Wednesday, December 02, 2009

JUDGE WATCH: Former Dallas Judge and TYC Ombudsman Faces Felony Indictment

In the 1990s, Catherine Evans sat as a state district judge here in Dallas County. Maybe you remember her from her days on the bench.

Maybe you know her as the chosen "ombudsman" for the Texas Youth Commission (TYC) -- a couple of months ago, Gov. Perry named Cathy Evans as the person responsible for insuring that minors confined in the state's juvenile facilities were kept safe. (In between these two stints, Evans served as a commissioner of the Texas Juvenile Probation and on both the Dallas County Juvenile Advisory Board and the TYC Advisory Board.)

And that's where the story starts to get strange. Really, really strange.

Keeping kids safe who are under the lock and key of the Texas Juvenile Justice system is important, and it's scary to think how often these children are NOT safe while in the state's care.

Back in March 2007, there was a national scandal surrounding the Texas Youth Commission -- and the entire TYC Board was forced to resign as a growing number of criminal allegations were being made against Commission staff, and media reports were escalating about the improprieties within the juvenile correctional system. It was a Major. Big. Deal.

Part of the TYC Fix was the Appointment of an Ombudsman

The number of
stories of the 2007 abuses in the care of minors in Texas lockups is simply too numerous to mention here. It was amazing in its horror, and the description that the system was in "shambles" was not an exaggeration.

So, when the Ombudsman position was created, it would seem like the Head of the Cavalry had been identified. In this job, Catherine Evans was to investigate complaints and problems within the juvenile lockups. You can almost see one of those "The Buck Stops Here" placards on her desk, right?

So, What's the Ombudsman Doing Allegedly Smuggling a Knife, a Cellphone, and Drugs into a TYC facility?

According to the felony indictment, Ombudsman Evans was found trying to smuggle a knife, a cellphone, and prescription drugs into the TYC unit in Crockett, Texas. Officially, she is charged with "possession of a prohibited item in a prison facility" and if convicted, she faces 2 to 10 years imprisonment.

Remember now: Cathy Evans was a state district judge for several years before being appointed to this job by Gov. Rick Perry. What the heck is going on here?

Evans has denied any wrongdoing. She agreed to resign and her replacement will be named "as soon as possible," according to the Governor's Office.

And, it's being reported that the knife was a Swiss Army Knife; the cellphone was hers; and the "white powdery" substance found in a vial in her purse that tested positive for amphetamines turned out to be dish washing detergent.

Sounds like she was just lax in checking out her bag before going into the facility, right? Except it's STILL a felony to bring this stuff in, she's not in a position to claim ignorance (if that was an excuse, which it's not), and she's still gonna face felony charges.

Texas judge. Felony. Wonder if the newspapers re-use the same headlines, and just change the name, to save time these days?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Cop Watch: Dallas County Constable's Computers Taken Over, What About Our Privacy Rights?

First, there were rumors that employees of a Dallas County Constable were forced to work for free on the job as well as on the constable's re-election campaigns. Then, some of these employees told their stories to FBI agent Danny Defenbaugh and that's when You-Know-What hit the fan.

Right now, Dallas County Constable Jaime Cortes has his lawyers filing arguments with the court that the Dallas County Commissioners don't have the legal right to investigate Cortes or his fellow law enforcer, Constable Derick Evans. (There are rumors that Craig Watkins is behind the scenes with his own investigation, but the District Attorney's Office isn't confirming that they're doing anything here.)

Right before Thanksgiving, a retired district judge is going to have a hearing and sort out this mess -- but there's already a lot of mud that's been slung and probably lots more will get thrown before that November 23rd court date.

Why should we care?

Well, regardless of all this employment hooplah, the bottom line is that the computers used by the constables were taken by the investigators, and presumably they've been through all those stored files. In fact, we've got no idea who all has been combing through those computer files.

Plus, we don't know what all those law enforcement files contained on the Constable's databases, but any Average Joe citizen out there probably had a right to privacy expectation that their personal information wouldn't be tossed around like this.

