Pulse of the CITY

Forget Y2K: The real problem is no computers at all.

Justice moves slowly when Dallas prosecutors must operate in the Dark Ages.


After his induction as DA in January, Bill Hill was astonishetl-and dismayed-to find out that most of the 200 prosecutors in his office do not have computers on their desks. Though he has one, if Hill wants to send a memo or a case ruling to his 350 employees, it has to be typed, copied, and distributed by hand. And prosecutors can’t look up docket sheets, criminal histories, legal precedents, or even communicate with each other by e-mail.

“Every lawyer in Harris County has a computer,” Hill says, “and they have 50 more attorneys. We’re living in the Dark Ages as far as technology goes-period.”

Former DA John Vance never asked for computers, though a small grant made a few available. After taking office Jan. 5, Hill brought in a consultant to make an assessment of the office’s technology needs. After two weeks. Hill asked the consultant for an initial reaction. “It’s appalling,” the consultant told him. “He said he cannot believe we work under these conditions,” Hill says. “If they’d give us networked computers, there’s no telling what we could do.”

Hill envisions a day when lawyers sitting in a courtroom, blindsided by a judge’s ruling on a motion, could use a laptop to tap an e-mail message to the appellate division and in minutes receive a legal opinion to cite. But first, he has to persuade the County Commissioners Court to give him the money. This month, Hill submits his first proposed budget to the court since taking office. The current operating budget of the DA’s office is $20 million. Though he has yet to determine how much he’ll ask for, Hill plans to make computers his top priority.

The history of the DA’s office with the Commissioners Court suggests Hill might find the court-which includes County Judge Lee Jackson and commissioners John Wiley Price, Jim Jackson, Mike Cantrell, and Ken Mayfield-less than enthusiastic. Some members of the court pride themselves on holding the line on expenditures. Last year, while the DA’s office was still under Vance, the court gave prosecutors an 11 percent pay raise, the first raise in seven or eight years, but it fought with the sheriff’s department on badly needed pay hikes for deputies. ’The leadership likes to brag and say we have die lowest tax rate of any county in Texas,” says one county administrator, who has fought his own battles with the court, “but they say no to everything. Sometimes you have to make a major investment to bring yourself up to date.”

Since taking office. Hill says his chief frustration has been dealing with the bureaucracy and red tape inherent in any government service. But he plans to bo a forceful advocate for his prosecutors when presenting the budget, which comes before the court in August. “In my opinion, there’s not another office in the county more important than the district attorney’s office,” Hill says.

Is he worried that the decreasing crime rate will put computers for the DA’s office low on the priority list? “We filed 100,000 cases last year,” Hill says. “That doesn’t show crime is down.”

Suggested Memo to New DISD Superintendent Candidate

To: Bill Rojas (or whoever it is this week) From: Rod Paige, your Houston counterpart

Dear Mr. Rojas (presuming the background check goes OK and none 01 the board members gets ;old feel and throws a monkey wrench in the whole thing):

Everything’s roses and sweet-talk now, but let me give you a bit of advice. Before you sign that contract make sure you’ve got a clause that says, in brief: “The superintendent has the authority overall personnel decisions.”

Okay, I admit, it wasn’t my doing. But when I was hired in 1994, the Houston trustees, like “hose in Dallas, had a reputation for micro-managing, under mining the superintendent’s decisions in hiring and firing. Lots of negative press, turmoil, the whole nine yards. After a performance review of the Houston ISD in 1996, John Sharp, then Texas comptroller, recommended that the board stay out of personnel decisions. By a 5 to 4 vote, the board passed a rule giving me total control of personnel. It passed again (5-4) last summer, about the same time they voted unanimously to renew my five-year contract.

Guess they like me. Still, that margin was shaky. To prevent a future board from undermining that separation of church and state, the majority voted to put that clause in my contract Guess what? Last November, after years of negative press, HISD passed a $670 million bond election by 73 percent of the vote.

