- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Buried for decades under millions of pages of nearly forgotten old court documents lay a political treasure.

The nearly forgotten gem - an old Tarrant County court file that included documents trying to prevent the late, famed attorney Melvin Belli from representing Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald - was unearthed last week.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (https://bit.ly/19N53xk ) reports Tarrant County workers, who were continuing a years-long effort to make electronic copies of old case files and destroy their paper counterparts, found the file and told Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder.

“I thought it was a great piece of history,” said Wilder, who said the case belongs in the “famous files” category to ensure the paper version isn’t destroyed. “We don’t want to destroy a historical case.”

Dozens of other famous files are being preserved, including the Cullen Davis trials in which he was prosecuted for the slaying of his estranged wife’s daughter and in a murder-for-hire scheme in the 1970s; and the Koslow trial, where Kristi Ann Koslow and friends Brian Dennis Salter and Jeffrey Dillingham were convicted of killing her stepmother, Caren, and injuring her father, Jack.

Now the case file of Belli - who also represented superstars such as Zsa Zsa Gabor, Muhammad Ali, the Rolling Stones and Mae West - will join other files at the Tarrant County’s Family Law Building.

The files are put in plastic bags to protect them from potential water damage if the sprinkler system goes off and are stored on shelves or in boxes for safekeeping.

“We would have the image file of this in any event, but I don’t want to destroy the paper,” Wilder said.

Wilder said he was fascinated by the two files from 1966 in which attorneys encouraged the Texas State Bar to prevent Belli from representing Ruby, who gunned down Oswald on live television after he was arrested for killing President John F. Kennedy.

Belli tried to prove that Ruby was legally insane when he shot Oswald in Dallas more than 50 years ago. But Ruby was found guilty of murdering Oswald and sentenced to die.

Belli “exploded in rage when he heard the verdict and publicly accused Dallas of being ‘a sick, sick, sick city’ and said Ruby, a Jew, had been the victim of discrimination,” according to a New York Times article about Belli’s 1996 death.

Ruby’s sentence and verdict were overturned when judges ruled that a change of venue request should have been granted. He was preparing for a new trial when he became ill and died.

The Tarrant County files include a letter that Belli, based in San Francisco, sent to 96th District Judge Fisher T. Denny on June 10, 1966.

The letter stated in part, “I have no intention of being bound by (attorneys’) advice or suggestions. Knowing the facts, the State Bar of Texas may act as it is advised, and I say this respectfully.”

Also in the file are letters from attorneys throughout the state asking the Texas Bar to sanction Belli.

“Eventually the cases were dismissed,” Wilder said. “Both files have 99 pages and most are complaints about Belli’s conduct.

“Who would want to throw away (this file)?” Wilder asked. “I’m just not doing it.”

Tarrant County employees have been working to input more than 3 million paper case files into an electronic system for years, with the hope of preserving records and freeing up space where old paper files are stored.

Officials have said they’d like to put images of files dating back 100 years into the system.

Wilder began the imaging project in 2003.

When a “famous file” is found, those versions are imaged as the others are, but the paper files are kept.

A group of local people worked on and off for years to develop a list of dozens of famous files that would not be destroyed.

“We don’t want to be like the government storage in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” where the ark was misplaced,” Wilder joked.


Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, https://www.star-telegram.com

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