lawyer

Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Austin has more than 200 venues that put on multiple shows a week. For young bands trying to book their first shows, figuring out how and where to start can be overwhelming. Venue calendars are often full with national touring acts and established local acts, making it difficult for smaller local bands to break into the schedule. 

The barrier between these bands and the stage is typically a booking agent or club manager. 

“I probably get 10 submissions a day,” said Max Meehan, a booker at Beerland. “In a whole week, maybe two or three are worthwhile. Most of them are either terrible fits or just plain terrible.” 

Booking agents are looking for fairly basic requirements from submissions they get from new bands. James Taylor, manager of Holy Mountain, explained that what most young bands need to work on is simply being able to write a coherent email with links to music or live videos. Some booking agents, such as Taylor, require some sort of recording from prospective bands, while others prefer live clips to get a feel for the band’s stage presence. 

“It’s so easy to get a cheap recording these days, [that] there’s really no excuse,” Taylor said. 

There are plenty of venues in town including Beerland and Holy Mountain that mostly book local bands. There are also larger companies, such as Transmission Events, which handle the booking for Mohawk, Red 7, Fun Fun Fun Fest and occasional shows at venues such as The Parish, The Belmont, Hotel Vegas and ACL-Live. While Transmission focuses on booking and promoting touring acts, it also books local acts to support those touring acts, and sometimes to headline its own shows.  

Marcus Lawyer, a talent buyer associate for Transmission, books the local bands for those shows. While other Transmission employees book the national touring acts that come through Austin, Lawyer’s job is almost entirely focused on finding and breaking local bands. Bands have to work their way up, though, as Lawyer typically won’t book a local band to open for a touring act or play a festival slot unless he already has a relationship with them.

“I usually have to work with the band a few times before I add them as support because I want to know they’re the right band for the bill,” Lawyer said. 

In order to work their way up to that point, bands have to prove themselves by playing slots on local bills and conducting themselves in a professional manner, like simply showing up on time. 

“There will be shows where load-in is at 7, doors at 9, show at 10,” Lawyer said. “Don’t show up at 9:45 with your drum kit.”

Since so many bands are emailing these booking agents on a daily basis, the majority of them will end up getting rejected. This is often not as harsh as it sounds. Sometimes, Lawyer and Taylor will tell bands to stay in touch and reach back out when they have more experience playing together. 

“There are bands that I just don’t think are ready to play Holy Mountain, in which case I try to encourage them to keep at it and touch base at a later date,” Taylor said.  

One thing bands can do to improve their chances of booking a show is find a couple of other bands they are friends with and go to the venue with a pre-made lineup. If a band can do this, it benefits the venue because, then, the booking agent doesn’t have to worry about seeking out two or three other bands to flesh out the lineup. Sometimes new bands will also only draw a few fans that leave after the set, but, if all the bands are friends, there’s a greater chance that people will stick around and buy more drinks, which is how venues make money.

Lawyer stressed that venues aren’t always the best places for bands to start. His advice is that a band plays a house show for friends first. House shows serve as comfortable settings that don’t have the added pressure of being in a venue where the band might be worried about bringing a lot of people out to the show.

“If you can pack a house show, you can bring a comfortable crowd to a venue,” Lawyer said. 

Editor’s note: We will feature higher education bills filed for Texas’ 83rd legislative session, which begins Jan. 8, every day until the end of the semester.

A series of bills for the upcoming legislative session would facilitate the establishment of new schools and educational programs, including a proposed UT law school in the Rio Grande Valley.

State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, filed a bill that would grant the UT System Board of Regents the authority to establish and operate a law school in Cameron or Hidalgo counties, two border counties near the Gulf of Mexico.

Lucio’s legislative director Houston Tower said the region’s distance from law schools in Austin, San Antonio and Houston discourages residents from attending those schools.

“Most [residents who pursue a legal career] have to uproot themselves, which at their income level is not feasible,” Tower said.

He said the proposed school would combat a perceived shortage of lawyers in the region compared to other areas of the state.