Beware of geeks bearing gifts

Man’s present of a VCR to female neighbor held a scary secret.

Barry Lee Patterson, 31, will be sentenced this month in the Dallas courtroom of Federal Judge Joe Kendall for violating federal wiretap laws in a bizarre case that proves gift horses should always be looked in the mouth.

In June 1996, Patterson offered the use of a VCR he no longer needed to Tara Cecil, 37, a pretty, recently divorced woman who lived next door to him in Wichita Falls. Patterson, an electrician, asked if he could place it in her bedroom, but Cecil decided the living room was a better spot.

After a year of the VCR’s quiet presence in her house, Cecil became suspicious of a glowing red lens on the box. She took it apart and discovered that what looked like a device for the remote control was a surveillance camera and microphone connected to a low-power transmitter, capable of reaching his house. Cecil turned the VCR over to the FBI.

A search of Patterson’s house turned up no videotapes of the unsuspecting Cecil, and he claimed to have been unsuccessful in viewing her on camera. Patterson pleaded guilty to violating the federal wiretap law by intercepting oral communications, but federal law doesn’t cover video transmissions. If he’d hadn’t installed the microphone, says Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Stokes, it’s possible the federal statute would not have covered the crime.


Something old, something new, something borrowed, something… originally designed for Elton John?

Now that the tiara has become the must-have accessory among decidedly sovereignless brides, we’ve noticed a number of crowns that look like works of art.To wit: the custom-designed 18-karat-gold-plate tiara studded with Swarovski crystal flowers, garnet bumble bees, and olivine leaves inspired by the crown originally designed for Elton John, who, according to Paris Hats A Veils designer Debra Moreland, collects crowns. “It’s a Hollywood thing,” says Nina Austin, director of the Bridal Salon at Stanley Korshak. “Everyone always wants to wear a crown. This makes it OK.” (If she says so.) Price: $3,000. Available by special order at Stanley Korshak.


Update on former Channel 8 anchor Tracy Rowlett: The $ 1 million offer made by KTVT-Channel 11 was twice as much as Belo’s best offer.

When photographer Tom Penning- tracy ROWLETT: ton, Shooting for the Million-dollar man. Fori Worth Star-Telegram, snapped Texas Ranger Juan Gonzalez leaving the dugout to flip the bird at a heckler during an exhibition game on April 2, it seemed like a perfect lead photo for the sports section. If Yankee golden boy Derek Jeter had done it, the photo would have been made the front page of the New York Post. But the Star-Telegram wimped out and didn”t run the picture. Maybe a ballplayer losing his temper isn’t news, but it raises a question: After the exit of Will Clark, is Gonzalez trying to fill the position of designated Bad Boy?

■Press release of the month, from the Marahishi Vedic School on Central Expressway, about the Kosovo crisis: “War is the outbreak of stress in individual and collective consciousness,. .There is only one scientifically validated approach that has been shown to create peace: group practice of the Transcendental Meditation and TM-SIDHI program, including Yogic Flying.” What’s needed to end the war: large groups of people engaged in “yogic flying.” No word on airfare or frequent-flyer miles.

A sign that DISD still hasn’t resolved its financial problems: by late spring, the Dallas County Schools, an agency that provides bus service for 7 to 8 districts, hadn’t been paid since Sept 5. DISD owes it more than $7 million.

The end is near-or maybe not. Wayne Geyer, a Dallas freelance advertising copywriter and “aspiring pizza delivery driver,” and a buddy in Tennessee have started a “virtual business” at www.Y2Khype.com, where you can buy T-shirts (“Y2K non-compliant”) poking fun at millennium hysteria. But Geyer’s a Y2K hypocrite; he’s thinking of holing up with the friend in Tennessee on New Year’s Eve, “just in case

Fifth-generation Tex-Mex restaurateur Matt Martinez III left the family enchilada business to join Angus McKay and Don Linsley as corporate chef at their Picardy’s. Matt’s grandfather’s El Rancho restaurant in Austin proudly proclaims it serves “the best Mexican food in the world,” and the scion has similarly lofty goals for the seafood restaurant, starting of course with Mexican seafood.

