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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.”

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.

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“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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Fox News reporter and right-wing conspiracy theorists planned to wiretap family of slain DNC staffer Seth Rich: report

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The Daily Beast on Monday evening broke a bombshell report on a secret 2017 meeting in Texas on a right-wing conspiracy theory where espionage was discussed.

"One of their topics was responding to online critics of wealthy Texas businessman Ed Butowsky, who had recently been outed as a driving force behind a retracted Fox News story about murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich," The Beast reported. "The group that gathered at Butowsky’s home included a conspiracy theorist, a Fox reporter fighting for her career, a former private intelligence contractor married to star journalist Lara Logan, and a Democratic PR operative who lost his business in the face of sexual assault allegations."

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Maddow breaks down potential ‘direct financial connection’ between the Russian government and Donald Trump

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MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow read bombshell excerpts from a new book set for release on Tuesday.

The host interviewed David Enrich, finance editor at The New York Times, about his forthcoming book Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction.

The host of "The Rachel Maddow Show" read excerpts from the book.

"There was no doubt that Deutsche Bank had extensive business dealings with Russia, and those dealings included acting as a conduit for dirty money to get out of Russia and into the western financial system," Enrich wrote.

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Congress still has one big tool left to rein in Trump’s corruption: Oversight Committee Democrat

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Senate Republicans may have managed to quash the impeachment trial without calling forth any new witnesses or seriously considering the evidence against President Donald Trump. And the president may feel vindicated and largely invulnerable as a result.

But, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday, that doesn't mean Democrats don't have one last big play to rein in the president's abuses of power. They can use the first and strongest authority delegated to them: the power of the purse.

"What can Democrats really do when it comes to oversight of the president?" asked Cooper. "I mean, now that impeachment is over, does seem like there are fewer and fewer guardrails, if any."

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