Tuesday, May 20, 2003

from Texas Monthly(via Hauser Report):

"IN THE FALL OF 1996, George W. Bush, 21 months into his first term as governor, made a surprise decision: He would show up for Travis County jury duty. He made a very public appearance at the jury screening, telling reporters, "I'm just an average guy showing up for jury duty." When he arrived at the county courthouse a week later for jury selection for a trial, he schmoozed with his fellow prospective jurors outside the courtroom, asserting to reporters his belief that jury duty was everyone's responsibility.

But while Bush held forth in the corridor, a meeting was taking place inside the court that would make certain that the governor would never be impaneled. Back in the judge's chambers, Alberto R. "Al" Gonzales, the governor's quiet, dapper general counsel and one of his closest advisers, was making a forceful case that his client could not be a juror. Bush had the power to pardon defendants, Gonzales argued, and thus should not vote on their innocence or guilt at trial.

As Gonzales presented his argument, neither the judge nor the attorneys knew quite what to do, according to defense attorney David Wahlberg. "There was nothing in the criminal code to guide us here," he says. "As far as anyone could remember, a sitting governor had never been called to jury duty before." Finally, Wahlberg agreed to accommodate Gonzales by removing Bush from the jury. At the time, newspapers reported that Bush was excused as part of a routine defense counsel's strike, but Wahlberg says that's not what happened. "It was very clearly at Gonzales' behest," he says, adding, with grudging respect, that Gonzales was "professional, well prepared, and persuasive. And he snookered all of us. He approached us informally—and at the last minute—with an argument that I feel was disingenuous at best."

Why, after Bush had so publicly declared his willingness to serve, did Gonzales move so deliberately to get him off? The answer came four years later. The week before the 2000 presidential election, the story broke that Bush had been convicted in 1976 of driving while intoxicated. As it turned out, the 1996 trial also involved a person charged with driving while intoxicated, which meant that Bush would almost certainly have been asked under oath if he himself had ever been convicted of drunken driving. Gonzales' intervention meant that Bush would not have to admit his own conviction.

Today the man who fixed George W. Bush's jury duty is Bush's White House counsel, one of the most influential lawyers in the country."