John Wiley Price, the flamboyant, often outspoken, bowtie-wearing Dallas County commissioner indicted on 13 counts of bribery, corruption, and tax evasion, heads to trial in early 2017.
The federal court in Dallas seeks a fair trial and unbiased jurors for this high-profile case. However, officials folded questions on race relations, plus social and criminal justice into a lengthy mailer intended to pool prospective jurors for the Price trial.
According to the Dallas Morning News, a 20-page questionnaire asks more than the standard civic and demographic information and inquires into how people feel on a variety of topics–the current state of U.S. race relations, what role they think race plays in the criminal justice system, if they believe blacks are more likely to commit crimes than whites, and if they have commented on anything related to Confederate heritage.
It also probes prospective jurors on Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. The questionnaire asks people about their political views, activities, and attitudes on federal agencies, law enforcement, and the courts. It inquires on potential juror opinions of Price, as well as his two co-defendants, Kathy Nealy and Dapheny Fain, who, last year, pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Price at the trial. The questionnaire inquires if potential jurors had contact with any of the accused.
The questionnaire also probes what people know about 40-plus current and former local politicians, business people, and Dallas County government workers, many of whom are expected to testify during the trial.
“The purpose of these questions is to determine whether prospective jurors can impartially decide a case based upon the evidence presented at trial and the instructions on the law given by the presiding judge,” the document said, according to the Dallas Morning News, which also stated Price’s defense attorneys did not seek a change of venue but they have concerns about their client getting a fair trial in the Dallas federal court, given longstanding media coverage of the case and Price’s normal high visibility as a county commissioner.
The trial starts on February 21 and expected to last through June 30, 2017. Previously, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn delayed the start date three times. She granted attorneys for Price and co-defendants Nealy, a Price political consultant, and his longtime assistant Fain, additional time to prepare for court. Lynn made the decision to start polling potential jurors early.
Price, federally indicted on 13 counts of corruption, stands accused of taking $950,000 in bribes over a 10-year period from businesses seeking Dallas County contracts, mail fraud, and tax evasion for withholding income from the Internal Revenue Service. In 2011, federal agents seized more than $450,000 from Price. About half of that was in cash that was located in a safe in his house. On the day he was arrested, in July, 2014, he had $11,000 cash on him. He since claimed financial hardship when it came to paying for his legal defense.
In March 2015, Breitbart Texas reported Price asked the federal court for a taxpayer subsidized lawyer, which was granted. However, presiding U.S. Magistrate Renee Toliver ruled that Price had to contribute $80,000 of his own money to his defense costs and had to pay $20,000 of that amount during the month. Following, he had to make $10,000 payments every two months until paid up. Toliver also ruled Price had to make $500 monthly payments during his trial. Then, in April, Toliver appointed a second defense attorney to Price’s case, saddling the taxpayers with additional legal expenses.
At the time, Price earned $141,236 a year as a Dallas county commissioner, owned two homes and an assortment of cars. This summer, the Dallas County Commissioners Court voted themselves a six percent pay raise bringing Price and his four fellow commissioners’ annual salaries to $154,200 each plus a yearly $9,300 car allowance, Breitbart Texas reported.
Price won his ninth consecutive term on the commissioner’s court earlier this year. He ran against rival Dwaine Caraway, a former Dallas County council member. During a heated campaign, the two wound up in a fist fight at a gospel radio station when Caraway accused Price of sleeping with his first wife and destroyed their marriage.
The Dallas Morning News attributed Price’s win to a deep bond with his southern Dallas County district where many see him as an advocate for people the establishment either ignores or exploits. He was first elected in 1984. Considered one of the most influential area politicians, Price faces the biggest corruption trial in Dallas’ history.
As recently as October 31, Price tried to get his corruption case dismissed. His lawyers claimed the government’s case was too vague and the search warrants the feds used to collect evidence were too broad and general, KDFW reported.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.