Cameron County has one lawyer for every 768 residents and a population of 414,123, according to a study of attorney population density for 2011-2012 gathered by the State Bar of Texas. With a population of 797,810, Hidalgo County has one lawyer for every 832 residents.

In contrast, Travis County has one lawyer for every 115 residents and a population of more than 1 million, Bexar County has one lawyer for every 320 residents and a population of close to 2 million and Harris County has one lawyer for every 193 residents with a population of more than 4 million.

Lucio has introduced the bill during the past three legislative sessions, but it did not gain approval from the House Higher Education Committee.

Tower said the committee was concerned about the proposed school’s budgetary impact. He said the school would cost the state more than $80 million over a five-year period for construction costs, hiring faculty and operations.

“That tends to be the barrier that we face [in passing the bill],” Tower said.

The bill would direct the board to ask the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to conduct a feasibility study to determine what the System must do to seek accreditation for the law school before its establishment.

Another bill introduced by state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, would allow the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso to become an independent institution with the Texas Tech System rather than a branch of the Health Sciences Center based in Lubbock.

If the bill passes, the center would hire its own president and administration, have the authority to issue degrees and allow the Texas Tech Board of Regents to establish teaching hospitals affiliated with the campus.

State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, filed a bill that would allow the University of Houston’s College of Optometry to operate a summer optometry program.

Printed on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 as: Bills endorse new Texas schools

Abraham Vences and his mother sat across from a lawyer at a clinic on campus Saturday afternoon as the three meticulously reviewed the application that could give him the opportunity to work and live in the United States without fear of being deported.

A recent high school graduate, Vences was one of many undocumented residents who attended a clinic aimed at helping applicants complete paperwork to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, process.

University Leadership Initiative, a student group that organizes programs and advocates for legislation that benefits the undocumented community, organized the clinic. This semester, ULI has devoted most of its time to helping students and community members apply for DACA, a policy President Obama announced in June that gives certain undocumented immigrants temporary legal work status and relief from deportation proceedings. The clinic Saturday was the fifth ULI has organized this semester. The UT Law School’s Immigration Clinic has also assisted applicants in the Austin area.

Javier Huamani, mechanical engineering senior and ULI historian, said the clinics offer applicants reliable legal advice without requiring them to pay hundreds of dollars in legal fees.

“One of the biggest issues that occurred in the very beginning when the application came out was scams and people just wanting to take advantage of what was happening,” Huamani said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure these people have the right information and they don’t have to pay anything for it.”

The clinic Saturday offered applicants free access to volunteers who helped organize their paperwork and lawyers who reviewed the applications. Huamani said most people need to get their applications reviewed by a lawyer before they submit it.

“This is a one-shot application,” Huamani said. “If you get denied there’s no reapplying. So it’s pertinent for you to be as meticulous as possible when working on the application.” 

Virginia Raymond, an immigration lawyer in Austin who volunteered at the clinic, said the documents applicants submit offer a glimpse into the lives of many of the undocumented immigrants. To be approved, applicants use personal records to prove they were younger than 16-years-old when they arrived in the U.S. and have resided here since June 15, 2007, among other requirements.

“You see all of these class photos from kindergarten up and the vaccination records and soccer photos and little notes from teachers,” Raymond said. “It’s tremendously inspiring and rewarding.”

The Obama administration released statistics Friday showing that more than 53,000 applicants have been approved since the application period began in August. Out of the 308,935 applications received nationwide, Texas ranked second among all states with 47,727 applications submitted. Most applications are still in the review process. ULI estimates they have helped 50 people apply.

Abraham Vences will soon be one of those hundreds of thousands of applicants betting their futures on the fate of their applications. After completing his paperwork Saturday, Vences said he was hopeful his approval would open new doors of opportunity in his future.

“I can find a job without having to worry about being deported, and go to school and do anything an American can,” Vences said.

Printed on Monday, November 19, 2012 as: Organization offers free legal aid to undocumented immigrants

UT graduate student faces trial Iran

UT physics graduate student Omid Kokabee  plead not guilty to communicating with a hostile government and receiving illegitimate funds Tuesday at his trial in Iran. Reports relayed to Eugene Chudnovsky, physics professor and member of the American Physics Society, predicted a grim outlook for his trial.

