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Reading is difficult. As a writer, I help the reader every way I can think of. As a reader, I work hard not to miss the big things in the middle of the road.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Hon. Mr. Chris Oldner Fights Being Bullied in Collin County, Where Politics Is Not Beanbag

"Politics ain't beanbag."- Finley Peter Dunne

Before I had started on this post, I had thought that I knew what the six biggest counties in Texas were:

  1. Harris (Houston)
  2. Dallas
  3. Tarrant (Fort Worth)
  4. Bexar (San Antonio)
  5. Travis (Austin)
but I was wrong about the sixth. I thought it would have been El Paso County, but it appears to be Collin County (county seat McKinney, largest city Plano).

And so it is that two of the three of those seeing to take on the newly-turned-Democrat judge Larry Meyers on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are judges from the Collin County Courthouse: Messrs. Ray Wheless and Chris Oldner.
Once upon a time there were three friends: Chris Oldner,  Ken Paxton, and Ray Wheless. Oldner was the presiding judge of the 416th Judicial District Court in McKinney, and was the local administrative judge of the county. Paxton had been a state house member, was the state senator and had won the office of the Texas Attorney General in the last election, January 2015. Wheless was the presiding district judge of another Collin County court and Wheless's wife was presiding district judge of yet another Collin County Court. Oldner says that he had discussed running for higher office in 2012, and that Wheless had been supportive. Oldner ended up not running then. Oldner found Wheless running this cycle. Oldner said that Wheless told him that Wheless had already been running for a year by the time that Oldner decided to run. I would take it that the judges' meetings in McKinney are more formal than they used to be.

Paxton's people allege that Oldner is running a half-hearted campaign for a seat on the CCA because with Paxton's people against Oldner, Oldner would likely lose his bench in McKinney and that losing the CCA race would be a graceful exit. Oldner's campaign website is lame compared to his adversaries', and Oldner's campaigning appears leisurely compared to the Energizer Bunny of the Texas GOP, Wheless.

(A note about the EmpowerTexans.com website: I link to it to document the views of  Oldner's adversaries. I don't want to opine about what people think when they have posted on the internet exactly what they think. I want to show what they say, not to vouch for the truth of what they say-- c.f.  Texas Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2). A number of their characterizations of Oldner seem to me to be exaggerated, if not scurrilously unfounded, e.g., that Oldner is "unethical," that he "appears to have violated numerous ethics rules" in "orchestrating" the "outrageous" criminal indictment of . . . Paxton, Empower Texans's Tony McDonald cites the claims in Paxton's defense motions as facts without addressing the prosecution's responses, and nowhere do I see any discussion of the merits of the case against the AG. He makes much of a judicial ethics claim made against Oldner-- an unprepossessing document apparently made by a political ally of Paxton.  A link about a purported eight-year-old financial scandal goes to an anti-illegal-immigration Freedom of Information Act request form list.)
Paxton was indicted for securities fraud about seven months after he had risen to be the attorney general. The grand jury that indicted Paxton was called under the supervision of Oldner. A Texas state grand jury has 18 members, and four alternates. Grand jurors are generally called together to meet from time to time for meetings of a few hours scattered over three months. Oldner told me that for approximately the last five years he has only been choosing grand jurors by starting from a random list of panelists who would appear to be qualified to serve as grand jurors and alternates. The first 18 qualified and able would be the grand jury. The next four qualified and able would be the alternates, and that would be the end of the process. No gamesmanship, hardly any discretion about it.
In short, Oldner had only the very slightest influence on who was on his grand juries.
Other legal rules insulate grand jurors even more from the influence of presiding judges like Oldner.
Generally, grand jury proceedings are supposed to be secret. Although prosecutors help present the evidence, grand jury deliberations are done without any nonmembers present-- prosecutors are not there, presiding judges are absolutely not allowed in- no more than they are allowed to be in with the trial jury when the trial jury deliberates, even the grand jury's bailiff is outside the door, not inside, during deliberations. The grand juries approve and disapprove indictments. A person cannot be prosecuted for felonies and a few other crimes, if the grand jury does not indict, unless the person waives the right to be indicted.
There is no double jeopardy before a grand jury. A grand jury can be asked to reconsider a denial of an indictment, or a matter may be brought up again before another grand jury. A grand jury can investigate matters on its own initiative and can indict people law enforcement did not bring their attention to, even the prosecutors' office, one or more judges (even the judge presiding over the grand jury), even, say, the Attorney General of the State of Texas. This long explanation is to show how little direct influence a presiding judge can have over a grand jury.
In short, it is highly unlikely that Oldner, even if he had wanted to, could have "orchestrated" Paxton's indictment without his improper involvement being immediately, scandalously manifest, which it was not.
Oldner recused himself when Paxton reported for booking. And Paxton's been re-indicted anyway. From here, it is hard to see a foul, hard to see any harm.
Oldner says he's never been reversed on appeal. If true, that is an achievement to be proud of. He does not appear to have ever been a defense lawyer.
As for the substantively bad claims made about him, I think he was just in the wrong place in the wrong time when the Texas Attorney General wanted everybody to know that you don't tug on Superman's cape; you don't spit into the wind; you don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger; and you don't mess around with Ken.


