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Pulse OF THE City

By D Magazine |

How John Vance Got Eased Out of Office

With the DA asleep at the wheel, a strong candidate drives him out of the race and shores up his support.

TO: All District Attorney’s Office


FROM: John Vance, Criminal District


DATE: June 25, 1997

For your information, I will not be a candidate for re-election in 1998.

WITH THIS TERSE ONE-SENTENCE MEMorandum, John Vance ended all speculation about his seeking a fourth term as the county’s top prosecutor. Though characteristic of his passive, remote administrative style, the memo in no way reflected the political machinations that led to his decision. Professionally distant, politically vulnerable, Vance faced a serious challenge from within his own party, a challenge he must have figured he could not survive.

Only weeks earlier, Vance had indicated that he fully intended to run again. That was before Bill Hill, a popular criminal defense attorney, met with him and told him that he intended to face him in the Republican primary next spring.

First elected in 1986, Vance, now 64, was seen as such a formidable incumbent in 1994 that he received little opposition. The assumption that he would run again next year was enough to deter some potential candidates from going after the job. But facets of the legal and business communities made it clear to Vance that they were going to back Hill. And when Vance learned that Martha Weisend, a veteran behind-the-scenes power broker in Republican politics, was also supporting Hill, he decided to fold.

With almost 200 attorneys, the DA’s office is one of the largest, most important law firms in town. Under the leadership of Henry Wade for 36 years, the Dallas DA’s office had been considered one of the most elite, albeit controversial, staffs in the country. But under Vance, the office’s reputation has taken a beating. Low morale and high turnover have marked his tenure in recent years. “It’s not unusual if I have a felony case that lasts three or four months to talk to three different prosecutors,” says criminal defense attorney Tom Mills. “Each time, they wouldn’t know what was in the file.” Prosecutors have also complained that they were not given sufficient authority to handle cases, their discretion stymied by the heavy-handed bureaucracy Vance has put in place.

Widely regarded as an able judge before becoming DA, Vance has demonstrated little zest for his current job. His absence at civic, social and political events-including those that would seem to demand a DA’s presence-has not endeared him to the Republican establishment. “Vance is socially unskilled and very reclusive,” says one active member of the GOP. “He’s just not there as a presence in the community.” Publicity-shy to a fault, Vance refused to grab headlines even on easy cases like Darlie Routier and Michael Irvin. He did not return phone calls for this story.

Criticism of Vance is nothing new. But what was different this year was Hill !s decision to run, At 54, Hill is a well-liked criminal defense attorney with extensive community connections. “I’ve trained for this job all my life,” Hill says.

Hill grew up in Garland and attended SMU Law School. He served as an assistant DA from 1967-1973 under Wade. Active in the SMU alumni association and the Salesmanship Club, he has lived for years in University Park. Hill has the backing of several powerful downtown law firms, including Haynes and Boone, which in June provided him with office space to wage his campaign and made him “of counsel” to ease the financial burdens on his solo practice.

The closest Hill came to criticizing Vance was to point out that the District Attorney should be visible. If elected, he plans to try cases in the courtroom himself, a venue Vance, as DA, never ventured into. “When the public sees their DA is actively involved in the community and law enforcement, that gives them confidence that this is a good place to live,” Hill says.

Vance’s withdrawal will prompt other candidates to surface. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), who lost to Vance in 1986, has expressed interest in the job. But West is a Democrat and Republicans have kept a stranglehold on county government for a decade. On the Republican side, Hill’s presence in the race has already persuaded some of those interested in the job, like Judge Keith Dean, Judge “Hank” Wade (Henry’s son) and Jim Burnham, past president of the Dallas Bar Association, not to run. Whoever becomes the new DA will face a tough task. One of Vance’s few comments, after his announcement was pointedly sarcastic: “I think it’s time to let someone else have all that fun.”

-Glenna Whitley and Darrell Preston

Motorcyclists Have Their Way with the Legislature

Helmet law repeal leaves bicyclists more protected than bikers.


pedal around White Rock Lake without a helmet and beware the wrath of the park police who will cite you for violating a Dallas city ordinance. But rev up your motorcycle without a helmet, red-lining it down the construction-ridden curves of Central Expressway, and you can let the wind whistle freely through your hair, thanks to the recent repeal of the state helmet law.

Despite an outcry from the medical establishment, this weird anomaly between city and state is due, in part, to a man heralded as “the best lobbyist” of the 75th legislature: a mohawk-styled, earring-studded biker named Sputnik. Senate Bill 99 now allows motorcyclists to ride helmetless, providing they have a minimum of $ 10,000 insurance or have taken a safety course,

Although Sputnik, also known as Bill Strain, me founder of Texas Motorcycle Rights Association, laments the insurance provisions. Dr. Greg Stanford, the chief of trauma at Parkland who lobbied unsuccessfully against the entire bill, sees it as “a giant step backward….It allows people to hurt themselves and have other people pay for it.”

