There are a lot of words used to describe the special prosecutor who secured an indictment against Gov. Rick Perry.
Formidable. Faithful. Aggressive.
But partisan is not how those who have worked with Michael McCrum, the former federal prosecutor and defense attorney from San Antonio, describe him.
Lawyer Solomon L. Wisenberg said he didn't want to comment on the strength of the indictment. But Wisenberg, who spent years working with McCrum when the two were section chiefs at the U.S. attorney’s office in San Antonio, said: "The idea he would be doing it for partisan reasons is total bullshit.”
If McCrum has a political party affiliation, he keeps it to himself, friends say. Voting records for McCrum appear to show he doesn't vote in primaries, which would give some clue as to his political leanings. He gives to candidates in both parties. And he had bipartisan support in 2009 when he was nominated to be U.S. attorney in San Antonio.
He was tapped to be the prosecutor in the Perry investigation by a Republican senior judge in San Antonio, Robert C. "Bert" Richardson. Perry was indicted Friday on two felony counts alleging he overstepped his authority when the Republican governor vetoed $7.5 million from an anticorruption task force overseen by the Travis County District Attorney's office. Perry removed the funds after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, refused to step down after a drunken driving arrest. Perry has said the allegations against him are meritless and politically motivated.
McCrum's relationship with Richardson is more business than political. Richardson once worked for McCrum years ago when the two were assistant federal prosecutors in San Antonio.
Those who look for political influence when it comes to the way McCrum operates are wasting their time, say Wisenberg and others. They say McCrum is ruled more by the teachings of the Bible and his own internal moral compass.
“He’s a totally straight arrow in my book,” said Wisenberg.
“He’s very smart, very aggressive. He was a great prosecutor,” said John E. Murphy, who once supervised McCrum in the U.S. attorney’s office in San Antonio and would later be his rival for the top federal prosecutor job in 2009. “He has a really good reputation as a defense attorney.”
But McCrum’s intentions and his possible political leanings, not his track record, are what became the stuff of speculation on Twitter and in the media following the late Friday indictment returned against Perry.
After presenting some 40 witnesses to the grand jurors who have met every other Friday for months, they returned an indictment charging Perry, a potential presidential candidate.
There’s historical friction between Republicans and the public integrity unit, which is a part of Lehmberg’s office. Travis County is predominantly Democratic, but the court complaint about Perry’s actions before and after he made good on removing funding for the public integrity unit wasn’t pursued by Lehmberg’s office or any of her Travis County prosecutors.
The case, which stems from a complaint by a public advocacy group, was kicked to San Antonio after Austin prosecutors recused themselves. That’s how McCrum ended up as special prosecutor.
“There were people who suggested he might look into running for Bexar County criminal district attorney,” said Murphy. “But he apparently had no interest in it.”
McCrum, a former police officer in Arlington and Dallas, went to law school at St. Mary’s University and from there, to the U.S. attorney’s office San Antonio. He left in 2000 to go into private practice.
In 2009, McCrum was nominated by President Obama to be the U.S. attorney in San Antonio. Both Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, and Texas’ two Republican U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, supported McCrum’s nomination.
But because the process to confirm McCrum and other federal nominees took so long, McCrum took his name out of consideration for the job in 2010 and continued in private practice as a defense attorney.
"I have nothing but admiration and respect for my friend and was very disappointed that Mike did not become the United States Attorney for the Western District," said Jack Frels, who now teaches at Sam Houston State University but also worked with McCrum when the two were assistant federal prosecutors in San Antonio.
According to campaign finance records, McCrum has made only a handful of contributions to state and federal candidates, but his donations are to candidates of both parties.
In 2007, he gave $300 to Steven C. Hilbig, a Republican who won a seat that year on the Texas Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio and $500 to the campaign of U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio.
In 2008, McCrum contributed $500 to the former federal prosecutor he worked with, Richardson, who would eventually appoint him special prosecutor in the Perry case. Richardson was trying to hold onto his 379th state district judge seat that year. Richardson lost that race and is now a senior or visiting judge based out of Bexar County. Richardson is also the Republican nominee for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3.
Richardson declined to comment about his former boss when contacted over the weekend by The Texas Tribune.
The case against Perry started more than a year ago after Texans for Public Justice, a public advocacy group, filed a complaint after hearing the governor’s vow to veto funding for the public integrity unit.
Perry had insisted that if Lehmberg did not step down following her April 2013 drunken driving arrest, he’d pull the unit's tw0-year funding.
The unit has been a political thorn in the side of politicians for years. Lehmberg’s predecessor, Ronnie Earle, indicted former Attorney General Jim Mattox, Hutchison and former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
In San Antonio legal circles, many still recall, with admiration, how McCrum successful won an acquittal in a 2005 federal tax fraud against fellow attorney Alan Brown.
After 29 days of testimony, the jurors sided with McCrum’s client within an hour.
Earlier this year, McCrum was accused of contempt because prosecutors believed the defense attorney told a key witness in an intoxication manslaughter trial to evade questioning by getting “lost for a while.” He has denied the allegation, and the 4th Court of Appeals ruled prosecutors missed a deadline to file the claim against McCrum. The case is expected to be appealed.
When McCrum’s not in the courtroom, or at his law office, he can often be found at Riverside Community Church in Bulverde, says Pastor Scott Heare.
“On Sunday mornings, he handles the sound and computer stuff,” said Heare, who has known McCrum for more than a decade.
McCrum accompanied Heare on a church trip to Israel, and McCrum has taught Sunday school classes, as well as been a fill-in at the pulpit, delivering sermons.
Heare described McCrum as a thoughtful and faithful man who has coached junior high football at Bracken Christian School, a pre-K-through-12 private school in Bulverde where both McCrum’s children and Heare’s children attend.
“I love Mike,” Heare said. “He’s one of those guys, I wish I had 20 of them.”
Heare said that once when he asked McCrum how he could defend a certain client, he was treated to a passionate civic lesson from his attorney friend.
“He said it’s important to have a vigorous defense as well as a vigorous prosecution and if that is not done well and excellently, then our country doesn’t have the justice we should,” Heare recalled. “If there is something that is not right, if there’s an injustice, even if a sliver in it, it will bother him.”
In all the years he’s known him, Heare said he has no idea where his political leanings lie.
“I’m not a Republican or a Democrat,” Heare said. “I’ve never felt that about him, either.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/08/18/mccrum-story/.