One morning in December, a district judge named Mike Lynch stepped on a courthouse elevator in Austin and gawked at the last hero and hope of Texas Democrats. Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney, has gray-black hair, a nose thickened and bent from being broken several times, and a protruding front tooth that slightly overlaps the other, which is chipped. His visage has been likened to that of a hanging judge, but when he grins, his other self comes across—ornery, funny, and a bit reckless. Lynch guffawed, because Ronnie did not customarily arrive at work amid the first wave of commuters and because he was wearing a blue suit, a white shirt, and a tie showing not one wrinkle. “Eight forty-five and you’re dressed like that?” Lynch ribbed him. “Who’s here to see you now?”
Ronnie ducked his head and muttered, “Esquire.”
I’ve known him fairly well, in an occasional and social way, for thirty years, and having recently collaborated on a book about Tom DeLay, I was more than familiar with Ronnie’s well-publicized investigation involving the House majority leader. The GOP gain of five House seats in last fall’s election consisted entirely of districts that the Legislature had gerrymandered to the specifications of DeLay and a few close friends. But last summer, Ronnie and staff prosecutors had presented evidence to a Travis County grand jury, which, in September, returned indictments against three prominent associates of DeLay’s and eight corporations on 32 counts of ...