Don Maison

                             Don Maison

                            Don Maison

I moved to Texas on April 30, 1969, completed college at University of Texas at Arlington; I worked as a juvenile probation officer at Dallas County, went to law school in San Antonio, became a lawyer and practiced law for thirteen years before taking my present job as President and CEO at AIDS Services of Dallas.

One of the most important things that I was involved with as a young lawyer was related to the “Village Station Busts” on October 25, 1979. This was an episode that, in a sense, transformed a small but cohesive activist community that had emerged from the Dallas Gay Alliance, which I had become a member of in 1977.

One of the most poignant recollections about the Village Station event, in retrospect, is an article which appeared in D Magazine in January of 2010 and was written by Campbell Read – a dear friend and donor to AIDS Services of Dallas, a retired professor of statistics at S.M.U., and who was, in the early years, a board member of the Dallas Gay Alliance. People like Campbell and Rev. Don Eastman of the Metropolitan Community Church were important in coalescing the gay community of Dallas to finally stand up against continued police harassment. 

The building which still stands at 4001 Cedar Springs and Throckmorton was a gay bar called Village Station, where Zephyr Bakery Café is now located. Bar raids in the late 1970s were not rare. They were common. But in 1979 a group of young, activist gay men stood up to the Dallas police. 

My involvement was accidental. I hadn’t heard about this particular bust at the time. It was a Sunday evening when I received a call from fellow attorney Barbara Rosenberg. Barbara was a classmate of mine in law school who eventually became an appeals court judge and a senior attorney in the Dallas City Attorney’s office, but at this time, in 1979, she was a practicing attorney. 

 Attorney Don Maison

Attorney Don Maison

So Barbara called me and said, “Don, I need your help. My law partner, John Albach, is going to commit legal malpractice. He’s representing a friend … someone he knows … in a criminal case involving allegations of public lewdness in a police bust at the Village Station. And he has never stepped foot in a criminal courtroom. We need you.”

So I got a quick summary of what facts Barbara knew, and I showed up outside County Criminal Court No. 7 the following morning. I found John Albach and said, “John, have you filled out an application for probation?”  

He said, “No, my client’s not guilty.”

And I said, “I know, but if you don’t fill out that application and he is found guilty by the court, he doesn’t get probation. You’ve got to fill that out now.” So we did all of those criminal court procedural things that John didn’t know about, and the preliminary hearing began. The district attorney prosecutor first called police officer John W. Przywara, and he told the most bald-faced lies to Judge Chuck Miller. John Albach had no way to understand why Przywara’s testimony was false, because he didn’t know the layout of the inside of the Village Station as I did. I knew immediately, as the officer was testifying, that there was no way he could possibly have seen what he claimed he saw, under oath, standing where he said he was standing. 

So the judge declared a short recess, and I went to a pay phone (you know, we didn’t have cell phones in those days), and I called a friend and told him to find the manager of the Village Station, Ernie Smith, and have him call me immediately.

Ernie called me and I told him to get a copy of the layout plans for the Village Station and get down to Dallas Criminal Court No. 7 as soon as humanly possible so he could testify to the bar’s physical layout.

Somehow it all worked. Ernie grabbed a copy of the layout plans for the bar and arrived at the court in time to testify. And it was his testimony that lead the judge to conclude that this witness was a friggin’ liar. He was a liar. So the judge found our client, David Austin, not guilty. David is now deceased, unfortunately. 

So Campbell Read wrote an article forD Magazine as part of its special feature: “The 35 Biggest Moments of Modern Dallas History.” I had no idea this article was being written. A friend of mine said, “Hey, Don, did you know you’re in D Magazine this month?”  I told him, no, I had no idea. This is what Campbell wrote of this important episode, as one of Dallas’s 35 biggest historical moments:

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 Professor Campbell Read   [Photo courtesy: Dallas Voice]

Professor Campbell Read   [Photo courtesy: Dallas Voice]

The October 25, 1979, police action changed Dallas, because for the first time, the persecuted fought back, providing a rallying point for the gay community in Dallas.
Homophobia at the Dallas Police Department was common, and the raid at the old Village Station on Cedar Springs Road was one of many raids along the street during the 1970s. But it stood out in the number of arrests that were made and the number of vice squad officers present. I think the entire vice squad was involved. They arrested 12 people who were doing a bunny hop on the dance floor for public lewdness.

