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How judicial conflicts of interest are denying poor Texans their right to an effective lawyer

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This story is a collaboration between The Texas Tribune and Texas Monthly.

I.

For decades, Texans who can’t afford a lawyer have gotten caught in a criminal justice system that’s crippled by inadequate funding and overloaded attorneys. A growing body of caseload data — and a recent lawsuit — point to an even more fundamental hazard: the unchecked power of Texas judges.

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It was going to be his last shift at the Velvet Lounge, and all Marvin Wilford felt was relief. It was November 11, 2017 — Veterans Day — and as he got dressed for work, Wilford put on his scarlet-colored Marine Corps cap. The Velvet Lounge, a strip joint in North Austin, billed itself on Facebook as “the official afterparty for the city,” but Wilford couldn’t say he had fun: As a doorman, he collected cover charges from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and did a lot of standing, sometimes outside. That evening, the temperature was in the 60s. Over his T-shirt and jeans, Wilford pulled on a green hoodie.

It wasn’t that he felt ungrateful. Bald, with an athletic build, the 61-year-old was a year away from collecting Social Security, and his veteran’s pension didn’t quite cover the bills. The club paid $100 a night—not the kind of money he’d made running his own building-and-maintenance company once upon a time, but enough to supplement what his wife, Christine Wilford, brought in as a technician at Voltabox, a company that specialized in lithium-ion batteries.

In fact, Marvin Wilford felt lucky. After serving as a combat Marine in Vietnam, he’d gotten in serious trouble. In 1991, he’d been arrested after assaulting a police officer and was sentenced to prison for 20 years. He’d been released early, but then in 2006 he’d been arrested for assaulting an ex-girlfriend and was sentenced to another 10 years. A diagnosis in 2015 of post-traumatic stress disorder, and medications, had given him a new start, but no one wanted to hire an aging felon. His nephew, who owned the Velvet Lounge, had thrown him a lifeline.

Still, after three months at the gig, Wilford was done. He’d had hernia surgery, and he was walking with a cane. Christine Wilford had been sick, too, wracked by a nagging cough. The club, with its drunken brawls, was too unruly a scene. “This is not working for me,” Marvin Wilford muttered to himself, throwing his cane in the car and heading west on U.S. 290. “There’s gonna be trouble.”

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Marvin Wilford served as a combat Marine in Vietnam and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2015.
Marvin Wilford served as a combat Marine in Vietnam and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2015.  Trevor Paulhus for The Texas Tribune

Sure enough, trouble came at around 4 a.m., when a fight broke out by the dance floor and a security guard, a 42-year-old named James Jones, escorted two women outside. Wilford, standing by the door, watched as Jones led the disheveled pair — one with no shoes — toward the parking lot. He and Jones had become friends, bonding over the troublesome revelers they had to deal with. Jones liked to call him Unc, out of respect.

“F— all you security guards!” yelled one of the women. She and her friend stumbled toward a car, vowing to return. Then they sped off.

Twenty minutes later, the same car screeched back into the parking lot. By this time, other patrons were spilling out onto the sidewalk. Though accounts of what happened next vary, multiple witnesses would later say they saw one of the women get out of the car, brandishing a tire iron, and lunge at the gathering crowd. Jones saw the woman strike Wilford. Wilford recalls trying to keep her away from other patrons. Someone hit the woman over the head with an empty vodka bottle. Someone else stomped on the hood of the car.

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New documents reveal the military has paid Trump’s Scotland resort more than $180,000

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Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. military has spent more than $180,000 at the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland while service members have been stopped at the Glasgow Prestwick airport, according to a Pentagon letter sent to the House Oversight Committee.

Politico first reported on and published the letter on Wednesday.

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Accused child molester Roy Moore defends Brett Kavanaugh: ‘I too was the object of false allegations’

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Accused child molester Roy Moore on Wednesday came to the defense of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of sexual assault.

Moore's remarks came after The New York Times published accounts from a new book, which found that two of Kavanaugh's accusers were credible.

In a statement to the press, Moore defended Kavanaugh on Wednesday.

"I too was the subject of false allegations, but unlike Justice Kavanaugh and others who have suffered the ire of the left, I filed suit against my accusers and their conspirators," Moore said. "For over two years, I have not seen nor been able to question any of those who went on national television tol tell their false stories just 32 days before the election in December 2017, and ironically I have been sued for defamation for merely denying their false and malicious accusations."

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Trump says ‘many options’ on Iran response

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US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he has "many options" in addition to military strikes against Iran and that details of newly announced sanctions will come within 48 hours.

Asked by reporters about a possible US attack on Iran, Trump said "there are many options. There's the ultimate option and there are options a lot less than that."

He explained that by "ultimate option" he meant "war."

Trump said that the specifics of sanctions he announced earlier would be made public "over the next 48 hours."

US ally Saudi Arabia says Iran was behind a missile or drone attack setting ablaze major oil facilities last weekend.

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