“The lawyer said that he was not very optimistic because the punishments handed down in court today were quite harsh,” Chudnovsky said.

Kokabee was not permitted to defend himself in court other than by written statement.

“According to an email from his lawyer, Kokabee was not even allowed to speak in court,” Chudnovsky said. “He was only allowed to submit answers in writing. After all these months he has not been allowed to talk to his lawyer.”

Chudnovsky said this was the first case of a student being detained for obtaining a United States visa.

“They do have a history of detaining scientists,” Chudnovsky said. “This is the first time a student visa has been considered as associating with a hostile government however. There are many Iranian students who are exactly in the same situation and are scared.”

John Keto, director of the UT physics graduate program said Kokabee’s Iranian classmates now fear going home to Iran.

“Most are now concerned about travel back to Iran, even for a visit,” Keto said.

People in the physics department are working delicately with scientific organizations to help advocate for Kokabee’s release.

“A serious outcry from the US may have been interpreted by the Iranian courts as interference  and evidence confirming the allegations of Omid’s working with the US government.” Keto said.  “This was why for the first four months Omid’s family requested that we keep our knowledge of the situation confidential.”

Daniel Chong appears at a news conference where he discussed his detention by the DEA during a news conference on Tuesday in San Diego.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO — A college student picked up in a federal drug sweep in California was never arrested, never charged and should have been released. Instead, authorities say, he was forgotten in a holding cell for four days.

Without food, water or access to a toilet, Daniel Chong had to drink his own urine to survive and began hallucinating after three days because of a lack of nourishment, his lawyer said.

“He nearly died,” Eugene Iredale said. “If he had been there another 12 to 24 hours, he probably would have died.” The top Drug Enforcement Administration agent in San Diego apologized Wednesday for Chong’s treatment and promised an investigation into how his agents could have forgotten about him.

Iredale said he intends to seek damages from the DEA, and may file a lawsuit against the government.

The incident stands out as one of the worst cases of its kind, said Thomas Beauclair, deputy director of the National Corrections Institute, a federal agency that provides training and technical assistance to corrections agencies.

“That is pretty much unheard of,” he said, noting that, in his 40-year career, he has heard of instances where people were forgotten overnight but not for days.

The U-T San Diego was the first to report Chong’s account. Iredale said Chong, an engineering student at the University of California, San Diego, went to his friend’s house on April 20 to get high. Every April 20th, pot smokers light up in a counterculture ritual held around the country at 4:20 p.m.

Chong fell asleep and, around 9 a.m. the next day, Iredale said, agents swept through the house in a raid that netted 18,000 ecstasy pills, other drugs and weapons. Nine people, including Chong, were taken into custody.

Chong was questioned for four hours and then told that he would be released, Iredale said. Chong was handcuffed and placed back in the same cell, a 5-by-10-foot windowless room. The DEA said there are five cells at the facility.

The only view out was through a tiny peephole in the door. He could hear the muffled voices of agents and the sound of the door of the next cell being opened and closed, Iredale said. As the hours dragged into days, he kicked and screamed as loud as he could, he said.

At one point, he ripped a piece of his clothing off and shoved it under the door, hoping someone would spot it and free him, his attorney said. Chong also ripped away foam from the wall.

Chong drank his own urine to survive. He bit into his eyeglasses to break them and then tried to use a shard to scratch “Sorry Mom” into his arm. He stopped after the “S,” the attorney said. He said he believes Chong was thinking of killing himself.

Then the lights went out. He sat in darkness until the door finally opened April 25, Iredale said.

Chong told agents that he ingested a white powder they later identified as methamphetamine. It was not clear how the powder got into the cell. Chong told them it was not his, the lawyer said.

Paramedics took him to a hospital where he was treated for cramps, dehydration, a perforated esophagus (from swallowing a glass shard) and kidney failure, his lawyer said.