Today, the Dallas County Constables do lots of police-type work -- long gone are the olden days, where their primary job was serving subpoenas and the like. Now, Cortes and his brethren are involved in things like (1) finding dads who aren't paying their child support and forcing the deadbeat dads to pay up; (2) searching out and closing down crack houses and other drug sales shops in their area; (3) watching schools for dealers trying to sell drugs like heroin to the kids there; (4) impounding cars and other vehicles for various law violations, etc.

There's nothing to shield totally innocent folk from the stigma of being revealed as someone once considered as a druggie, etc. by the free for all use of the Constable's computer files here.

Let's hope the Judge on the November 23rd hearing puts a stop to this -- although, it's probably like shutting the barn door after the horse is gone by now ... right? How many copies of those hard drives have been made? Who got sent what as email attachments?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Cop Watch: Dallas Cop Tasers Himself, Goes to Hospital, Becomes Hit on Digg.Com

Last week, the video of a Dallas cop tasering himself was one of the Top Videos at with over 1100 hits. The video itself (you can watch it below) is from a local TV newscast that starts out giving a map of the Dallas metroplex, just in case folk around here needed a visual to understand one of local law enforcement officers was the one involved.

Now, this isn't the first time we've blogged on Texas cops misusing tasers. Just check out this list of prior posts:

August 2009: Taser Death of Michael Jacobs

July 2009: Two Taser Stories ("Take it!!! Take it!!!" the cop cried while repeatedly using the Taser)

July 2009: Cops Taser the Pastor -- in the Church Parking Lot

June 2009: Cops Taser a 72 Year Old Grandma -- twice.

May 2009: Cops Taser the Town Drunk and Kill Him

April 2009: Cop Tasers His Own Wife

March 2009: Cops Taser the Father of the Bride at the Wedding Reception

Texas Cops Use of Tasers is a Serious Situation becoming a National Joke

It's becoming more and more serious when cops are actually hurting themselves (note from the video, the cop was taken to the hospital to get treatment for his injuries), websites like are gathering an audience based upon the humor in the situation, and still -- nothing is being done to deal with TEXAS LAW ENFORCEMENT MISUSING STUN GUNS AND HURTING -- SOMETIMES KILLING -- PEOPLE.

When is the Texas Legislature going to take notice?????

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Cop Watch: Beaumont Cops Dash Cam Video Released of 2007 Arrest


Listen carefully, as well as watch this video captured by the dashboard camera of a Beaumont, Texas, patrol car. It was released by the Jefferson County District Attorney this week.

It is two years old, and the public is just now privy to this video.

What you are seeing - and hearing - is the recording of events on August 24, 2007, when Darrick Newmann was arrested by Beaumont police after a routine traffic stop. It's not pretty. In fact, it may well cause an emotional response and you should be prepared for that before you hit that play button.

Indictments and a Civil Lawsuit are Pending

Two of the cops seen in the video, Officers David Todd Burke and James Cody Guedry, are facing criminal charges for official oppression (one count each). In a related civil action, Darrick Newman is suing for damages based upon their use of excessive force.

Excessive force. What do you think?

Monday, August 03, 2009

DA Watch: El Paso District Attorney Investigates Potential Jurors Including Expunged Records

Over in El Paso, the district attorney's office is using its government databases to investigate ordinary citizens who show up for jury duty -- including going through past records that the citizens may believe to be secret or expunged.

And they're not telling the defense attorneys about this, at least they haven't been until they were caught doing this recently. Of course the defense bar is calling foul here.

What is an expunged record?

When someone pays to have their record "expunged," then they are taking action to have their record cleared of something -- an arrest, etc. -- and they believe that the expungement removes all trace of that particular event.

And it does. Public records do not provide any reference to something that has been expunged.

However, in the government databases, the expungement can remain these days -- all because of modern technology. The expungement is stored on the governmental records, archived in a database somewhere instead of the old school method of physically removing a file from the filing cabinet, stamping it "expunged," and either destroying it or sealing it in a box for storage offsite.

Where's the unfairness? First, it's unfair to the citizen whose record was expunged.

The first unfairness is to the citizen whose record has been expunged. An expunged record should mean that there has been a destruction of the event. For example, someone who is innocent was arrested for a crime. Three days later, the true evildoer was found.

