State v. Hill, NOS. PD-0019-15

CourtTexas Court of Criminal Appeals
Writing for the CourtRICHARDSON, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
Citation499 S.W.3d 853
Parties The State of Texas v. Albert G. Hill, III, Appellee
Decision Date21 September 2016
Docket NumberNOS. PD-0019-15,PD-0020-15,PD-0021-15,PD-0022-15

499 S.W.3d 853

The State of Texas
v.
Albert G. Hill, III, Appellee

NOS. PD-0019-15
PD-0020-15
PD-0021-15
PD-0022-15

Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas.

DELIVERED: September 21, 2016


Charles “Chad” Baruch, Dallas, Lisa McMinn. State's Attorney, Austin, for the State.

George Rankin Milner III, Milner * Finn * Price, Dallas, L. T. “Butch” Bradt, Sugar Land, Michael Mowla, Cedar Hill, for Appellee.

OPINION

RICHARDSON, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Appellee, Albert G. Hill III and his wife, Erin Hill, were indicted in 2011 for making false and misleading written statements to Omni American Bank when procuring a $500,000 home-equity loan in 2009. The Hills were charged under Texas Penal Code, Section 32.32(b) (Making a False Statement to Obtain Property or Credit),1 and under Texas Penal Code, Section 32.46(a) (Securing Execution of a Document By Deception).2 Within six months, the State dismissed the indictments against Erin Hill. Shortly thereafter, Albert Hill III (hereinafter referred to as “Hill”) filed a motion to quash and dismiss his indictments. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing and granted Hill's motion to dismiss with prejudice.

The State appealed the trial court's order dismissing the indictments against Hill. The Fifth Court of Appeals sustained the State's first two points of error and reversed the dismissals, holding that the trial court judge “erred in conducting a hearing on Hill's motion to dismiss.”3

We disagree with the Fifth Court of Appeals and hold that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by conducting a pretrial evidentiary hearing on Hill's motion to dismiss. We reverse and remand the case to the court of appeals to address the State's third and fourth issues raised on appeal that challenge the trial court's dismissal of the indictments against Hill.

HILL'S PRETRIAL MOTION TO QUASH AND DISMISS

A. Events Prior To The Filing of Hill's Pretrial Motion to Quash and Dismiss

Hill is a member of a prominent Dallas family and a beneficiary of one of the H.L.

499 S.W.3d 855

Hunt family trusts created for Margaret Hunt, Hill's grandmother. Hill was involved in litigation against his father, Albert G. Hill Jr., (referred to herein as “Hill's father”), over the management of the trust (the “trust litigation”). Hill prevailed in the federal court trust litigation, but shortly thereafter was indicted by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office for mortgage fraud. These state court allegations of mortgage fraud were based upon conduct by Hill and his wife that was unrelated to the issues raised in the federal trust litigation.

Hill challenged the mortgage fraud allegations by filing a pretrial Motion to Quash and Dismiss Indictments Due to Prosecutorial Misconduct. Hill believes that his father, who (through his attorney) reported the allegations of mortgage fraud to the district attorney's office, was disgruntled over the outcome of the federal trust litigation. Hill claims that the District Attorney, Craig Watkins, was under the influence of Hill's father and under the influence of Lisa Blue Baron (who had a pending federal lawsuit against Hill seeking several million dollars in attorneys fees arising out of the federal trust litigation). Hill claimed that the State's prosecution against him was vindictive and that he was selectively prosecuted for conduct that does not normally lead to criminal prosecution.

The following time line summarizes the background facts presented by Hill in support of his motion to quash and dismiss:

November 2009 During the pendency of the multi-billion dollar federal trust litigation among Hill, Hill's father, and the trust, Hill became dissatisfied with his attorneys and hired a new team of lawyers, on a contingent fee basis, to take over from his prior counsel. The new team included Lisa Blue (aka Lisa Blue Baron, but referred to herein as “Blue”), Charla Aldous, Stephen Malouf, and their affiliated law firms. (These lawyers are collectively referred to as “BAM” in several of the federal court pleadings).

February 18, 2010 A federal judge presiding over the trust litigation entered an order finding that Hill's father had testified falsely and had submitted, in bad faith, evidence in connection with the trust litigation. The federal court order also found that arguments advanced by Hill's father's counsel, Michael Lynn, “far exceeded the bounds of advocacy, permissible or otherwise.”

February 22, 2010 Four days after this adverse ruling in the trust litigation, Hill's father's attorney, Michael Lynn, delivered a Memorandum to the Chief of the Specialized Crime Division of the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, listing various criminal offenses committed by Hill and his wife. The memorandum states that Hill and his wife executed fraudulent loan documents when applying for a $500,000 home equity loan back in May of 2009. In part, it was alleged that Hill and his wife misrepresented that they owned 100% of their home, when in reality they owned 20% and the trust owned 80%.

February 22, 2010 That same day, Donna Strittmatter, an assistant district attorney, called Stephanie Martin, another assistant district attorney, into a meeting and gave her a copy of the complaint.

March 2010 to Oct. 2010 Jeffrey Tillotson, law partner of Michael Lynn, donated a total of $48,500 in three contributions to the re-election campaign of Dallas County District Attorney, Craig Watkins.
499 S.W.3d 856
May 2010 The federal trust litigation settled. The settlement represented a substantial financial victory for Hill.

July 2010 Hill's team of attorneys (who included Blue) filed a motion to withdraw as Hill's counsel in the federal trust litigation.

October 2010 Three months after withdrawing from the federal trust litigation, Hill's attorneys filed a federal complaint against the Hills seeking $50 million in attorneys fees.

