Don and Sheila Hill: The Unfair Park Interview
A little more than 24 hours after a jury found Don and Sheila Hill guilty on a total of 12 counts in the City Hall corruption case, the two sat down with me for a lengthy interview at the offices of Baker Botts on the 11th floor of Trammell Crow Center. Space constraints prevented much of our conversation from appearing in this week's cover story about the trial, so I've pulled together the highlights in the form of a Q & A after the jump, along with a slide show, which includes some never-before-seen photos from the trial.
Photos and cutlines by Danny Fulgencio An inclination for religious references did not save Don Hill from lawful judgment.
The Hills were generous with their time (we spoke for approximately two and a half hours), and even though Sheila's attorney, Victor Vital, and Don's consultant, Ken Carter, were on hand, there was little interference. And no question was off-limits. In the aftermath of the verdicts, both seemed focused on their 16-year-old daughter from Sheila's previous marriage to Eric Farrington, who's also a convicted felon. Don says his stepdaughter, who's a junior in high school, wants them to be at her graduation next year. "She's strong, and rightly so, she is a little anxious about what this all means for her mother and pops and her own life in what she wants to do."
Don says his two grown daughters from his previous marriage to Vivian have "pretty much" stuck with him throughout the trial. "It's difficult when your dad's name is in the news and across the paper. Sometimes they wonder about what they should say."
Since the indictments two years ago, Don says he's been smeared professionally, impairing his ability to earn an income, so he and Sheila have scaled their lifestyles down to the bare essentials. They've depended on strong support from their church, family and friends to supplement the limited amount of law Don has been able to practice while Sheila has been serving as his assistant. "The government went to people I've developed relationships with and interviewed them, showed them evidence and played wiretaps," he says.
Even though they both have no complaints about their representation, the two are optimistic about their chances of winning an appeal. "We're not knocked out. We're just going to keep pressing through to the very end," Don says. "We thought today would be truly the first day of the rest of our lives because we'd be moving on, but we're not. We're still in the fight."
Talk to me a little bit about what was going through your minds when the verdicts on count 10 (the first one) were read.
Jurors found Don guilty of seven of the nine counts against him, including conspiracy to commit bribery and extortion.
Don: I don't remember very much on count 10 after [Judge Barbara Lynn] called Sheila's name and said, "Guilty." It was so unexpected and so numbing that I really didn't adjust after that. I am more alert and alive today than I was yesterday because it just took your breath away in some respects when you're stunned by something and you don't immediately grasp all the dimensions of what that means -- you just know that it's a shock to your system.
Sheila: The last thing you expect to hear is what we heard, primarily because, yes, we are doing this in faith, but even more so, there was not one piece of hard evidence produced. There was so much reasonable doubt, it's unreal ... The last thing I expected was what we heard. I was stunned.
Obviously you believe you're innocent, but is there that little part of you right beforehand where you're thinking about the possibility of guilty verdicts coming down -- is any of that going through your head?
Don: I never got there. And one of the things that I had just tried to work on was just trying to deal with any kind of doubt. And the more and more we went through the trial, the less and less doubt I had, so that by the time we got to the jury announcement, I didn't even have to resist doubt ... There wasn't anything that I was thinking standing there other than we were about to hear a not guilty verdict, and we were about to explain to the citizens of Dallas that this dark cloud over City Hall has now been lifted.
Don, a lot of people in the community look at you before and after Sheila, and there's certainly a correlation between your relationship and the events of the trial. Can you speak a little about the perception that somehow Sheila is the bad influence in your life?
Don: I think that comment probably comes from people that knew me at a distance and really didn't know me really that well. She has been the very best thing for me in my life. God was the architect of putting us together. It was probably my most significant regret that I didn't marry her a whole lot sooner than I did. So for those people who would say that, they really didn't know me ... The kinds of things that I was doing in '04 and '05, I will tell you, those were things I was doing in '03 and '02.
Sheila: People speculate all the time. They don't know the truth. They're not close enough to know the truth. It's anything but that. It's not a bad seed. It's not a bad situation. It's definitely not a bad arrangement. We're truly a union that God has joined together, and we know it, and we're proud of it. So, no, but I suppose that answer would be biased coming from me (laughs).
Is there ever a point when you guys think about in some respects that Farrington & Associates, all these things, wouldn't have existed had you guys not been together?
Sheila: Five years ago, would you have imagined you'd be here today? You don't know what tomorrow brings. You embrace life as it comes, and our paths crossed. We were doing good things. We were trying to work in our community and to give of ourselves to create a better situation for lives and the community. If that's ugly, that makes not doing it beautiful. Is it better to look at the disparities in communities and sit back and do nothing, or you don't have any power, but you might have a strategy, idea or theory as to how you might create a better situation? So why not put forth the energy and effort to do that?
Don, has there ever been a point that you regretted taking the stand and testifying?
Don: Well, no, there really wasn't, and the reason I say that is because my lawyers visited with me -- not just Ray Jackson, but Victor, who I basically viewed as our lawyer anyway, and even Ted Steinke talked to me -- very directly about the decision that I was making. And there really wasn't any hesitation because I just felt that no matter what the position of the evidence was, I just felt that I had to get to those 12, 13 jurors and explain to them -- if I did it the best way, or maybe stumbling a little or whatever -- I had to let them see as best as I could who I was. And from a reputation standpoint, I felt like I had to say under oath in front of everybody that was there -- the jury and the city -- I had to be able to say no, I never tried to compel, force or pressure Brian Potashnik into doing anything for Sheila, and I didn't try to extort any money from Bill Fisher.
A concern from one of the jurors (Nedra Frazier) was that you had testified that you didn't have a fax machine at your house, and there was in fact a fax machine photographed at your house by the FBI. Do you think the fact that you were willing to lie about something like that might have raised doubts in their minds that you were willing to lie about other things?
Don: I guess I do understand that. At the same time, pick one other example. Brian Potashnik gets on the stand and says that he has absolutely no idea that D'Angelo Lee is working on the Farrington & Associates contract. When we listened to wiretaps where he's asking D'Angelo not only about the bills that are being sent and whether the detail is sufficient, but he also talked to him about Central Dallas Ministries and trying to get ownership of Summer Breeze, which was also part of it. So if you're going to say that if he'll lie about the fax machine, he'll lie about something else, but then at the same time when you get clearly questionable testimony from Brian Potashnik, and that's not really counted against him from what we seem to be saying right now, then it seems to me there's more going on than just if Don will lie about one thing, he must lie about something else.
Sheila: (talking to Don) I think you need to clarify that you didn't deliberately lie about the fax machine. Tell him why...
Don: No, no, no, no. The thing that I testified on the fax machine was that I looked at the fax machine and said, "I think that's my wife's, but I'm not certain." If you look at my testimony, that's what I said.
Sheila: But prior to that, you said you didn't have a fax machine.
Don: I didn't have a fax machine, yes.
Sheila: So what I'm trying to get you to tell him is why did you say that, or would you like me to?
Don: Yeah, you should tell him because I'm not sure what you're saying now.
Sheila: (laughing) You didn't remember. That's how unfortunately detached you were. You didn't remember that there was a fax there or not.
Don: Well, yes. Yes. Yes. But...
Sheila: You couldn't tell what was there.
Don: But that was, at least in my judgment, that was an issue that should have been evaluated based on the evidence. In some way, it seems to be suggested now that it was looked upon as a litmus test for whether Don Hill was a truth teller or not.