It is blatantly unfair for that erroneous arrest to follow the innocent person into his or her future, tainting their personal and professional reputations. The mere reference to an arrest might cost them a job, for example. So, an expungement occurs.

The citizen believes that the horror of that event is gone and forgotten. But not with the El Paso District Attorney's office, apparently. They'll use the governmental databases and they'll look up that faulty arrest. All because the citizen has done his civic duty and shown up for jury duty.

That's not right. That's unfair.

It's also unfair to the valid and full defense of the current criminal defendant.

Remember now: the El Paso district attorney's office can access a national crime database -- just like any government prosecutor in this country -- and here, there's an unabridged listing of arrests and convictions that have been expunged from the public records.

Meanwhile, the defense attorney can only have access to the public records, not the SuperSecret national crime database.

So, the defense attorney is hampered in choosing a jury because the prosecutor is privy to information that the defense attorney is not. This is not the way that the jury selection process is supposed to occur.

What if the defendant going to trial is arguing that he was wrongfully arrested? We all know that the district attorney is going to strike the man or woman from the jury pool who they know from their SuperSecret database has an expunged record of a wrongful arrest. The prosecutor won't want that citizen on the jury, he (or she) may side with the defendant.

Which is exactly why the defense WILL argue for that citizen to be on the jury. And why this prosecutorial tactic is blatantly wrong.

Is this happening in places other than El Paso?

Sure it is. That governmental database is national in scope, and it would be absurd to think that only the El Paso district attorney's office is sniffing around its archieved expungements.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

JUDGE WATCH: Another Surprise Move by Judge Samuel Kent as He Resigns Effective June 30, 2009

No one can say that Judge Kent didn't put up an aggressive and creative fight in his defense against the charges levied against him - during the course of that proceeding, Kent took the offense time and again, surprising many with his strategic maneuvers.

And Samuel Kent surprised everyone once again, this week.

You'll recall from our earlier posts that Judge Kent returned to the national spotlight last month, when he sent in his letter of resignation -- with an effective date one year in the future. This would allow him to continue collecting his salary, even from his prison cell, until he was "fired" -- which for an appointed federal judge, means impeachment and trial in Congress.

Say what you will about Kent, this was a smart and shrewd move on his part, from a defense perspective.

Of course, this served to incense many, and the impeachment of Judge Kent began. Then, as the Senate was beginning its trial process by sending two Senate officials over to Judge Kent's jail cell last week to serve a summons upon him, voila.

Another surprise from Judge Kent.

He handed the Senate summons servers a short, terse letter where he resigned effective June 30, 2009. As of today, Judge Kent is no longer a federal judge, his bench is vacant, and he's no longer drawing a government paycheck.

Congress has to decide what it's going to do now. He's already in prison for 33 months. He's broke. They got lots of other business. Maybe Congress just lets this go.

Meantime, one has to wonder: book deal?

Monday, June 01, 2009

DA Watch: Former Jim Wells County DA Joe Frank Garza Spent Millions in Drug Money on Vegas Trips and 3 Secretaries

Down in Alice, Texas, where US Highway 281 runs through on its way from the US -Mexico border through the heart of Texas up to Dallas and beyond, there's lots of drug busts. Law enforcement in Jim Wells County stops all sorts of vehicles on its patch of US 281, confiscating all kinds of drugs -- as well as cash.

Apparently, lots and lots of cash. We're talking millions.

Over Four Million Dollars in Drug Forfeiture Money Was Spent by Former DA Garza on Trips to Vegas and Other Interesting Stuff

Joe Frank Garza was the District Attorney for Jim Wells County for a number of years, until his opponent campaigned in Alic, and elsewhere on issues regarding Garza's spending habits, and beat him in the last election.

Now, new DA Armando Barrera is beginning to report his findings on what was happening with the drug forfeiture money. First, Barrera is reporting that there was no checks and balances here: Garza spent the cash without anyone double-checking what he was doing with it.

And what was Joe Frank Garza doing with all that cash?

