Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Happy Valentine's, Chuck

A dispute between Harris County grand jurors who returned an indictment against a Texas Supreme Court justice, but were rebuffed by DA Chuck Rosenthal, now goes to court. From the press release:

In what is believed to be the first suit of its kind in Texas history, members of a Harris County grand jury who indicted Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina and his wife, Francisca Medina, for charges stemming from the June 28, 2007, arson of their Houston area home have sued for the right to publicly disclose evidence they considered in handing down the indictments. By law, proceedings before grand juries are usually required to be kept secret.

Once again, the backstory:

On January 17, 2008, the 263rd District Court Grand Jury indicted Francisca Medina for arson and Judge David Medina for evidence tampering. Within an hour, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal announced that the Medinas would not be prosecuted for the crimes due to “insufficient evidence.” On January 18, 2008, State District Judge Brian Rains dismissed both indictments at the request of Assistant District Attorney Vic Wisner.

And to the complaint:

“This suit is necessary because we want the truth to come out,” said Jeffrey L. Dorrell, assistant foreman of the Medina grand jury, an attorney whose firm, Dorrell & Farris, L.P., is representing grand jurors free of charge. “However, out of a decent respect for the rights of the Medinas and for the integrity of the grand jury system, we believe it is proper to seek a judicial determination of our duties before we speak.” The suit seeks no monetary damages or attorney's fees. ...

“Repeatedly accused of base and corrupt motives and hidden political agendas, grand jurors have been obliged to sit close-mouthed while District Attorney Rosenthal and his assistants trumpet to media that the evidence was 'insufficient' to support either a criminal prosecution of the Medinas or even any further investigation of the charges,” the suit says. The grand jurors want a chance to “respond to the attacks on their character.”

“Only disclosing the evidence will allow Plaintiffs to show convincingly that they were not animated by the vile and contemptible motives of which they have been publicly accused by truly the strangest of bedfellows -- the Medinas' criminal defense attorneys and the Harris County District Attorney's office,” the suit says.

And finally, there is precedent (though the roles are reversed):

Another public dispute between a Houston grand jury and a Harris County District Attorney 85 years ago has many parallels to the Medina case. The Harris County District Attorney in 1923, Dixie Smith, had been elected on the Ku Klux Klan ticket. After Smith publicly accused grand jurors of failing to follow their oath, grand jurors accused Smith of failing to prosecute fellow Klansmen who were suspected of crimes, including an arson. Smith sued for libel. The appellate court in that case wrote:

Every man has the right to defend his character against false aspersion. It is one of the duties which he owes to himself and his family. Therefore communications made in fair self-defense are privileged.

I only have one question. Why hasn't Rosenthal resigned yet?

Update ( 2/15): 'Bout freaking time.

Chuck Rosenthal resigned as Harris County district attorney today amid an e-mail scandal that recently forced him to abandon his re-election campaign and a lawsuit filed today that sought his removal from office.

Bill Delmore, chief of the D.A.'s legal services bureau, which oversees the general counsel's office, confirmed that Rosenthal issued a press release in which he says he contacted the governor's office to tender his resignation.

"Although I have enjoyed excellent medical and pharmacological treatment, I have come to learn that the particular combination of drugs prescribed for me in the past has caused some impairment in my judgment," Rosenthal wrote in his resignation letter.

He's blaming the meds? Okay then.

Rosenthal might be admitting that pharmacological drugs impaired his judgment so he can raise intoxication as a possible defense against a future perjury charge in the contempt case pending against him, (attorney Lloyd) Kelley said.

"He's using that as a defense for perjury," Kelley said. "This just isn't his problem. This goes back to (Harris County Judge) Ed Emmett and the county commissioners — they've known about this and haven't done anything about it. It's just shameful."

One last excerpt here, involving county judge Ed Emmett:

Emmett vehemently denied Kelley's assertion that he was aware of Rosenthal's drug issues, said Joe Stinebaker, the county judge's spokesman.

Emmett doesn't need any more stench of corruption wafting over to his race with Charles Bacarisse for the right to lose to David Mincberg in November. I had lunch today with Mincberg and fellow bloggers Charles Kuffner, muse, and Christof Spielor, and will have something on that later.

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