Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Texas Supreme Court Justice Indicted/Unindicted/May Be Re-Indicted

Never let it be said that Texas politics aren't entertaining. Last July the home of David Medina (along with the home of a neighbor) burnt down to the ground. At first it seemed merely like an unfortunate accident for the Justice and his family, but by October investigators with the Harris County Fire Marshall's Office began to suspect that someone had deliberately sat the house on fire, the suspects all being members of Medina's family. Last week a Harris County grand jury returned an indictment of tampering with evidence against Medina (and arson against his wife) only to find that the District Attorney who brought the case to the grand jury in the first place decided to drop charges altogether. The decision infuriated members of the grand jury so much that two of them have gone public, accusing the DA Chuck Rosenthal (who's having his own problems as of late) of playing politics with the case. The grand jury in the case is set to meet again this week, apparently determined to see some measure of justice done, but Medina's attorneys are already trying to put a stop to the proceedings.

Medina isn't the only Texas Justice who's in hot water. Sharon Keller, presiding judge of Texas' other high court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, is facing widespread condemnation for her vicious, mean-spirited and unjust refusal to hold her clerk's office open an extra 20 minutes to receive an appeal in a death row case. Her decision was inexplicable, and flew in the face even of the Court's own precedent for dealing with last minute appeals. Beyond that, she committed an incredible affront to the fellow justice who was assigned to review motions in the case, failing even to inform Judge Cheryl Johnson that the motion was on its way. Why she did it is anybody's guess, but as the article details, Keller has long presented herself as "pro-prosecution" which is Republican-speak for "presumed guilty." In this case there was little doubt of the condemned man's guilt, but her decision was a slap in the face to the United States Supreme Court, which at that time was making it clear to state courts that executions utilizing the drug cocktail now under attack were going to have to come to a halt. No matter to Keller, who apparently decided on her own whim how justice would be dealt in the case.

So, all this hoopla is bad news for Texans, who can't rely on justice in Texas to be anything less than arbitrary. But it is good news for Democrats, who no doubt will be making great hay over these stories (and others) as we get closer to November.

UPDATE: Harris County District Judge Jim Wallace ruled this afternoon that the paperwork filed by the DA's office extending the term of the grand jury beyond Nov. 2 (the original term ending date) was-unbelievably-improperly filed, and has invalidated all indictments returned by the grand jury, including the indictment of Justice Medina that the Harris County DAs office has refused to follow up on. I presume that filing the paperwork to extend the term of a grand jury is a fairly rote task, and find myself wondering exactly how incompetent the staff at the Harris County DAs office actually is. Also, it would seem that Medina is about to avoid any criminal charges altogether as it's unlikely that the DA will bring another indictment against Medina before another grand jury.

UPDATE: See Charles Kuffner for Judge Wallace's thoughts on the ineptitude of the Harris County DAs office.

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