The Village Station raid became a turning point not just for the Cedar Springs area but for the whole gay community because the 12 men arrested decided to fight the charges. That was unique. That was the first time. No one had ever stood up to the police before. In the past, gays were fearful that any publicity surrounding an arrest for public lewdness could cause them to lose their jobs. They usually pleaded guilty to avoid publicity.

No mainstream media reported the Village Station raid — as such raids were commonplace — but they did cover the trials. The first two men were tried in Judge Chuck Miller’s court. I went to both trials. In the first trial, the prosecuting attorney was Marshall Gandy. I remember him saying to the judge in his closing argument, “Your Honor, if you acquit this person, you’ll be saying that the police are lying.” But Miller acquitted both.

District Attorney Henry Wade then dropped charges against two of the others in Chuck Miller’s court and re-filed them in two courts where he hoped to get convictions. One was found guilty by Judge Berlaind Brashear. We filed a complaint that Wade was forum shopping. They sat on it for about 18 months, including through an election cycle. It was basically dismissed.

After the raid, we started publishing the names of officers who were arresting gays, and the police were very uncomfortable with that publicity. We had to be secretive in how we got the names. At that time, the police department released only the names of arresting officers to attorneys. So attorney Don Maison, who is now president and CEO of AIDS Services of Dallas, did it on the sly for us. As far as I know, the police department never figured out how we were getting the names. We put them in the Gay Alliance newsletter, the Dialog, and also in a statewide gay publication called This Week in Texas. By 1980, we had a file of about 60 complaints against police officers from people who said they had done nothing related to public lewdness yet had been arrested.

Around this time, we also started appearing at City Council meetings. I went to the Dallas City Council and said it was time for the harassment to stop. We thought police officers were being overzealous in arresting gay clientele in the bars. The notion of gay pride began to emerge.

The raid and its aftermath sparked a dialogue between the police department and the gay community that hadn’t existed before. It later led the police department to assign a liaison officer to the gay community. They still have one today.

                                                             [From D Magazine]

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So what happened here was called “forum shopping” in legal terms … that’s where a case is carefully placed in the court of a particular judge in order to get the desired ruling that would not be rendered in other courts. Henry Wade, the Dallas District Attorney, wanted the gay public lewdness cases to be brought before Judge Ben Ellis, the judge in County Criminal Court No. 1. Judge Ellis was from Lancaster, Texas, and was probably the most homophobic judge in Dallas at that time. 

We put our foot down and said “No!”   The Texas Association of Criminal Defense Attorney, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed briefs in our favor. The Dallas Morning News got ahold of the story. So there was a lot of sudden negative publicity about the District Attorney’s dirty tactics aimed at convicting gay men. 

 Don Maison in 1989 with prominent Dallas AIDS activist Phil Morrow

Don Maison in 1989 with prominent Dallas AIDS activist Phil Morrow

It turned out that I also represented another one of the Village Station raid defendants. He had first retained a gay lawyer who wanted him to plead guilty, but he knew that he was not guilty, so he fired that lawyer and hired me instead. His case had an interesting twist. The complaint said that the defendant “did there and then and there knowingly and intentionally allow said other person to touch his genitals to arouse sexual desires of said person.”  Grammatically, that was a huge problem for the prosecutors, because the term “his genitals” was more closely related to “the other person” … not to “the defendant.” As worded, it literally meant only that my client had allowed that “other person” to touch his own genitals. So we filed a motion to quash the complaint (to have the whole case thrown out of court). That’s the closest I ever came to being thrown in jail for contempt of court, because I muttered under my breath, when the judge denied my motion to quash the complaint, “Pearls before swine.” And he heard me. 

