916.695.6882; jazmineulloa@gmail.com

courtstwo

Legal notes from inside and outside the courtroom.

The price they pay: Austin rethinks jailing those who can’t pay traffic fines

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman

Caught in a cycle of traffic tickets and expensive surcharges, Valerie Gonzales kept driving, even as she amassed fines of more than $4,500 she had no hope of paying.

The 31-year-old mother did not have a driver’s license but said she needed to get her five children to school. She had to get herself and her husband to work. Her family sometimes lived in her car, out of motels or at a homeless shelter. There were bills, medical expenses and everyday necessities they were struggling to afford.
Full story.

Out of prison, Dennis Davis now seeks exoneration

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman

Dennis Davis had been working long days in his South Austin recording studio when he met Natalie Antonetti, a vivacious woman with curly, auburn hair and a captivating smile he says he has never forgotten.

The two hit it off at a Christmas party in 1984, he remembers. He was building momentum in a burgeoning live music scene back when the city first declared it the best in the world. She was designing garden landscapes for clients by using one of the first Macintosh computers.
Full story.

From football hero to felon: The rise and fall of Russell Erxeleben

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman

BEAUMONT — There was a sense of promise the day Russell Erxleben walked out of the dark glass doors of a Beaumont federal prison in June 2005.

In his maroon Suburban, as he and his wife drove out of the sprawling complex of brick and metal, trimmed green grass and coiling barbed wire, she asked him to turn around and take one last look. After nearly five years of incarceration, the former University of Texas and NFL kicker was free.

“I told her no way, I am looking forward,” he wrote in an email last month. “One thing I was thinking was I am never coming back here again.”

Almost nine years later, he did, as inmate No. 04048-180.
Full story.

Big changes possible for assigning lawyers in indigent cases

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman
In a move some legal experts call a possible game changer, Travis County judges want to cede to attorneys the power of choosing private defense lawyers for poor defendants.

The plan has emerged from nearly two years of discussions among judges, attorneys and court administrators, and its main drivers have been judges who say the current criminal indigent defense system has grown too unwieldy for their sole control and doesn’t meet American Bar Association ethics guidelines.
Full story.

Top-paid lawyers defend current indigent defense system

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman
Raymond Espersen is one of the busiest criminal defense lawyers in Travis County. He also is a supporter of an indigent defense system that judges want to overhaul.

Over the past four years, according to an analysis by the American-Statesman, less than 10 percent of eligible attorneys have raked in the heaviest workloads and largest compensation fees in a rotating index designed to evenly distribute the cases of poor defendants among more than 350 lawyers. At the top has been Espersen, a former La Grange prosecutor who has averaged 615 cases a year, collecting about $200,000 for his services, nearly a quarter more than the salary of the district attorney.
Full story.
 
 
 
 

Travis County Public Integrity Unit caught in funding battle again

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman
Texas Republicans have long sought to curtail or eliminate the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County district attorney’s office, calling it partisan and politically motivated.

But an analysis of the division, which investigates ethics abuses at the highest levels of state government and is now at the center of Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment battle, shows that its prosecutions against elected officials have mostly targeted Democrats, and that its loudest critics in its 36 years of existence have been on both sides of the political aisle.
Full story.

Austin terror charge could share ties with Florida case

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman
As two men accused of aiding terrorists are due to appear Friday in a federal court in Austin, a separate Florida case appears to shed light on a wider criminal network that prosecutors say one of the defendants here was using.

Law enforcement officials have declined further comment on the claims against University of Texas student Rahatul Ashikim Khan and Michael Todd Wolfe of Houston. But an indictment out of a Miami federal court obtained by the American-Statesman seems to share ties to the complaint against Khan and alleges possible co-conspirators had been funding three groups, designated by the U.S. as terrorist organizations, that have operated in Iraq, Syria and Somalia.
Full story.

Fate of Jovita’s restaurant in question after heroin bust

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman

Before the chic cafes and vegan eateries, neon lights and traffic, there stood a one-story wooden panel house on South First Street that would become Jovita’s.

Its greasy enchiladas were never the draw, its enthusiastic regulars recall. No, people flocked to the Tex-Mex restaurant and cantina beside East Bouldin Creek in South Austin for the scene. Under the leadership of the late Amado “Mayo” Pardo, a rugged, polarizing figure and convicted felon, the bohemian beat hangout was a community center, dance hall and music venue, a sanctuary for artists and poets, for history and political causes.
Full story.

Zetas money laundering trial

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman
Four of five businessmen were convicted in May 2013 of laundering money for the most ruthless criminal organization in Mexico, Los Zetas. Prosecutors said the gang moved cocaine as far north as Chicago, funneling the proceeds through the U.S. quarter horse industry.

Members of the network and their associates, witnesses testified, bribed powerful politicians and kidnapped, extorted and killed victims, while they rubbed shoulders with wealthy investors in the United States and converted rural areas across the country into drug and gun distribution zones.
Stories and posts from the trial.

Brandon Daniel death penalty case

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman

At the center of the biggest trial to unfold in Travis County in 2014 was the fragmented image of Brandon Daniel. A young man with a once-budding future, he was convicted of capital murder in the April 2012 killing of Austin police officer Jaime Padron.
Stories and posts from his trial.

Joe Carr murder case

By Jazmine Ulloa
Austin American-Statesman

Ex-firefighter Joe Carr was detained trying to cross the Canadian border in July 2011, three days after the body of his girlfriend was discovered wrapped in a camping tent and weighted down by paint cans in Lake Travis.

More than two years after the death of Veronica Navarro, he was convicted of murder in February 2014.
Stories from his trial.