But Sputnik was an unrelenting lobbyist, commuting daily on his Suzuki Intruder 1400 from Galveston to Austin, missing only five days of the 140 day session. He also helped defeat an effort to pass a statewide bicycle helmet law, “The cities that have it…it’s their own fault,” says Sputinik.

The Dallas City Council adopted its ordinance in May 1996, requiring bicyclists to wear a helmet, test they be fined S10 for the first offense, $25 for the second and $50 for the third and each subsequent offense.

Appealing to libertarian sentiments of the Legislature, Sputnik claims he was representing more than just bikers. “It’s a constitutional liberty that we can make our own decisions,” he says. “Man-made laws shouldn’t step on God-given rights.”

In other words, don’t tread on me. Especially if I’m not wearing a helmet.

-A.E. McGill


The First, Almost Mythical Cowboys Training Camp

The first Dallas Cowboys team to report to training camp in Forest Grove, Ore., ■ 37 years ago this month was an odd conglomeration of the aged and the infirm, the misguided and the mismatched. At 5’7″, Eddie LeBaron, an accomplished quarterback, spent his career looking into the armpits of onrushing linemen. His pupil, Don Meredith (signed to one of the fattest contracts ever given a rookie- $30,000 a year for five years) said that at SMU it never occurred to him that it made any difference what the defense was doing. Wahoo McDaniel, a linebacker candidate, would later give up football to become a pro wrestler and set drinking records on Greenville Ave. which still stand.

As the team was preparing for its first ever game in Dallas-a pre-season encounter against the defending world-champion Baltimore Colts led by Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry and Big Daddy Lipscomb-an American U-2 pilot, Gary Powers, was being tried as a spy by a Russian military court. The line against the Cowboys was about the same as the odds against Powers. But astonishingly, with a minute to go in the game, the Cowboys led 10-7. Then Johnny U uncorked a patented bomb to Lenny Moore and sanity returned to the Cotton Bowl.

The town of Forest Grove, the site of the camp, was too nice a place to practice head-butting and eye-gouging. Seaside Beach was nearby; salmon streams were abundant-as were the bars of Portland. Since none of the players had transportation, friendly town folk brought their cars by on weekends for the players ’ to use. The coaches cured that problem by moving the squad to St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, Wis., after the loss to the Colts.

“It was like a medieval castle,” said linebacker Jerry Tubbs, referring to the new accommodations. “All it needed was a moat.” A bare bulb in each cell cast an eerie shadow across the only furnishings, two metal beds and two war surplus desks. Tackle Ed Hussman earned a niche in Cowboys folklore when he killed a bat in his room.

Ecstatic to gain weekend passes, the team was eager to take the field, even against the awesome New York Giants, who employed the impenetrable defense Tom Landry had taught them when he was the Giants’assistant coach. Meredith, escaping from the bench for the first time, had a horrible night, completing only 4 of 19 passes. Every time he tried to audible, he stared into the grimacing mug of Sam Huff or Rosey Grier, but Frank Clarke ran under one of Dandy Don’s desperate heaves to seal a 14-3 conquest, the team’s first and only victory of the inaugural season.

-Tom Peeler

Fact Check


● Number of parking meters in the city of Dallas: 4,950

● Number of cars registered in Dallas County: 1,578,355

● Ratio of parking meters to parking enforcement officers: 141:1

● Average cost of a parking meter unit: $225

● Number of jammed meters repaired: 11,000

● Number of meters overhauled: 3,000

● Yearly parking meter revenue collected for City of Dallas: $2,053,000

● Yearly parking fines collected: $2,910,655

● Rank of Federal Express among persons or companies having highest number of outstanding parking tickets: 1

● Average number of vehicles impounded for parking violations daily: 6.5

● Number of unpaid parking violations in a calendar year before a car is “booted”: 3

● Average number of cars !” booted each day: 1.1

● Size of a parking space: 8 feet by 20 feet

●  Hourly cost of parking at a meter in Dallas Central Business District: $1

●  Portion of a $20 expired meter parking ticket that goes to school crossing I guards’ salaries: 1/4

Number of times the word “meter” is repeated in the Beatles’ song “Lovely Rita”: 11


Requiem for a Retailer

Barneys, we hardly knew thee. You courageously opened your quaint haberdashery in the looming shadow of Neiman Marcus and now have regretfully succumbed to foreclosure. We disregarded your pouting posture of feigned indifference and ignored your overpriced pleas for attention. Who knew your haughtiness was really a cry for help? Who could imagine that such a dynastore would someday become extinct? You deemed us worthy of your haute couture, and we failed you. Your upper-crust merchandise was within our reach, but beyond our grasp. We forgot the intangible costs of fashion: Style and attitude, forever intertwined, cannot be given away like charity. And as you leave, we are left with nothing but memories of markups, nostalgia for window dressing and a longing for big-city culture.-A.E. McGill

Whatever Happened to..Lenell Geter?