Chong was not going to be charged with a crime and should have been released, said a law enforcement official who was briefed on the DEA case and spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak about the ongoing investigation.

Chong spent three days in intensive care and five total at the hospital before leaving Sunday.

“The DEA’s answer to this is: ‘Oh, we forgot about him. I’m sorry,’” Iredale said.

The top DEA agent in San Diego, William R. Sherman, said in a news release that he was “deeply troubled” by what happened to Chong. “I extend my deepest apologies (to) the young man,” he said.

Sherman said the event is not indicative of the high standards to which he holds his employees. He said he has personally ordered an extensive review of his office’s policies and procedures. The agency declined to say what those were.

Printed on Thursday, May 3, 2012 as: College student forgotten in cell for 4 days

A protester is detained by security forces in front of the Saudi Embassy in Cairo during a demonstration to demand the release of a human rights lawyer detained in Saudi Arabia for allegedly insulting the monarch.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia closed its Cairo embassy Saturday and recalled its ambassador following protests over a detained Egyptian human rights lawyer in a sharp escalation of tension between two regional powerhouses already on shaky terms due to uprisings in the Arab world.

The unexpected Saudi diplomatic break came following days of protests by hundreds of Egyptians outside the Saudi Embassy in Cairo and consulates in other cities to demand the release of Ahmed el-Gezawi. Relatives and human rights groups say he was detained for allegedly insulting the kingdom’s monarch.

Saudi authorities denied that and said he was arrested for trying to smuggle anti-anxiety drugs into the conservative oil-rich kingdom.

The collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime last year in Egypt stunned Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, which saw it as a sign of its own potential vulnerabilities and how Western backing can suddenly shift away from longtime allies.

Saudi officials have increasingly viewed Egypt’s post-revolution trajectory — particularly the political gains by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood — as worrisome trends that could encourage greater opposition in the Gulf.

A full break in ties between Cairo and Riyadh appears unlikely as the Arab League deals with the complicated showdown between protesters and the regime in Syria. But the deepening rifts underscore profound changes in the region’s hierarchy with Gulf states using their influence and relative stability to exert more leverage over wider Mideast affairs.

Egypt swiftly tried to contain the Saudi snub.

Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, was in touch with the Saudis to “heal the rift following the sudden decision,” the Egyptian official news agency said.

Tantawi asked King Abdullah to reconsider the decision, the Saudi news agency reported. The news agency said the king would look into the matter in the coming days and cited the two countries’ “long history of friendly relations.”

The Egyptian government issued a statement expressing its “regret” for the behavior of some of the protesters, and noted that the government and Egyptian people hold Saudi Arabia in “great esteem.”

The Egyptian news agency also published a copy of what it said was a signed confession by el-Gezawi admitting to drug possession, in a clear attempt to mute Egyptian public anger.

But the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is jockeying with Egypt’s military rulers for power, supported the demonstrators.

“The protesters in the past days were expressing the desire of Egyptians to protect the dignity of their compatriots in Arab countries and a reflection that disregard for the dignity of Egyptians abroad is no longer acceptable after the revolution,” the group said in a statement.

It was worst diplomatic tiff between the two regional powerhouses since Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries broke off diplomatic ties with Egypt after it signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979.

Diplomatic relations were restored in 1987.

Under Mubarak, the two regional powerhouses generally had strong relations.

But el-Gezawi’s case revived long-standing resentment over the treatment of Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, which is a destination for more than a million Egyptians searching for better jobs.

The lawyer flew to Jiddah on his way to perform a minor pilgrimage, called umrah, to Islam’s holy shrines in the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina, said his sister Shereen el-Gezawi. The fact that he was arrested on his way to perform a religious rite further enflamed Egyptian sentiment.

His family said he had been convicted in absentia and sentenced to a year in prison and 20 lashes by a Saudi court for insulting the king. However he was not notified of the court’s ruling ahead of his Saudi trip. El-Gezawi had earlier filed a lawsuit in Egypt against King Abdullah over the alleged arbitrary detention of hundreds of Egyptians.