January 2011 The parties to the fee dispute litigation (Hill and the attorneys) entered into a written agreement to start trial in federal court on April 18, 2011.

January 2011 Donna Strittmatter and Stephanie Martin attended a “pitch session”4 regarding the complaint that had been brought against the Hills almost a year earlier. Watkins was present at that pitch session, as were other assistant district attorneys.

March 2011 Blue exchanged numerous phone calls and text messages with Watkins and his assistant in the weeks before the indictments were returned. Hill alleged that the pattern of phone calls and text messages between Blue and Watkins revealed a “dramatic spike” in communications in the weeks before the indictments were returned and that the “heated exchange of calls” between Blue and Watkins ended after the indictments were announced. Hill provided evidence of Blue's phone records reflecting that she placed or received a total of 37 calls to or from Watkins's office and cell phone numbers. Of these 37 calls, 14 occurred in March 2011 alone, the month the Hills were indicted, including 6 on the night before the indictments were presented to the Grand Jury. Blue's records reflect an additional 28 calls and text messages with Watkins's secretary, 19 of which were in March 2011.5

March 3, 2011 Blue met with Watkins to take publicity photos in connection with a $100,000 donation Blue made in Watkins's honor to SMU law school in 2010.

March 9, 2011 Blue had a fund raiser for Watkins at her house and contributed $5000 to Watkins's campaign.

March 30, 2011 Blue traded seven calls with Watkins's cell phone number. Blue and Watkins again met for dinner.

March 31, 2011 A Dallas grand jury returned multiple indictments against the Hills for the offenses of making a
499 S.W.3d 857
false statement to obtain property or credit and securing execution of a document by deception.

April 4, 2011 Hill and his wife were notified by the Dallas County District Attorney's Office that they had been indicted on multiple felony counts of mortgage fraud and that warrants had been issued for their arrests. They claim that this was the first they had heard of any such investigation.

April 20, 2011 The federal fee dispute trial began. Hill and his wife were advised not to testify in light of the indictments against them. After the trial, the magistrate judge made findings against the Hills and in favor of Blue and the team of attorneys.

June 14, 2011 Blue gave a court-ordered deposition in connection with the federal fee dispute litigation. She admitted during this deposition that she had gone to talk to First Assistant district attorney, Terri Moore, about the indictment against the Hills because Hill was “not just [her] client, he was a close friend.” Blue also admitted that she had received a call from Craig Watkins “shortly before the indictments came down,” and he “said something about the—there was—there could be an indictment or are you still interested in the indictments. ...” Blue said that she responded to Watkins by saying that she didn't “represent the Hills anymore and so it would be inappropriate for [her] to talk about it.” When asked if she spoke on any other occasion with any employee or representative of the District attorney's office regarding the Hills, she responded, “not that I recall.” Blue mentioned that there was one other phone conversation with Watkins, but she stated that she could not
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89 practice notes
  • State v. Bolles, NO. PD-0791-16
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • October 18, 2017
    ...Alexander to determine whether a visual depiction of a child's breast constituted a "lewd exhibition").73 See State v. Hill , 499 S.W.3d 853, 872 n. 67 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016) ("[T]his Court is not bound by cases interpreting federal law." (citing Osbourn v. State , 92 S.......
  • Ex parte Chapa, NO. 03-18-00104-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • August 22, 2018
    ...court acts "arbitrarily or unreasonably" or "without reference to any guiding rules and principles," State v. Hill, 499 S.W.3d 853, 865 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016) (quoting Montgomery v. State, 810 S.W.2d 372, 380 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990)), or unless the trial court's decision ......
  • Atkinson v. State, NO. 03-19-00204-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • March 12, 2021
    ...court acts "arbitrarily or unreasonably" or "without reference to any guiding rules and principles." State v. Hill, 499 S.W.3d 853, 865 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016) (quoting Montgomery v. State, 810 S.W.2d 372, 380 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990)). Further, we may not reverse the trial......
  • Faglie v. State, NO. 03-17-00281-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • February 22, 2019
    ...court acts "arbitrarily or unreasonably" or "without reference to any guiding rules and principles." State v. Hill, 499 S.W.3d 853, 865 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016) (quoting Montgomery v. State, 810 S.W.2d 372, 380 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990)). Further, we may not reverse the trial......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
89 cases
  • State v. Bolles, NO. PD-0791-16
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
    • October 18, 2017
    ...Alexander to determine whether a visual depiction of a child's breast constituted a "lewd exhibition").73 See State v. Hill , 499 S.W.3d 853, 872 n. 67 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016) ("[T]his Court is not bound by cases interpreting federal law." (citing Osbourn v. State , 92 S.......
  • Ex parte Chapa, NO. 03-18-00104-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • August 22, 2018
    ...court acts "arbitrarily or unreasonably" or "without reference to any guiding rules and principles," State v. Hill, 499 S.W.3d 853, 865 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016) (quoting Montgomery v. State, 810 S.W.2d 372, 380 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990)), or unless the trial court's decision ......
  • Atkinson v. State, NO. 03-19-00204-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • March 12, 2021
    ...court acts "arbitrarily or unreasonably" or "without reference to any guiding rules and principles." State v. Hill, 499 S.W.3d 853, 865 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016) (quoting Montgomery v. State, 810 S.W.2d 372, 380 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990)). Further, we may not reverse the trial......
  • Faglie v. State, NO. 03-17-00281-CR
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • February 22, 2019
    ...court acts "arbitrarily or unreasonably" or "without reference to any guiding rules and principles." State v. Hill, 499 S.W.3d 853, 865 (Tex. Crim. App. 2016) (quoting Montgomery v. State, 810 S.W.2d 372, 380 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990)). Further, we may not reverse the trial......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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