Friday, March 7, 2008

Move along, nothing to see here

You decide. Was the DA being cautious and consistent or was the DA trying to deflect the Southwest Airlines ticket publicity?

I think the paper is trying to sell papers and that she was trying to look consistent. In addition, she and the Judge, Ray Angelini, have known each other for a number of years and had worked together at the Bexar Conty District Attorney's office as assistant DA's in the past. Doing this put aside any possible favoritism charges which almost certainly would have been leveled at her had she not gone forward.

DA request for judge to step aside unusual
Elizabeth Allen: Express-News

When Judge Raymond Angelini was asked to halt all criminal court duties in the wake of his misdemeanor drunken driving charge last week, the request was so unusual the district attorney's office had trouble finding case law to support it.

Legal experts were left scratching their heads over District Attorney Susan Reed's motion to recuse the longtime jurist from his felony court docket. They wondered whether any other district attorney had made such a sweeping request, and concluded that Reed's goal was to keep up appearances.

Reed — under the spotlight herself recently for being one of several Bexar County Courthouse employees who flew on airline tickets later revealed to have been stolen — agreed that public perception is important. (Reed has maintained she and others did not know the Southwest Airlines tickets were stolen and did not break any state law.)
"I was very concerned about the appearance," she said, referring to Angelini's courtroom duties. "How is a juror going to feel sitting there on a case? How is a defendant going to feel sitting in court? How is a victim going to feel on that case?"

First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg said there was no attempt to divert the spotlight from Reed.
"We didn't cause Judge Angelini to be arrested, so that whole premise is ridiculous," Herberg said. "We filed the same motions in his case that we did in the Albert McKnight case."
Former Justice of the Peace McKnight was arrested and charged with indecent exposure in 2003. He was acquitted.
"Judge McKnight is a Democrat, Judge Angelini is a Republican. Had we not filed a motion to recuse on this case, we'd be accused of playing political favorites. So you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't," Herberg said.

Angelini, of the 187th District Court, was arrested the night of Feb. 28 and charged with driving while intoxicated. The next morning, Reed asked for a special prosecutor, citing her long friendship with the judge, and because the State Commission on Judicial Conduct was not suspending Angelini.

Judges are suspended when they are charged with felonies or with misdemeanors that are considered crimes of moral turpitude or abuse of office.
But after giving it more thought, Reed decided to ask Angelini to completely step aside until his case is resolved.

"I think it was pretty heavy-handed for what she wanted to accomplish," said attorney Christine Del Prado, who represented Angelini in the recusal hearing.

At the hearing, Ed Schweninger, the district attorney's civil section chief, told Administrative Judge David Peeples that Reed's office believed Angelini could be fair. But because of the arrest's media coverage, Schweninger said, letting him hear criminal matters might leave the public with the impression he could not be impartial.

University of Texas Law School Professor Bill Allison said Reed's motion for recusal seemed keyed to public perception, but based in politics.
"When you're trying to say that this really will not affect things, it just looks like it will — that's just politics," Allison said. "So they've made their public case now, and that's probably where it ends up."

Peeples ultimately ruled that Angelini shouldn't hear DWI cases or those involving the arresting officer.
The hearing wasn't necessary to achieve that, said Melissa Barlow Fischer, criminal district court administrator. The ruling was the same as an offer Angelini had made to Reed, through her, Monday morning.

Reed had a different take on the informal recusal offer.
"I understood that ... if somebody wanted him off (an individual) case, then he would be taken off the case," she said. "I didn't want to be picking and choosing those things.
"The most practical approach is to just bring it into a courtroom," she said.
Others found her move unusual.

"I'm just not aware of that step being taken by a district attorney's office prior to this," said Seana Willing, executive director of the judicial conduct commission. However, Willing added, the public's perception of fairness is vitally important.

The only similar case Schweninger was able to find was from Arkansas. That state's supreme court upheld the suspension of a judge who was charged with misdemeanor DWI, citing the appearance of impropriety.