TRY THIS NIGHTMARE ON FOR SIZE. In 1982, a rash of unsolved robberies, including one at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Greenville, Texas, causes the Greenville police to place an ad in the paper asking citizens to report suspicious activity. An elderly, white woman responds to the ad, saying she observed a “suspicious” black man feeding ducks alone in a park. The man is Lenell Geter, a bright, ambitious 23-year-old engineer at E-Sytems in Greenville.

Working on that “tip,” Greenville police obtain photos of Geter from E-Systems and keep him under surveillance. A similar robbery of a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Balch Springs had occurred that same year, $615 was taken and five eye-witnesses now identify Geter as the perpetrator. An all-white jury finds him guilty and sentences him to life imprisonment-for a crime he did not commit.

While doing his time, his case grabs national attention as the Dallas legal system is put on trial. A “60 Minutes” episode and an NAACP intervention puts heat on Dallas DA Henry Wade to instigate a retrial. Four of the same five witnesses later identify a second man who is arrested for the crime. Lenell Geter, after serving 16 months in the state pen, is released- cleared of all charges.

Fifteen years have elapsed since this miscarriage of justice and Geter, a soft-spoken man, claims he no longer feels any resentment toward his accusers. “It was an extremely painful experience that took me years to overcome,” he says from his home in Columbia, South Carolina, where he’s lived since 1988. “Shoddy police work, false arrest, racism-all of those things were prevalent in my case….When I look back it just seems unreal.”

After his release from prison, Geter returned to Greenville where he lived for the next four years. He married the woman he was engaged to at the time of his arrest, lived in the same apartment and went back to work for E-Systems. “I saw Lieutenant Fortenberry (of Greenville Police Department) every day when I took my daughter to day care,” recalls Geter.

One event that kept him around was a civil rights trial that Geter filed against the Dallas DA’s office and several area police departments for $8 million. The final settlement, however, was whittled down to around $50,000 and involved only the Greenville police.

Geter has come to terms with his experience and even found a way to reap rewards from it. Living with his wife and three daughters, he makes his living as a motivational speaker, traveling around the country, educating others on how to overcome adversity. “Now, I only engineer individuals,” he says with a contagious laugh.

Geter begins his lectures by showing his made-for-TV autobiography Guilty of Innocence: The Lenell Geter Story which aired on CBS in 1987. He talks about coping with conflict and maintaining optimism. He has also authored a book entitled How to Help Family Members Succeed Despite Adversity, due out this month.

“I’ve always had a positive attitude about life,” explains Geter, now age 39. ’LI have no animosity. I just believe injustice.”

-Sara Peterson

Fashion Folly at The Mansion

Woman goes ballistic over lunchtime denim debacle.

IT HAD TO BE ONE OF THE MOST BIZARRE press releases ever to cross our desks. Former Dallasite and Palm Beach resident TJ Fisher vented her spleen via her “publicist” regarding an incident at The Mansion where she was denied seating by the restaurant’s fashion police. Her crime: wearing “Versace haute couture jeans,” a violation of The Mansion dress code.

In the most purple of prose, the press release slammed The Mansion: ” ’To be told we couldn’t wear Versace jeans…was a slap in the face of fashion, simply outrageous,’ exclaims a flabbergasted TJ Fisher, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. ’I felt like I’d stepped back in time, like I was trapped in the twilight zone, dealing with the Beverly Hillbillies or something.’ ” It also urged the designers of the world to rise up against these “dinosaurian gatekeepers of archaic fashion protocol.” Copies were faxed to nearly a dozen national magazines, hoping the incident would spark a story.

Well, we took the bait, phoning TJ’s publicist and wondering, why all the outrage? The answer quickly became clear: shameless self-promotion. What better way to put your name out there when you have a “first novel” coming out-a book where half the story is set in Dallas? And you’ll never guess where the most pivotal scenes are played out-The Mansion on Turtle Creek. Amazing, the coincidence.

-Jennifer Chininis


Harken back with us to bygone days when sports stars played for the love of the game rather than the love of money. When there were no arena debates, free-agents or salary caps. Presented for your review is a comparison of ticket prices from then and now. Luxury suites are not included. Although the data presented is raw and has not been adjusted for inflation-or the cost of Michael Irvin’s legal fees-keep in mind that a dollar in 1970 was worth $4.05 in 1995.


Harken back with us to bygone days when sports stars played for the love of the game rather than the love of money. When there were no arena debates, free-agents or salary caps. Presented for your review is a comparison of ticket prices from then and now. Luxury suites are not included. Although the data presented is raw and has not been adjusted for inflation-or the cost of Michael Irvin’s legal fees-keep in mind that a dollar in 1970 was worth $4.05 in 1995.