As Arab uprisings have toppled four longtime Middle Eastern rulers, Saudi Arabia has been worried about signs of rebellion within its borders. Authorities have met attempts to advocate for more rights, as el-Gezawi has done, or question the monarchy’s authority with strong opposition.

Many Egyptians suspect the drug case against el-Gezawi was trumped up.

El-Gezawi’s friend and lawyer Mohammed Nabil, dismissed reports el-Gezawi was smuggling drugs and said the lawyer may have confessed under duress. The lawyer’s wife visited him Friday and is due to return to Cairo late Saturday, Nabil said.

Outside the Cairo embassy earlier this week, protesters chanted, “Down, down with Al-Saud!” referring to the Saudi royal family and “Screw you, your majesty!” in reference to the aging Saudi monarch.

The demonstrators called for the expulsion of the Saudi ambassador in Cairo, and some raised their shoes alongside a picture of Abdullah, a sign of deep contempt in the Arab world. In the consulate in the port city of Suez, protesters blocked staff from leaving Thursday, prompting the military to evacuate them.

The Saudi news agency, quoting a foreign ministry official, said the protests were “unjustified” and attempts to storm the missions threatened the safety of diplomatic staff.

The agency also said the ambassador was recalled for “consultation.”

An Egyptian government official said the decision was largely motivated by security concerns over the protests. A staff member in a Saudi consulate said the offices will be closed indefinitely.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive situation.

The Saudi ambassador had previously filed a police report against protesters from a youth group, accusing them of sabotaging his embassy during an unrelated protest.

Egyptian protesters also questioned whether the Egyptian government is doing enough to protect its citizens abroad. They rallied outside the Foreign Ministry in Cairo, demanding the Egyptian ambassador in Saudi Arabia be questioned over his handling of el-Gezawi’s case.

Many activists claim Egypt curbs its criticism so as not to alienate the wealthy kingdom or endanger Egyptian jobs there.

Printed on Monday, April 30, 2012 as: Saudi Arabia closes embassy in Egypt.

NEW YORK

More than 50 Occupy Wall Street protesters are headed toward a trial on disorderly conduct charges after they refused prosecutors’ offers to dismiss the charges if they stay out of trouble for six months.

They were among 79 demonstrators due in Manhattan criminal court Thursday on charges stemming from a Sept. 24 march to Union Square.

Prosecutors say the demonstrators blocked traffic and prevented pedestrians from getting by. But many of the protesters say the disorderly conduct charges weren’t justified. They say they stayed on the sidewalk, took care to leave a path for others to get through and followed police instructions.

Those who turned down the offer were released without bail until a Jan. 9 court date. A lawyer for many of them says the cases should be dismissed because of “the ambiguity of the police orders that everybody received.”

MANHATTAN

About 100 military veterans marched in uniform Wednesday from the Vietnam Veterans Plaza near Wall Street through Manhattan.

Marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas, who went toe to toe recently with officers policing activists in Times Square, said soldiers who risked their lives have the right to protest an economy that gives them a slimmer chance of finding jobs than most Americans.

WASHINGTON

Several hundred Occupy Seattle demonstrators protested in the rain Wednesday night outside a hotel where JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was invited to speak.

Police used pepper spray to clear a side entrance so Sheraton Seattle Hotel patrons could enter or leave, The Seattle Times reported.

Six protesters were arrested Wednesday afternoon for criminal trespass and obstructing at a Chase Bank branch in a Seattle neighborhood.

Police also used pepper spray on that earlier crowd when at least 10 officers were physically assaulted while putting the arrested protesters in a paddy wagon, police spokesman Jeff Kappel said.

ENGLAND

A lawyer for protesters camped outside London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral said Wednesday that authorities have offered to let the tent city stay until next year, as the leader of the world’s Anglicans backed a so-called Robin Hood tax on financial transactions as one way to alleviate the global economic crisis.

The loosely organized demonstration against capitalist excess has wrong-footed both city and church officials since it began last month, defying pleas to leave and the threat of legal action.

Authorities have suspended legal bids to remove the tents. On Wednesday John Cooper, a lawyer for the protesters, said that local government had offered the protesters a deal “to stay on site until the new year,” then leave on an agreed date.

IOWA

Iowa City approved a request from anti-Wall Street protesters for larger tents. The protesters said they received a donated 10-person tent designed to withstand arctic weather. The City Council decided to allow two such tents, subject to approval by the fire department.

MARYLAND

City officials say they’re cutting power to outlets in the downtown Baltimore park where Wall Street protesters have been living for the last month.

Mayoral spokesman Ian Brennan said Wednesday the city is taking this step to alleviate a public safety hazard at McKeldin Square near the Inner Harbor. He said a city official visited earlier this week and found fire and electricity hazards.

MASSACHUSETTS

Members of the Occupy Boston movement, students from area colleges and union workers marched through downtown Boston to protest the nation’s burgeoning student debt crisis.

The protest started at Occupy Boston’s Dewey Square tent city Wednesday and stopped outside Bank of America offices and the downtown Harvard Club before moving to the Statehouse.

Protesters said higher education has gotten too costly, in part because of onerous, high-interest loans. They say total student debt in the U.S. increases by $1 million every six minutes and will reach $1 trillion this year, potentially undermining the economy.

Some called for complete forgiveness of student debt; others said government should more heavily subsidize state colleges and universities.

Physics graduate student Omid Kokabee pled not guilty to charges of communicating with a hostile government and receiving illegitimate funds on Tuesday in Iranian court, according to the Associated Press.

Kokabee, an international Iranian student, was arrested nine months ago under initial accusations from the Iranian government that he was leaking Iran’s nuclear secrets to the United States. His arrest sparked outcry from various academic representatives and organizations for his release. Michele Irwin, an international program administrator for the American Physical Society said the society sent a letter on July 25 to the Grand Ayatollah of Iran clarifying that Kokabee was an optics major with no nuclear background and demanded his release.

“Nobody really knows why he’s in jail and being treated this way,” Irwin said.

Eugene Chudnovsky, member of the American Physical Society and the Board of the Committee of Concerned Scientists, said he believes that Kokabee’s student visa and stipend may be to blame.

“They do have a history of detaining scientists,” Chudnovsky said. “This is the first time a student visa has been considered as associating with a hostile government, however. We suppose his stipend from the University of Texas at Austin is what they are calling illegitimate funds.”

Chudnovsky said information relayed to him Tuesday was not hopeful for Kokabee’s release.

“The lawyer said that he was not very optimistic because the punishments handed down in court today were quite harsh,” Chudnovsky said.

Kokabee was not permitted to defend himself in court other than by written statement, Chudnovsky said.

“According to an email from his lawyer, Kokabee was not even allowed to speak in court,” Chudnovsky said. “He was only allowed to submit answers in writing. After all these months he has not been allowed to talk to his lawyer.”

Chudnovsky said thousands of other Iranian nationals may now delay traveling back to their homeland as a result of the court’s actions.

“There are quite a many Iranian or Iranian-American students who are exactly in the same situation and are scared,” Chudnovsky said. “The sentence may be anything from a year in prison to decades in prison or death. Can you imagine a death sentence for simply being a UT-Austin student?”

John Keto, UT physics graduate adviser, said Kokabee’s Iranian classmates now fear going home to Iran.

“Most are now concerned about travel back to Iran, even for a visit,” Keto said.

The physics department is working delicately with scientific organizations to help advocate for Kokabee’s release, Keto said. He said he learned in May that Kokabee had been arrested and jailed in solitary confinement in a political prison in February before he was to depart back to the United States. The department remained fairly quiet as other organizations wrote letters and drafted petitions on Kokabee’s behalf.

“A serious outcry from the U.S. may have been interpreted by the Iranian courts as interference and evidence confirming the allegations of Omid’s working with the U.S. government.” Keto said. “This was why for the first four months Omid’s family requested that we keep our knowledge of the situation confidential.”

Chudnovsky said he believes the U.S. State Department may be the only resource standing between Kokabee and prison now.

