State Fairness

texasmonthly.com: How and when did you discover the Ernest Willis case?

Michael Hall: I heard about it from one of the defense attorneys I initially interviewed, then read about it in the Dallas Morning News. I couldn't believe there hadn't been more written about him.

texasmonthly.com: What kind of research went into this piece?

“The Trick Is Not to Act Like a Lawyer.”

Rusty Hardin, Houston’s defense attorney of the moment, the lawyer to whom the powerful and the privileged turn when they run afoul of the law, was ducking out of a Rockets game last winter when a fan yelled down at him, “Screw you, Rusty!” Rusty stopped and grinned as more abuse was heaped upon him from the stands. “Screw you, Rusty!” “Yeah, screw you!” Had Rusty sprung another celebrity client to walk free on the streets? Had another jury succumbed to his charms? Not this time: The heckling was a perverse kind of praise.

I, the Juror

EVEN THE BEST TRIAL LAWYER WILL tell you that juries are like snakes: They're hard to get ahold of and not necessarily fun when you do. That's why law schools concentrate on teaching the law. Aside from picking up a few rules of thumb—Episcopal clergy side with plaintiffs; Episcopal churchgoers side with defendants—law students have to learn about juries the hard way: by trying lawsuits after they graduate.

Which Side of the Fence Are You On?

GENE RISER WHEELS HIS PICKUP over the caliche road in the thorny South Texas brush country near the town of George West, halfway between Corpus Christi and San Antonio. He's showing off his 2,500-acre mesquite-studded property while explaining why he became a deer rancher. His grandfather, he tells me, bought this land and tried to make a living as a cattle rancher. He barely made ends meet. Riser's father cleared a lot of the brush away and tried to farm the land, but the lack of rain doomed that effort too.

"Cheap! Cheap!"

I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT THE DIXIE CHICKS and their record label, Sony Music, would end up in court. One night about a year and a half ago, I was interviewing Charlie Robison in the Olmos Park cottage he shares with his wife, Emily, the banjo player for the Dixie Chicks, for an article about Charlie and his singer-songwriter brother, Bruce.

The Supremes

With the one-hundred-day mark of George W. Bush's presidency still visible in the rearview mirror, the "compassionate conservative" campaign mantra appears to be tilting more and more to the conservative rather than the compassionate. The left can take some solace in the ethnic diversity of his appointments and his emphasis on education while the right celebrates his insistence on huge tax relief and his appointment of John Ashcroft as attorney general.

The Battle for the Border

Dob Cunningham stood on a ridge overlooking the Rio Grande and surveyed the vast stretch of Maverick County where his family has ranched for more than half a century, a lonesome spread of mesquite-studded brush country that sprawled along the border. He had stood there many times over the years and watched, one hand shading his eyes from the sun, as illegal immigrants waded the river and scrambled up the banks onto his land.

The Hate Debate

You'll be hearing a lot about hate crimes in the upcoming weeks. Next to redistricting, it is the most explosive issue before the Texas Legislature, one that could derail the entire session, as it almost did in 1999. This may seem strange, since just about everybody agrees that hate crimes are deplorable. But they can't agree about whether the law should treat those crimes differently from others.

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