Barrera's reporting that Garza spent lots of money on travel to Vegas.
Garza's response is that there were lots of seminars in Vegas. He and
his employees went on lots of seminars ... legal seminars, to educate

Barrera's reporting that Garza spent lots of money on three particular secretaries.
Garza's response is that the cash was for extra pay to lots of folk within his jurisdiction.

The Numbers So Far

The media is reporting these tallies (the audit/investigation is ongoing, this information comes from data provided by Garza to the Attorney General's office) from 2000 - 2007 (excluding 2002) where Garza spent $4.2 million:
  1. $2.1 million was spent on "salary supplements", and while Garza had a staff of 15 who did get bonus pay, Barrera (and the county commissioner heading up the investigation) are reporting that most of this total went to just three people, three secretaries who worked for Garza.
  2. $267,449 on travel.
  3. $581,000 in operating expenses.
  4. $19,987 on equipment.
  5. $154,213 on supplies.
Has a Law Been Violated by Garza?

Garza is adamant that he has done nothing wrong. It was totally within his power to spend this drug money as he saw fit. Right now, state and county laws are being reviewed to see if this is true, or if Garza has violated either civil or criminal laws by his actions.

Stay tuned.


Corpus Christi Caller Times

Monday, May 04, 2009

JUDGE WATCH: Justice Sharon Keller Amends Her Financial Report, It's Up $2.4 Million

Justice Sharon Keller has submitted her amended financial statements, and boy have things changed.

She has added over $2,400,000 in property and income from the last financial statement that she filed. And, as the presiding chief justice of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, she is required by law to reveal in writing all her assets.

Why didn't she just include all this stuff before now?

Her daddy didn't tell her.

That's right. Yes, this is the explanation that the Chief Justice gave the Texas Ethics Commission for this huge, glaring omission.

In her sworn statement, which was filed along with these amended financials, Justice Keller points the finger at her dad - seems he acts as business manager for his four kids, and he's placed properties in all their names. Guess this never, ever got talked about at family gatherings, or that daddy's daughter never thought to ask anything like "what are you using my name for?"

Lawyers never think of things like that.

Still no answer on what she thought she was signing periodically, and one would assume that with $2.4 million in assets floating around, that there were times when Daddy would need Daughter's signature on something.

What are these assets?

According to the financial statement, and the reporting of the Dallas Morning News, these newly revealed assets include:

1. two fast-food restaurants
2. a bank
3. a home on Garland Road
4. another home on Garland Road
5. a commercial tract in Euless, Texas (1.5 acres)
6. 22 Certificates of Deposit (CDs) in four different banks
7. $110,000 investment income.

Must've Been A Nice Surprise

Boy howdy. Wouldn't that be great -- to discover that you own a bank, a couple of restaurants, two houses on Garland Road, some land, some CDs, and you're gonna get over $100K each year in investment income?!! Wow.


Dallas Morning News

Monday, April 06, 2009

JUDGE WATCH: Another Texas Judge Arrested by the FBI

You read these stories, and you just know you're seeing a future Law & Order episode ....

Last Thursday, after an investigation with an undercover FBI agent posing as a defendant pending trial, the FBI arrested El Paso state district judge Manuel J. Barraza, 53, on four counts of federal criminal activity that is being described as taking bribes and soliciting sex from defendants appearing before him.

Officially, the grand jury indictment includes three charges of "wire fraud and deprivation of honest services" and a fourth charge of lying to a federal agent. Judge Barraza has been released from custody after posting $10,000 bail.

El Paso District Attorney is Reviewing Every Case that Went Before Barraza

Meanwhile, the El Paso district attorney is reviewing every case that has gone before Judge Barraza and it's expected that some of these cases will be tossed out as a result of the prosecutor's investigation. Even though the judge has only been on the bench a short while, that review is going to encompass over 100 cases.

Apparently, it didn't take Barraza long ....

Barraza just got elected judge last November. And,according to investigators, Barraza started these solicitations for money and sex long before he took the bench in January. In fact, Barraza purportedly starting inviting defendants to pay him money and sex for his influence as a judge shortly after he won the election on November 2nd.