  1. An earlier version of this post said, incorrectly, that the grand jury in Paxton's case was chosen by jury commissioners instead of randomly from a District Clerk's list.

  2. An earlier version of this post did not specify that the number of alternates in a "random list" grand jury selection was four.

  3. An anonymous reader claims that I lied in saying that Chris Oldner had self-reported on or about January 25, 2016 that he had never been reversed on appeal. I did pass on the self-report but did not check it, figuring that if HE was lying about it, I would be told soon enough. The blog itself shows that I corrected two factual errors in the original post.
    From time to time I editorialize here, but as to my pieces about CCA candidates, I seek to be unbiased and even-handed, warning my readers if I have a pre-existing friendship or other relation with my subject that might rise to the level of a conflict of interest.
    The accusation that my piece on Judge Oldner was advocacy of him is flatly wrong.
    I have just now searched for cases with the word "reversed" and "Chris Oldner" in them.
    Oldner was reversed in part in Plano Lincoln Mercury, Inc. v.Roberts, 167 S.W.3d 616, (Tex. App.-- Dallas, 2005, no pet.). Sefzik v. City of McKinney, 198 S.W.3d 884, Tex. App.--
    Dallas, 2007, no pet. was also a reversal. In a case dated Oct. 23, 2007, I find Anderson v. City of McKinney, 236 S.W.3d 481, 2007 (Tex. App.-- Dallas, no pet. h.) reversed in part. and recognized as abrogated Sept. 18, 2013. On June 26, 2008, Oldner was reversed in part in MobileVision Imaging Services v. LifeCare Hospitals of North Texas, 261 S.W.3d 561 (Tex. App.-- Dallas, no pet.). Dated Aug. 24, 2008, Oldner was reversed in part in Brookview Partners, L.P. v. G. Michael Hannah, D.D.S. 260 S.W.3d 643, Tex. App.-- Dallas, no pet. h.). Davis v. Hendrick Autoguard, Inc., 294 S.W.3d 835, (Tex. App.-- Dallas, 2009) (no pet.) was a reversal. Brown v. EMC Mortgage, 326 S.W.3d 648, (Tex. App.-- Dallas, June 7, 2007, (pet. denied) also was a reversal. So was Victoria Gardens of Frisco v. Walrath, 257 S.W.3d 284, (Tex. App.-- Dallas, 2008, pet. denied), as was TexVa, Inc. v. Boone, 300 S.W.3d 879, (Tex. App.-- 2007, pet. denied) and Reisler v. Reisler, 439 S.W.3d 615, (Tex. App.--Dallas, Aug. 4, 2014, no pet.). ViewPoint Bank v. Allied Property and Casualty, 439 S.W.3d 626, Tex. App.-- Dallas, Aug. 27, 2014) (pet. denied) was a reversal, as was McCulloch v. Scarbrough, Medlin & Associates 435 S.W.3d 871, Tex. App.-- Dallas June 20, 2014, pet. denied. Dated May 4, 2016, I find In the Interest of L.H., No. 05-15-00886-CV, 2016 WL 2586148 (Tex. App.-- Dallas, no pet. h.) (mem. op.) a reversal of Judge Oldner.
    Maybe from the context, he meant criminal cases, for which his statement appears to be true.
    At all events, the errors are regretted.