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April 9, 2004 - The Associated Press

Tulia Trials Prosecutor Could Be Disbarred

By Betsy Blaney

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

The State Bar of Texas has filed a disciplinary petition against the district attorney who prosecuted cases in the since-discredited Tulia drug busts, seeking sanctions that could include disbarment.

Terry McEachern is accused in the petition filed Wednesday with the Texas Supreme Court of not conveying information to defense attorneys about his knowledge of the criminal history of Tom Coleman, the lone undercover agent in the stings.

He is also accused of failing to correct testimony by Coleman that he knew was false. In five defendants' trials, Coleman said that he had no criminal history and had never been arrested.

Coleman was arrested in August 1998 -- before any trials -- on charges of theft and abuse of official capacity in Cochran County, where he worked previously. He paid $7,000 in restitution for debts incurred while working as an officer in Cochran County and for his alleged theft of gasoline there.

McEachern's punishment could range from a public reprimand to loss of his law license if the finding goes against him. He said Thursday that he had not seen the lawsuit.

"I can't comment because I haven't read it," he said.

He has 50 days to respond to the filing.

After Coleman's 18-month undercover operation, which ended in July 1999, 46 people were arrested, 39 of them black. Civil rights groups said the busts were racially motivated. Coleman, 44 and white, is no longer in law enforcement.

Last April, a judge ruled that Coleman was "simply not a credible witness" and recommended the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturn the convictions of the 38 people prosecuted and order new trials. In August, Gov. Rick Perry pardoned the defendants who were either found guilty or pleaded guilty.

An investigative panel found just cause that McEachern had committed misconduct, said Dawn Miller, chief disciplinary counsel with the State Bar of Texas.

"We consider this a very serious case and we intend to pursue it diligently," she said.

The State Bar filed the petition because McEachern wanted any disciplinary action against him pursued in a district court rather than before a grievance committee.

Shortly before a grand jury convened in July 1999 to consider the drug cases, Swisher County Sheriff Larry Stewart told McEachern about Coleman's charges and arrest, the petition claims. It also alleges that McEachern gave conflicting statements, one under oath, about his involvement in Coleman's background checks.

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