Shocking Blow to a Once-Promising Career

Barraza, now a grandfather of four and father of two, built a legal career as a criminal defense attorney who represented complex and notorious criminal defendants, including serial killer Richard Ramirez (known as "the Night Stalker" in the media) as his local counsel.

However, maybe there was a hint of things to come: the El Paso Times is reporting that Barraza was charged with attempting to bribe a probation officer back in 1983, but the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence.

What Happens to Manuel Barraza?

First, he's going to have to face those federal charges. Then, maybe Barraza can go back to practicing law. But his short stint as a member of the judiciary (did he even reach 90 days on the bench?) is the end of Manuel Barraza, Judge.


Houston Chronicle

Dallas Morning News

El Paso Times

Monday, March 02, 2009

JUDGE WATCH: Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht - Ethics Complaint Dismissed for Insufficient Evidence

Here in Texas, our highest courts in the adjudication of Texas law are split -- civil matters go to the Texas Supreme Court (TSCt), and criminal cases are reviewed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA).

And, there's something to ponder in the fact that the national media has justices on both these courts in their headlines for possible bad acts. Yes, folks, let's ponder that for a bit.

While CCA Chief Justice Sharon Keller (see earlier post on her impending trial and possible impeachment) will be in the news for months to come, TSCt Justice Nathan Hecht is probably going to fade away from the national media scene because of a decision released last month, and hitting the media news late last week.

Texas Ethics Commission Clears Justice Hecht

On February 12, 2009, the Texas Ethics Commission issued a final order in a year-long investigation into activities of Justice Hecht. The TEC dismissed the complaint against the Texas Supreme Court justice because "insufficient evidence" was found that the state election code had been violated.

Justice Hecht Accused of Using Political Contributions for Personal Use

Over a year ago, Hecht was accused of using campaign money to travel to Carrollton, Texas (Hecht lives in Austin). Hecht, however, has a home in Carrollton, attends church in Carrollton, does some of his TSCt work in Carrollton, and has "lots of friends" in Carrollton.

Justice Hecht's Reprimand and $29K Fine Still Holds

Of course, this doesn't change the reprimand that Justice Hecht received last fall, from this same ethics commission, to the tune of $29,000. In that matter, Justice Hecht was found to have received an illegal campaign contribution amounting to $168,000 because the law firm Jackson Walker discounted his legal fees by that amount during his legal fight against allegations that he had abused his position as a justice on the TSCt by openly supporting Harriett Miers in her failed bid for the United States Supreme Court.

(Hecht's argument to the underlying legal challenge? He's prohibited from supporting a candidate running for judicial office under the Code of Judicial Conduct, not from supporting someone nominated for appointment.)

That's Not All Folks ....

And, if you're thinking this is all there is to ethics investigations into the high courts of our fair state, think again. There's the 2008 investigation into TSCt Justice David Medina - alleging that he may have violated state law when he reimbursed himself $57,000 in mileage (commuting between his Houston home and Austin) out of campaign funds.

You'll remember that Houston home -- it's the one that Justice Medina's wife was accused of burning down when arson charges were filed against her.


Associated Press

International Herald Tribune

Dallas Morning News

Houston Chronicle

Monday, February 02, 2009

COP WATCH: North Texas Sheriff Cops a Plea in Fed Court, Faces 10 Yrs in Pen

The feds got themselves another Texas Sheriff last week.

Montague Sheriff Bill Keating Pled Guilty and Faces 10 Years in Prison, $250K in Fines

Last Thursday, Montague County Sheriff Bill Keating - a man who has worn a badge for the past forty years - accepted a plea deal offered by federal prosecutors, pleading guilty in federal court for violating the civil rights of a woman and facing a maximum fine of $250,000 and 10 years in federal prison.

"Civil rights violation" sounds pretty tame, doesn't it? Well, actually it is kinda reminiscent of the old Al Capone case, where the feds got Capone on tax evasion. Those federal crimes sound kind of dull and dry, until you find out all the details behind them.

The Backstory on Sheriff Bill

The real story behind Sheriff Bill Keating, 62, is a nasty one. As reported by the Feds, it seems the sheriff and his crew went out to some guy's house, with a warrant, to arrest him. When they got there, the man and his girlfriend were at the house. Rather than just taking the guy in, the Sheriff's posse looked around and found some drug paraphernalia along with the dregs of some methamphetamine.

