- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

DALLAS Former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales, facing trial for suspected illegal use of campaign contributions and fraud connected to the state's massive settlement with tobacco companies, has requested a public defender legal aid usually available only to near-destitute defendants.
U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ordered public defender Abe Hernandez to assist Mr. Morales, who public records indicate is worth more than $1 million, but warned that the former gubernatorial candidate might have to repay the government.
Judge Sparks expressed what he termed "grave concerns" about whether Mr. Morales deserved a public defender and ordered the defendant to provide detailed, sworn information as to his income, living expenses, employment and efforts to hire an attorney by Friday morning.
In interviews since, Mr. Morales, 47, has called his request a "stopgap" situation and conceded he did not qualify to use a public defender.
He said he had been working on an agreement with two well-known Texas lawyers, Gerald Goldstein of San Antonio and Paul Coggins of Dallas, but had not finalized it. He called the lawyers' request "a pretty good break," but said he was forced to come up with a six-figure sum at the start.
He predicted it would cost him upward of $1 million to defend himself. "I imagine I will have to go into debt," he said. Calls to Mr. Goldstein's and Mr. Coggins' offices were not returned.
Mr. Morales declared incomes of $1,148,000 for 1999 and $433,000 in 2000 in campaign forms. According to public records, he is worth more than $1 million, including about $500,000 equity in a $1.2 million home he is accused of illegally buying with campaign funds.
He and a friend, lawyer Marc Murr of Houston, are accused of trying to skim hundreds of millions of dollars from Texas' settlement from the major tobacco companies while Mr. Morales was attorney general.
Mr. Morales had pleaded not guilty to all charges, saying that the government investigation and charges stemmed from a vendetta by Big Tobacco wanting revenge on him for his role in the tobacco case.
A Harvard-educated lawyer, Mr. Morales left public office in 1998 after two terms as attorney general. He unsuccessfully tried to win the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002. When he lost, he endorsed the Republican, Rick Perry, who won easily.
He appeared without legal counsel earlier this month when he was arraigned in San Antonio and has been filing briefs for himself, appearing without an attorney at meetings where the judge has been setting a trial timetable.
Court records indicate that the federal judge had become somewhat frustrated with delays and told Mr. Morales that he was going to set a trial date and he felt the defendant should quickly retain counsel.
"Now that the clock is moving, it's going to move," Judge Sparks told him at an April 16 conference. "You're certainly creating a hole for yourself, it would seem to me."
Jury selection has been scheduled to begin Oct. 7 in Austin.
An extremely eloquent man, Mr. Morales was once a huge star in the Hispanic firmament in Texas rated with Henry Cisneros, the former San Antonio mayor and later secretary of the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, as men with promising national political possibilities.
Mr. Cisneros, now 56, served as head of HUD from 1993 to 1997 and later was convicted of lying to the FBI during his 1993 confirmation investigation. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in 1999 and was pardoned by President Clinton in January of 2001.

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