The scandal over alleged arson by Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina has gotten even more controversial. First, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal refused to prosecute Medina after a grand jury issued indictments. Now, two of the grand jurors who voted to indict are having a public fight with Medina counsel, Terry Yates. Yates in turn has called for their punishment in allegedly violating grand jury secrecy. For many, it raises the same images of the ongoing Rocky Flats grand jury controversy.
First a disclosure, I am counsel to the Rocky Flats grand jury which was criminally investigated for going public with their allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and a cover-up of crimes committed at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant in Colorado. Click here and here
Grand jury forman Bob Ryan and assistant foreman Jeffrey Dorrell are accused by Yates of breaking grand jury secrecy by speaking out against the decision to toss out the indictments. Yates has even alleged political motives behind the indictment and public accusations since Medina’s conservative record.
Justice Medina and his wife Fran Medina have been indicted by a Houston grand jury in connection to the alleged arson in June at their home. He was also charged with the arson and his wife with tampering of evidence. However, Rosenthal immediately indicated that he would kill the indictment on the ground of insufficiency of evidence – a claim that has raised concerns over special treatment by the jurist.
The fire destroyed the 5,000-square-foot house. It also destroyed a neighbor’s home and damaged the home of a third neighbor.
A prosecutor has an ethical obligation not to prosecute individuals with the evidence is insufficient and Texas prosecutors have often been criticize for prosecuting without using such discretion in past cases.
Yet, fire experts found that arson was behind the fire. The Dallas Morning News also reports:
Harris County fire officials believe the June blaze, which destroyed the Medina home and a neighbor’s house and did nearly $1 million in damage, was intentionally set. Their initial investigation focused on six people close to the justice, and was fueled by a trail of financial troubles for Mr. Medina’s family.
In 2004, the Medinas failed to pay nearly $10,000 in county and school district taxes, resulting in a lien on their home. A year later, a mortgage company attempted to seize the couple’s home, claiming they had not made a payment in four months. The suit was resolved out of court.
The Medinas’ home insurance policy had lapsed because of unpaid premiums.
After dismissing the charges against the Medinas, State District Judge Jim Wallace is now considering Yates demand for sanctions against Ryan and Dorrell for contempt.
Notably, like the Rocky Flats grand jury, Ryan and Dorrell have been publicly responding to claims that they were “runaway jurors.” Ryan objected in a letter that Yates’ comment “impugn the integrity of twelve citizens of Harris County who have given up considerable amounts of their time to insure justice is done.” Another lawyer called them “nutty.”
In the meantime, Yates has continued his attacks, particularly against Dorrell, a gay activist who was a former president of the Log-Cabin Republicans. He notes that Rosenthal argued before the U.S. Supreme Courtto uphold the state’s now-defunct sodomy law in 2003 and Medina is viewed as hostile to gay rights.
The case could present some interesting questions for grand jury secrecy. Dorrell and Ryan appear to have been careful not to discuss witnesses or testimony — the core area of secrecy. However, grand jurors rarely speak of their service in public absent extreme circumstances like Rocky Flats where actual crimes are alleged. Of course, it is now very common for trial jurors to do so, as recent controversies demonstrate (click here).
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