-4- 1 election because the system has not received federal approval.

Mr. Daniel, an attorney who worked on the housing case and who also represents Mr. Crenshaw and Mr. Williams in the voting-rights case, accused the city of "mean, nasty judge-bashing.' "Who they would really like to take it out on is the black and Hispanic community,' Mr. Daniel said. "What they're saying is he's broken the code of the white Southern gentleman.' Al Lipscomb, one of two African-Americans on the council, said some of his council colleagues have wanted Judge Buchmeyer off the redistricting case for a long time. He said the effort is self-defeating. "Buchmeyer's not the problem,' Mr. Lipscomb said. "The problem is those tragic facts.' Mr. Bartos, a 10-4-1 supporter, said he saw the phone conversation with the mayor as an effor t to manipulate the election. "It's very troubling,' Mr. Bartos said. "A judge should not work with either party in an election to try to influence its outcome, by even one vote. "It feels like the city has a relationship with the judge that has been dam aged to the extent that the city would not likely get a fair and impartial hearing in his court,' Mr. Bartos said.

Mr. Daniel, who works with lawyer Betsy Julian in the redistricting case, scoffed at that portrayal. He noted that when Judge Buchmeyer ordered the 14-1 election, he allowed the districts to be drawn by the city's redistricting commission using 1990 census figures. "Mike and Betsy didn't ask for that,' Mr. Daniel said. "The idea that the city has been tried unfairly has no basis in fact.' "Buchmeyer didn't create and maintain West Dallas,' Mr. Daniel said. "Buchmeyer isn't the one who drew the the lines under 8-3 so that only two blacks could get elected.'

PHOTO(S): 1. Glenn Box . . . openly refers to the federal judge as "King Buchmeyer.' 2. Jerry Buchmeyer . . . has declined to comment, citing pending lawsuits.

PHOTO LOCATION: 1. Box, Glenn. 2. Buchmeyer, Jerry.

1991 Copyright The Dallas Morning News Company


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