Friday, June 27, 2008

Dodged a bullet

I had predicted this would happen.

Not because it was Judge Angelini but because of what little evidence I had heard they had.

Judge Angelini's DWI case tossed
By Elizabeth Allen: Express-News

A four-month-old drunken-driving charge against State District Judge Raymond Angelini was dismissed Thursday afternoon because of what a prosecutor deemed insufficient evidence.

Special prosecutor Tony Hackebeil asked County Court-at-Law Judge Michael Mery to dismiss the misdemeanor charge stemming from a Feb. 28 traffic stop against the longtime jurist.
“I’m not going to elaborate on it at this point,” Hackebeil said Thursday afternoon. “Suffice it to say that I filed a motion to dismiss based on insufficient evidence.”

Reacting to the dismissal, the 57-year-old judge said, “I’ve said all along that I was not guilty.”
Still, he said he’s aware residents will perceive the dismissal as a reflection of his authority and position.

“I know there’s a lot of people that believe things like that, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Angelini said. “I had nothing to do with what (Hackebeil’s) decision was. I didn’t talk to him.”
“If I had anything to do with it,” he continued, “I wouldn’t have even been arrested.”

In fact, authorities took greater pains in this case, said Jay Norton, an attorney who handles DWI cases and has acted as a special prosecutor.

“Because of the public perception (of special treatment) and because of who he is — and in fairness to him — a complete investigation was done,” he said.

Hackebeil said he decided to request a dismissal after reviewing evidence provided by authorities and details offered by defense lawyers.

Andrew Del Cueto, who represents Angelini, said his report to the prosecutor includes information that questions the credibility of one of the arresting officers.

According to a police report, Angelini was taken into custody about 10 p.m. that February night after a police officer noticed his Mercedes-Benz swerving along the 13000 block of Jones Maltsberger Road, near McAllister Park.

The judge, the report said, almost caused a wreck when he changed lanes without signaling.
Angelini had red eyes, slurred speech and was having trouble standing, the report said, adding that the judge initially denied drinking that night before saying he’d had “maybe three drinks.” Angelini performed field sobriety tests but refused a breath test.

But the image painted in the report of a jurist suspected of intoxication was sharply contrasted with a video recording taken about an hour later at the Police Department, said Del Cueto, which reportedly depicted a lucid man.

“So there’s no way he can be stumbling, staggering, falling over drunk in the field and then look perfectly sober in the video room,” he said. “It can’t be tainted by me or by Hackebeil or the cops. It is what it is.”

The video hasn’t been released.

Norton, who has viewed the video, agreed.

“He clearly is not intoxicated on that video,” Norton said. “If this had gone to trial, it would have been a not-guilty.”

After Angelini’s arrest, District Attorney Susan Reed filed a motion to recuse her office from prosecuting his case, citing years spent as colleagues on the bench as well as other connections that created a conflict of interest for the office. Reed and Angelini also both are Republicans.
Reed requested a prosecutor from the Texas attorney general’s office hear the case rather than appointing an area attorney with prosecution experience, which is routinely done in similar situations.

Mery appointed Hackebeil, noting at the time that the Medina County district attorney was not seeking re-election, thus removing at least some political pressure.

Reed didn’t return phone calls Thursday afternoon.