By Michael Sudhalter
Richmond-based attorney Don Bankston said that he will file a formal complaint alleging Perjury against Missouri City Mayor Allen Owen over a matter involving a Grand Jury.
“If a politician gets up and lies under oath, it’s a very serious matter,” Bankston said.
Owen, Missouri City’s Mayor since 1994, serves as a Grand Jury Foreman in the 434th District Court of Judge James Shoemake.
Fort Bend District Attorney John Healey declined to comment on the matter. Adding to the drama is the fact that both Bankston and Owen are up for re-election. Bankston is running for re-election as the Fort Bend County Democratic Chairman on March 1, and Owen is running for his 12th mayoral term on May 7.
Although municipal politics are officially non-partisan, Owen self-identifies as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic city of 67,000 residents. He’s received significant bi-partisan support throughout his career.
The Grand Jury was referred a case involving Jim Gonzales, owner of a Fort Bend Engineering company who is under investigation for offering cash envelopes to Lamar Consolidated Independent School District trustees Dr. Tyson Harrell and James Steenbergen last May. According to State Election Code, a cash contribution of more than $100 is illegal.
Gonzales maintains his innocence and has unsuccessfully counter-sued the school district and the two trustees.
Bankston became involved in the case because his client, Richmond City Commissioner Jesse Torres, was among approximately 35 individuals who were subpoenaed by the Grand Jury.
The Grand Jury’s term had expired on Dec. 31, but Shoemake took the rare step of extending their term by 90 days, effective Jan. 1. The Grand Jury is still hearing the Gonzales matter, but the status is unknown because Grand Jury proceedings are sealed in Texas.
Bankston cross-examined Owen under oath in an effort to prove that the Mayor’s service on the Grand Jury was a conflict of interest.
After Owen said he’d never received a campaign contribution from Gonzales, Bankston produced a $1,000 check from Gonzales to Owen’s 2008 re-election campaign.
The following interaction, from the court transcript, between Bankston and Owen took place on Jan. 11.
Bankston: Isn’t it true, Mr. Owen, you have a vast conflict of interest to serve in this case?
Owen: No, I do not.
Bankston: You have received thousands of dollars in contributions from Jim Gonzales over the years.
Owen: I have not.
Bankston: How much have you received?
Owen: I have not received any.
Bankston: Are you sure?
Bankston: Not one penny?
Bankston: From his company?
Owen: I’m not aware of ever receiving any money from Jim Gonzales’ company nor him.
Bankston: Has he ever worked in your campaigns?
Owen: Not that I’m aware of. Jim and I have been friends a long time.
Owen defended his comments under oath by saying, “I can assure you I would remember ‘thousands of dollars’. A single contribution made eight years ago and among many others from people can be hard to remember for anyone.”
He also defended his choice to remain on the Grand Jury.
“Receiving a single contribution from eight years ago and my being friends with Mr. Gonzales for 25-30 years has no bearing on the issue before this Grand Jury,” Owen said. “I take my oath very seriously to do what I am sworn to do that. This was just one issue in the attorneys trying to get the Judge to dismiss this Grand Jury because they did not feel as though this particular issue should be taken up by us and that it could have gone to the new Grand Jury. We began it before our term expired and thought we needed to finish it and so did the Judge in his rulings.”
Judge Shoemake couldn’t be reached for comment by press time, but last year, he told The Star that grand jurors are expected to show integrity, via the honor system, to recuse themselves from a case where there may be a bias.
Due to legislation passed last year, Grand Juries in Texas are now selected randomly. The Grand Jury in the Gonzales matter was selected through the “pick-a-pal” system that has come under significant criticism, from the national conversation on the lack of diversity and representation on Grand Juries.
Bankston brushed off any talk that his complaint against Owen is partisan or political.
“How does partisanship negate what’s in black & white? – he either lied or he didn’t,” Bankston said. “I don’t care which party they’re in – I’d pursue it. I’ve been an attorney for 42 years. I believe in the system and will protect the system.”