Judge Allows Cameras at Speaker’s Pre-Trial Hearings
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis was thrown into jail for 3 1/2 hours after missing a pre-trial hearing on ethics charges, and a judge today ruled against his request that television cameras be barred from the hearings.
The 54-year-old Fort Worth Democrat was indicted on misdemeanor charges last year for allegedly accepting and failing to disclose an illegal gift.
The indictment was part of a grand jury investigation into ties between lobbyists and lawmakers. If convicted, he could get up to 18 months in jail and $3,000 in fines.
Lewis has denied any wrongdoing and was easily re-elected in January to a record sixth term as House speaker.
He said he did not learn until late Monday that he was scheduled for a 9 a.m. hearing Tuesday and didn’t get into Austin in time. He flew from El Paso.
State District Judge Bob Perkins waited until 10:45 a.m., then ordered that Lewis’ $10,000 bail be forfeited and that he be arrested.
A half-hour later, Lewis surrendered at the Travis County Jail. He said he was handcuffed, booked, photographed and given prison clothes. He was later allowed to go free.
″I would not tell anybody to run for public office. I think it is absolutely ridiculous what public officials are subjected to,″ Lewis said as he emerged from the jail.
At a new hearing today, State District Judge Bob Perkins ruled that news media cameras would be allowed in the courtroom during pre-trial hearings.
Lewis’ attorney, Bill Willms, had argued that the presence of a television camera would ″poison this already poisoned atmosphere.″
Willms also asked Perkins to send the case to a county court-at-law, saying that the two misdemeanor charges should be handled in the lower court. But county prosecutors said a state district court was the appropriate court to hear allegations of official misconduct.
Perkins said he would issue a ruling at a hearing scheduled for Oct. 21.
In addition, Lewis’ attorneys filed a motion to remove the judge from the case, but that was not taken up today. The motion says Perkins is seeking election to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and is a friend of Lewis’ prosecutor, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle.