Most of the world has heard the sordid details surrounding an epically bad “first date” between a Texas attorney and a court reporter. Lindy Lou Layman was arrested Dec. 23, 2017 on “felony criminal mischief” charges after a disastrous soirée with Houston mega-attorney Anthony Buzbee. Apparently things didn’t go well for either of them, and Buzbee’s art collection has suffered the most. So far.
Layman, a freelance court reporter from Dallas, was accused of tearing and smashing valuable art in Buzbee’s palatial Houston digs. According to Buzbee, she didn’t want to leave, launching into a deranged raid on his art, while armed with wine. Layman’s attorney says there is another side to the story: Buzbee’s damaged art includes two Andy Warhol originals, while Renoir and Monet escaped unscathed. Estimated value of her rampage was $300,000.
Between notoriety, greed, alcohol abuse, sex (implied), wealth, ties to Trump, and expensive art – this bad date is absolutely sensational. It has all aspects of an old True Detective story, plus some added political intrigue. (Buzbee hosted a fundraiser for Trump during his campaign.) Many of us will find ourselves helplessly following the sordid tale, as it winds through the courts (a particular weakness of women, I’ll admit). But that’s not the worst of it.
Relatively benign charges of “criminal mischief” against 29-year-old Layman were exponentially expanded because of the value of Layman’s purportedly ruined art. Theoretically, she could face life imprisonment, merely because of the number of zeros after a dollar sign. If Layman had merely trashed a Thomas Kinkaid print, this wouldn’t be considered felonious behavior, in spite of her intent. But Texas Penal Code makes theft or destruction of $300,000 (or more) worth of property an instant first-degree felony crime. Coincidentally, that is the exact value of damages the attorney is claiming.
Buzbee (49) is almost a god among lawyers in Texas, where he is famed for aggressive and quick settlements in his client’s favor. In a 2014 article in the Super Lawyers Magazine, Michael Corcoran said of him: “Michael Jordan is competitive. Tony Buzbee is a psycho. He’s obsessed with winning.” Did any of that of aggression play into the scene at his home last month? Anyway, Buzbee had better get his story straight.
In an interview with Texas Lawyer, the attorney said Layman came to his home with other people, and that he had never met her before. But the probable-cause hearing declared this was a “first date” where she became heavily intoxicated and returned to his home. Which is it? Either he invited her in, or it was a home invasion. At this point Buzbee decided Layman was “too intoxicated and decided he wanted her to leave.” Too intoxicated for what? Doesn’t a man with a Doctor of Jurisprudence know this before he brings her back to his home, or did he supply the alcohol? Allegedly she refused to leave, hiding inside his house after Buzbee called Uber rides for her.
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Unless Layman was drunk and schizophrenic, this looks bad; which is a shame, because Buzbee doesn’t seem like a particularly wicked fellow. He was a patriotic Marine officer, helps with Boy Scouts, homeless missions, and several other charities. Buzbee endows law colleges, is civic-minded, and is very generous with his possessions. Most notably, he successfully represented Governor Rick Perry in one of the worst political set-ups since Brutus killed Julius Caesar. Then there is Layman. In her photographs, she is scantily clad and looks to be in a competition with the Kardashians. She also has no respect for art, although that isn’t a crime itself.
But this could be the case that goes south for him. From the PC wing, they will undoubtedly lob charges of sexual harassment, class distinctions, age difference – and an entire new genre of lawyer jokes. Whatever was happening, Buzbee clearly values his art and he just lost a good deal of money (if not insured from infuriated houseguests). Buzbee explained only that “I collect art. I don’t want it damaged.”
Whoever triumphs in this case, it’s the prison term Layman faces that is troubling. Texas isn’t alone in their monetarily-based system of justice, but it throws the sentencing of violent criminals into stark relief. As this melodrama was going down, scores of serious crimes were committed by men who had served laughably short terms, or none at all.
An argument over “biscuits and gravy” ended in murder in 2015. Fred Fleener III, 46 shot his son Fred, 22, and served only two years’ probation for reckless homicide. Six men helped to kill Ronald Witherspoon, Jr. (a 16-yr-old Jersey City boy), and received sentences from five years to probation only. Violent serial rapists such as a 68-year-old James Edward Webb are sent forth from prisons after serving abbreviated terms, to pick up where they dropped off. Webb was in Sing Sing for raping women in New York while on parole in 1995. He’s back in the news now, because they’ve just connected him to more crimes committed during his vacations.
Not only does our justice system appear to be largely based on mammon, but the value for human life is extremely low. This must be why Planned Parenthood execs are forced to haggle so furiously over their cocktails to get a decent price for baby kidneys.
Buzbee’s claim to losing $300,000 dollars’ worth of art almost seems a deliberate point – and perhaps quite hostile. In a Law.com interview, Dallas criminal defense attorney Chris Mulder gave his interpretation of the laws that Layman faces: “Basically it’s a rich people statute to make it worse if rich people get stolen from or if their property gets damaged … the worse the crime is the more criminal exposure. But it sometimes has a ridiculous result. I guess it discourages from stealing from the wealthy instead of stealing in general.”
Clearly Layman was behaving badly, but she may have been provoked or frightened. Surely it will all come out. But is $300,000 worth ruining someone’s life, and possibly your personal reputation? Especially over Warhols? Although they are interesting, there are tens of thousands of them floating around, and almost all are silk-screen prints. Likely these are the Warhol “paintings” that were damaged at Mr. Buzbee’s home. In this Titanic of bad dates, why invite the en-tire world in to see wreckage?