Autumn Flames

James Myart has an admirer ... James Myart.
The San Antonio Observer: Eastside tabloid that uses race card as a policy tool

Object of its desire: James Myart

His attractive qualities: high-profile lawyer and your last best option for a police-abuse settlement (see: SAPD off-duty officer at a car auction who, in April 2005, dropped his gun in the bathroom and shot Joseph Hardaway. Price tag: $24,500 from the City and an undisclosed amount from the auction's owners, Cox Communications. Previous legal representation couldn't get Hardaway a dime.)

His unattractive qualities: might drop your case if it seems unwinnable (see: Alamo Heights teacher murderer Ronnie Joe Neale, represented briefly by Myart against Bexar County jailers who dallied when the death-row inmate attempted suicide), might get reprimanded by the state bar for giving you bad advice (in employment law), might spend better part of a day chasing news cameras and not spell-checking legal filings.

What the SA Observer has to say about Myart: Only what Myart would say about himself. The two are in such a perfect Gustav Klimt embrace that the legalese used by Myart, a graduate of UT's School of Law, curiously flows from the pens of the Observer journalists that write about him. Call it press-release plagiarism. Call it lazily forgetting attributions. Better yet, call it James Myart secretly at the helm of the Observer's law-enforcement coverage. The African-American-billed newspaper and its president, T.C. Calvert, may be the first stop when SA's mainstream media need the "black reaction" to something (Corporate execs call the East Side a ghetto? Call the Observer!). But the paper struggles with community  journalism (see its dearth of local news and extensive coverage of white Hollywood - is Scarlett Johansson promiscuous? Does Brad Pitt horse around on set?).

It needs the extra writers. But it doesn't help that there are conflicts of interest or perceived bias in its coverage.

Exhibit A: the 2005 cover during SA's mayoral campaign showing a Photoshopped Phil Hardberger sitting on the crapper. The son of the Observer's president, Tommy Calvert, worked in the office of challenger Julian Castro during that race.

Exhibit B: On October 11, real estate was devoted to a story called "Myart and the Mexican Mafia," about the lawyer's services being retained by Herb Huerta in a Colorado supermax (relevant to San Antonio how?). The November 1 issue devotes a page to Myart's lawsuit hurling criminal allegations at our frequent-flying DA Susan Reed in the case of the $2 million in stolen Southwest Airlines tickets. The tone of the article is all Myart: the wry assertions, the wit, the provocations directed at the Current and Express-News. Anyone who knows him, reads his daily press releases touting his efforts against nemesis Reed, and the Observer's letters to the editor (the ones actually attributed to him), can imagine him at his laptop, squinting through the haze of 4 a.m. cigarette smoke and using intimate knowledge of his lawsuits to personally exfoliate the DA's hide in the press.

I phoned the Observer for comment. The man who answered (Mr. Ali was all he would give) admitted he'd had a relative, a murder suspect, recently handed over to the SAPD in a deal brokered by Myart. When asked if the lawyer wrote pieces about himself using other
bylines, Mr. Ali shouted, "So what if he did? ... You white people call here think we black people are stupid, that we don't know nothing about free speech!" No, I replied with cold fury, you don't know nothing about the journalistic code of ethics. Or fact-checking, because that race card bounces right off fellow blacks.

p.s. Myart later admitted to the Current that he wrote the "Observer Takes On Reed" piece, and his only regret was Brenda Joyce Jones got the byline, not him. Proving that ghost-writing your own love letters is the easiest way to carry on a winter affair.

UTSA: Public institution led by President Dr. Ricardo Romo, quite possibly a Republican concierge

Object of its desire: Henry Bonilla, in a December runoff for Congressional District 23

His attractive qualities: the congressman looks friendly in lavenders and blues

His unattractive qualities: How much time do you have? Even Republican Joe Solis called Bonilla a cronyism-loving failure, and has asked President Bush to get this monkey off our back. From the Express-News: "'President Bush, please take Congressman Bonilla off our hands,' Solis pleaded in his South Texas Republicans weekly newsletter that accused the congressman of pork-barreling funds for the University of the Incarnate Word and failing to fight for border security."

What UTSA has to say about Bonilla: Depends on who you ask. The school's head administrator, Romo, sang the incumbent's praises at a late October luncheon on campus, and conveniently in Bonilla's honor. Obviously, Romo thinks it's cool to lavish attention on a Republican who finds himself suddenly stranded in a new Democratic-leaning district (as drawn by the courts who declared the previous district's design unconstitutional), a district that happens to include the UTSA area.

Why wasn't Bonilla making appearances at UIW? He got some $1-million-parking-garage pork for the PRIVATE parochial university stuffed into a federal highway bill in 2005, but since it's outside of his district, he had little incentive to be seen with that other paramour on the campaign trail.

It's not just the Current who sees some possibly illicit hanky-panky. UTSA's own Faculty Senate (which, full disclosure, includes a regular contributor to the Current; how else would we find these things out?) are considering a resolution specifically addressing the university's perceived Bonilla endorsement. "To some, the event, coming less than three weeks before a hotly contested election in which Congressman Bonilla was a candidate, gave the appearance of institutional endorsement of his candidacy."  The resolution continues, "We urge you to reaffirm the university's commitment to absolute political neutrality."

And Romo might consider tempering his pre-election political activity, too (greeting Dick Cheney's plane on a fundraising stop for Bonilla was a political-communications score for the incumbent). The climate for illegal advocacy is becoming more intolerant: Look at that Florida chapter of the Sierra Club getting smacked down by the Supreme Court for sending out a 2004 voter's guide with checks next to environmentally friendly candidates. But even the UT Health Science Center can show lapses in judgment, producing a new magazine in the weeks before the election. UTHSC president spokesperson Mary Etlinger DeLay called it in the spirit of "a Thanksgiving timeframe `to` let all our constituents know" about Bonilla's recent good deeds, like securing a visit from the Secretary of Commerce. Yeah, but on the magazine's cover, wasn't the UTHSC president holding hands with Bonilla? Oh, autumn love.



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