Catch Michael Cox, economist and VP of the Dallas Fed, in an hour-long TV documentary on American capitalism this month by ABC’s resident contrarian John Stossel. Cox caught the attention of Stossel’s producers when he gave a speech for the Manhattan Institute on his recent book. The Myth of Rich and Poor: Why We’re Better Off Than We Think, written with Morning News writer Richard Aim. His TV opponent: libera! Texas populist Jim Hightower, whom Cox calls “Mister-Sky-is-Falling.”

Cindy Crawford with a Cello

Russian model turned musician finds a home in Dallas.

Nina Kotova retired from fashion runways four years ago to concentrate on her true passion. A virtuoso cellist who entered adult class at the prestigious Moscow Conservator)’ at age 7, Nina has always known what she wanted to do.

“There was no question about a career when I was growing up,” she says, “because of our name.” Nina’s father, Ivan, was a famous double bass virtuoso and teacher. When he died at age 35, Nina’s mother sent her to Germany, where she graduated with honors from Cologne Conservatory.

After receiving a visa, she came to America and won a music scholarship to Yale but had to drop out for lack of funds. In New York, she was spotted by the Ford Modeling Agency, and she stalled modeling to finance her musical ambition. Kotova strutted down runways in Europe, Japan, and the United States wearing clothes from Armani, Ungaro. and Chanel.

But she always brought her cello along and practiced when time allowed. After two years. Kotova decided to quit modeling and concentrate on her music. She debuted in 1996 in London with an original composition called “Scenes from the Catwalk.” Soon after, offers came pouring in to lure the cellist, who happens to be gorgeous, onto stages around the world.

Kotova moved to Dallas in 1998. In March, she gave a concert ai the Meyerson which, Nina says, “is one of the best halls in the world. It’s beautiful, and the acoustics are great.”

Kotova appreciates the musicianship she’s found in Dallas, but she admits not having seen too much of the area. A hectic schedule often keeps her away from her Highland Park townhome, and when she is in town she spends time relaxing, composing, and painting. She still hasn’t gotten a driver’s license, not a necessary object in either New York or Moscow.

Yesterday: Where the Action Was

From Hamlet to head-bashing, it ail happened at the Dallas Opera House.

The parking lot at Commerce and Austin streets was once home of the magnificent Dallas Opera House, built in 1883 for $43,000. The sandstone palace opened that year to a packed house of 1,200 patrons with Gilbert and Sullivan’s hot new opera, lolanthe. Three years later the building hosted the city’s first notable convention, the 50th reunion of the veterans of Texas’ War for Independence.

In 1887, actor Edwin Booth (John Wilkes Booth’s big brother) brought an early opportunity for scalpers, who hawked $2.50 tickets for as much as six times face value to his opera house performance of Hamlet. Booth appeared again the following year, as did Lily Langtry, who, according to the Morning News, was not much of an actress but had a marvelous bust.

In 1890, tragedy struck when a troupe of professional pugilists set up shop at the opera house and lured local ruffians into the ring with offers of cash prizes for those who could endure a three-round bashing. A bricklayer was killed, an event remembered a few years later when a promoter tried to get approval to stage the Corbett-Fitzsimmons heavyweight championship fight in Dallas.

The first moving picture shown in Dallas appeared at the opera house in 1897. Thomas Edison’s Vitascope technique thrilled the audience with scenes ranging from a rescue from a burning building to the rapids of Niagara Falls. Two years later, John Philip Sousa rocked the hall with his rousing brass band rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

On April 25, 1901, in the middle of the night, the Dallas Opera House burned to the ground. Arson was suspected but never proven.


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