Still, we had made our objection to the literal terms of the complaint in case we needed to appeal to a higher court for a final interpretation of “his.”  We tried the case. We had people come and dance in the courtroom ... dancing to the music that was playing at the Village Station when the arrests were made: “Enough is Enough” by Donna Summers and Barbara Streisand.

To add to the circus, a group of right-wing, evangelical, fanatically homophobic Christian loonies had found out about the trial and had managed to stuff the audience with their own representatives. So in response to that, I called my good gay Christian friend Rev. Don Eastman, the pastor of the MCC, and within an hour he had fifty gay men and women in that courtroom in support of my client.

Well, my client was nevertheless found guilty by the judge, and well after the trial when I confronted him about it, he said, “Don, you know I could never find a homosexual not guilty!” 

So we appealed to the Court of Appeals in Dallas, and the case took another strange turn. Judge Joe Fish, a Republican appointee, wrote the opinion reversing and rendering the trial court’s finding of guilt and instead declared my client not guilty as a matter of law – thus, there was no need for a re-trial. 

I naturally filed a motion to have the entire matter expunged from the public record, which was granted, but the damage had been done. The Dallas Morning News ran a front-page story about the case and quoted, as its front-page headline: “Bible Totters Watch A Parade of Perverts” … quoting the chief misdemeanor prosecutor in the DA’s office, Winfield Scott (who, I assume, was a descendant of the Confederate general). That was the headline!  My client was a flight attendant for Braniff Airlines, and they immediately brought him up for unbecoming conduct, trying to take his job. But, with some help from friends, I hurriedly learned about the Railway Labor Act and represented him to his employer, and he was able to keep his job. 

Richard is still alive and well in Minnesota, and he and I are still great friends. 

          Don Maison and Mike Anglin (2014)

         Don Maison and Mike Anglin (2014)

Another thing that came out of this whole experience was that Mike Anglin organized some very effective undercover work within a city program called Goals for Dallas. He chaired that committee for the Dallas Bar Association (the professional association of Dallas lawyers) and he appointed, as its members, a number of gay lawyers in town. So on November 2, 1979, from the vantage point of representing "Dallas attorneys," that special committee held meetings with the Dallas Chief of Police and the head of the DPD Internal Affairs department, and we began a dialogue with them, on behalf of that "bar association project," about how wrong it was of them to permit these raids on gay bars in Dallas. Both of these DPD leaders assured us that the Dallas Police Department was there to enforce the law and not "social custom," and assured us that there was no such pattern of harassment of gay bars.

Sixteen days later, the Dallas Times Herald published an article containing an interview with a DPD Vice Squad officer (going by the undercover name "Willie") who claimed in that article that the DPD vice squad was "at war with homosexuals" and that "society approves" of police harassment of gays meeting in public places.  Infuriated by this blatant admission that, Chief King's assurances aside, at least some Dallas police officers were clearly targeting and harassing gay bars, a second meeting was requested.  On January 22, 1980, the entire QC-13 committee gathered in Chief King's office and met once more with him and, this time, also with Captain Revill (head of the Vice Squad Division) and Captain Don Milliken (head of the Patrol Division).  Captain Milliken was asked if he could explain officer "Willie's" statement in the newspaper that "I don't think they [the public] want us to leave the homosexuals alone."  Milliken stated that surely the quote was somehow taken out of context ... a response that did not impress the QC-13 committee.  

To his credit, although reluctantly at first, Chief King admitted that something had to be done to create better understanding between the police and the gay community of Dallas.  That is how we began to know each other, and the result was the appointment of Sergeant Earl Newsome as the gay community’s liaison to the Dallas Police Department, which changed the whole relationship between the community and law enforcement.  He became very close, personally, with Bill Nelson and Terry Tebedo, and he became very involved in the community along Cedar Springs and Maple Avenue especially. This new relationship led to getting the Resource Center’s becoming involved in education of newly hired police officers in the police academy so that they could deal with the community in a correct and humane way. 

Looking back, as comfortable as that relationship is today, it’s amazing to recall that in 1979 one never knew what was going to happen in a simple visit to a local dance bar.