“It’s a diplomatic issue,” Chudnovsky said. “We are trying to mobilize the State Department. Never before has a student visa been considered communicating with a hostile government. The State Department is going to have to do something.”

Printed on Wednesday, October 5, 2011 as: Kokabee trial a 'diplomatic issue'

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia delivers a speech to the Saudi Shura Council, or advisory assembly, in Riyadh on Sunday. Saudi King Abdullah has given the kingdomÂ’s women the right to vote for first time in nationwide local elections, due in 2015.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

A Saudi activist will stand trial for defying the kingdom’s ban on female drivers, a lawyer and rights advocates said Monday, revealing clear limits on how far the conservative Muslim land is willing to go to grant women greater rights.

Just a day earlier, King Abdullah, who is regarded as a reformer by Saudi standards, decreed that women would be allowed for the first time to vote and run as candidates in elections for municipal councils starting in 2015. He also promised to appoint women after two years to the Shura Council, the currently all-male consultative body with no legislative powers.

Activists in Saudi Arabia and abroad welcomed the changes as a step in the right direction, while urging the kingdom to end all discrimination against women. Some also pointed to the case against Najalaa Harriri as evidence of how far the kingdom still has to go on the path of reforms.

Harriri was among the dozens of Saudi women to challenge the country’s ban on driving in a campaign that began in June. The campaigners posted video of themselves behind the wheel on the Web.

She was summoned for questioning on Sunday by the prosecutor general in the western port city of Jeddah, according to attorney Waleed Aboul Khair. She will stand trial in a month, joining several other women currently on trial for driving.

Activists say the trials reveal a gap between the image the kingdom wants to show to the outside world and the reality on the ground in the ultraconservative nation.

“I believe that Saudi Arabia has always had two kinds of rhetoric, one for outside consumption to improve the image of the kingdom and a more restrictive one that accommodates the religious establishment inside,” Aboul Khair said.

In most cases, the women are stopped by police and held until a male guardian is summoned and the women sign a pledge not to drive again. Some are referred to court.

Harriri refused to sign, according to Samar Badawi, another female activist who was present at the police station with her three weeks ago.

McALLEN — An Austin attorney was arrested Monday on federal racketeering charges alleging bribery of an already-convicted judge as well as witnesses in state and federal cases.

Marc Rosenthal’s indictment is only the latest of several tied to former state district Judge Abel C. Limas, who pleaded guilty to racketeering in March.

Charges in the indictment unsealed Monday allege that Rosenthal conspired to file personal injury cases in state and federal court based on false testimony; bribed witnesses and former state district Judge Abel C. Limas; and directed others to pay funeral directors and public employees for referrals to his firm.

At the center of Rosenthal’s indictment is former state legislator Jose Santiago “Jim” Solis who worked “of counsel” in Brownsville for Rosenthal’s firm.

Ernesto Gamez Jr., Rosenthal’s attorney, placed the blame on Solis, making him out to be a rogue lawyer and “Rambo” figure bent on pulling Rosenthal down with him. Solis pleaded guilty in April to aiding and abetting Limas’ extortion scheme.

Rosenthal, 49, turned himself over to federal authorities Monday in Brownsville and was later released on $100,000 bond, Gamez said. He entered a plea of not guilty.

The 13-count indictment charges that Rosenthal paid Limas for favorable rulings on his cases. It includes several counts of mail fraud on cases — one involving the crash of a medical services helicopter and another involving the corporate owner of the newspapers in Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen — and witness tampering involving the settlement of a federal lawsuit with Union Pacific railroad.

In June, Alicia Sanchez filed a lawsuit against Solis and Rosenthal, who helped her win a $14 million settlement after her husband died in a 2008 crash of a medical services helicopter. The lawsuit filed by Sanchez and her two children in Travis County seeks nearly $5.3 million.

Rosenthal’s firm declared his innocence in a statement released Monday.

“The admissions of wrongdoing from the judge and others are disheartening,” the statement from Rosenthal & Watson said. “But we were not aware of their improper activities. We expect to see Marc vindicated.”

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Austin lawyer arrested on racketeering charges.