Sexual Assault On More Than One Occasion Equals Violation of Federal Civil Rights

And here's where the story gets really bad. Seems Sheriff Keating took the girlfriend aside and threatened to bust her, too, unless she had sex with him. Authorities report that the two, the Sheriff and the girlfriend, drove in his pickup truck to some back road where she performed oral sex on Sheriff Bill.

It wasn't over then, though. The Feds report that Sheriff Bill went back to the girlfriend on several occasions with the same demands for sexual favors, and that he also forced her to agree to become an informant for the Sheriff's Department.

This is the stuff of bad B movies. The only good thing? That woman had the courage to tell the truth about what was happening to her. Good for her. That took guts, to go against a Texas Sheriff and his whole department.

Now, the State District Attorney Has His Turn at Bat: More Charges Are Expected

While the Feds have made their case based upon constitutional violations, the State of Texas still has a turn at bat. And, the Montague County District Attorney has announced he's looking to file charges against Sheriff Bill Keating, along with assorted deputies, for having sex with inmates in the county jail along with allowing contraband into the facility.

And, get this -- things were so bad in that jail under Sheriff Bill's command, that some of the jail cells had recliners in them. Recliners. Think about that.

Look for the State indictments to hit sometime later this month.

Betcha we're gonna here lots more bad stuff about ol' Sheriff Bill: that fed story about the girlfriend? Tip of the iceberg. Betcha.

And, betcha we're gonna see some civil lawsuits popping up sometime soon, too. You know, civil damages for the Sheriff's bad actions, and the assertions of an immunity defense.


Associated Press

Dallas Morning News

Monday, January 05, 2009

JUDGE WATCH: Judge Shelton's Daughter Can Do No Wrong?

Over in Houston, Elizabeth Shelton really isn't new news -- back in October 2007, her name was in the papers as the daughter of a Houston judge (Pat Shelton) who had been convicted of intoxication manslaughter in the death of her 19 year old boyfriend, and fined $10,000, after her SUV collided with a box truck on the freeway. She had to serve 120 days in jail (which didn't start until she finished her semester at college) before starting a term of 8 years probation. If she violates the probation, then she serves 5 years in prison.

No one contested that her SUV rear-ended the truck.

Elizabeth Shelton's SUV plowed into the back of a box truck on the Southwest Freeway, killing her passenger.

No one contested the fact that this was a drunk driver case.

No one denied she was drunk. Elizabeth Shelton, the judge's daughter, tested THREE times over the legal blood alcohol content. Evidence included that she cursed at the ER nurse after the accident, and was heard to be telling folk there that her daddy was a judge ....

Her boyfriend was hanging out of the truck per criminal trial testimony.

Oh, and there was evidence that right before the crash, her boyfriend was hanging out the side of the SUV, on the freeway, and that he was almost decapitated upon impact. Whoa.

Her defense was the truck driver changed lanes....

Still, throughout her criminal trial -- and she went to trial, no plea bargain for her -- she argued for her innocence. Her defense? the truck driver made an illegal lane change.

Now, the Judge's daughter is suing the TRUCK DRIVER in civil court ....

Yes. That's right. It's been almost a year since she was sentenced, and now Elizabeth Shelton has filed suit against the truck driver.

Get this: the Judge's daughter wants $20,000 for the property damage to her Lexus SUV and she wants an undisclosed amount for the pain and suffering she's experienced, along with medical expenses and attorneys' fees.

And the JUDGE is also listed as a plaintiiff in this suit. Yes, the JUDGE is suing, too.

No kidding, serious as a heart attack.

Judge Pat Shelton, and his wife, are parties plaintiff right along with their daughter, in this civil suit ... which many try and justify by arguing it's all just a big skirmish necessary to get insurance companies to pay up.

Sure, that explains everything. Like why the media in AUSTRALIA are running this story with the headline, "Someone tell this woman she's an idiot."

Once again, I could not make this stuff up.




The Inquistr