They say everything is bigger in Texas. And sure enough, if you've ever seen a bigger legal mess than the case of Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina, we'd love to hear about it.
Last June, the Medinas' house burned down in a fire that spread to two other houses, causing a total of about $900,000 in damages. Investigators suspected arson when they found an accelerant in the Medinasâ garage where the fire started. And the discovery that the house had been in foreclosure a year earlier deepened their suspicion. Medina and his wife gave conflicting accounts of the judgeâs whereabouts at the time of the fire.
So Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal (R) duly convened a grand jury to examine the evidence. After deliberating three months past the scheduled end of its term, the jurors told prosecutor Vic Wisner on Thursday to prepare the indictments.
to jury foreman Bob Ryan, âHe slammed the door and left.â Later, Wisner thought better of that and agreed to prepare the indictments.
Medina was charged with tampering with or falsifying evidence, and his wife with arson, both felonies. Arson carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison; tampering with an investigation, a maximum of 10 years. They were set free on bailâ$20,000 for Mrs. Medina and $5,000 for the judge.
The next day, Rosenthal dismissed the charges.
Ryan, whoâs served as foreman on grand juries at least four times, was not happy: âThis is ludicrous.... Mr. Rosenthal never put his head in the door and heard one word of testimony.â
Both Ryan and the assistant foreman, Jeffrey Dorrell, alleged that the jury was given to understand, before hearing any evidence, that the case had no merit.
âIt was theater of the absurd,â observed
Dorrell. "We knew before we handed the indictment down that the district attorney was going to refuse to prosecute, but we did it anyway.â
Ryan is considering
reconvening the grand jury next week.
To add to the mess, the two have risked breaking a law that mandates the secrecy of grand jury proceedings; both say they haven't actually crossed the line.
But late Friday, Medinaâs attorney, Terry Yates, filed
a motion asking for a hearing to determine whether Ryan and Dorrell acted illegally. (If held in contempt, the pair could be fined $500 and given 30 days in jail.)
Yates accused them of indicting Medina in order to embarrass Rosenthal: âThey've made a mockery of the entire process... This is crazy. This is mind-boggling, what this grand jury has done. This is more than a runaway grand jury. This is a grand jury speeding away in a Lamborghini.â
As for Medina, who was appointed to the state supreme court by Gov. Rick Perry (R), he moved to Austin with his family after the fire. He says they are now âmaking the bestâ of it in his âsmall, two-bedroom, one-bath home.â It must be a difficult adjustment. The Houston house that burned was 5,000 sq. ft. with a 3-car garage.
Medina seems to have a problem of living too large. The symptoms: a tax lien on his house of nearly $10,000 (resolved in 2005), a mortgage foreclosure attempt (resolved in 2006) and six outstanding payments to the subdivision maintenance organization ($2,000). During the same period, he charged the government nearly $57,000 for mileage. His homeowners insurance lapsed because of unpaid premiums.
Medina claimed he was unaware of the tax lien and characterized the foreclosure as a "miscomunication" with the bank he used at the time.
Worse, he claims his homeowner's insurance lapsed because he couldn't recall "exactly how I set up that policy and my automobile policy."
He also said he was unaware that Texas doesn't reimburse the commuting expenses of judges. He may face ethics charges.
Terry Yates, Medinaâs attorney, cited the lapsed insurance in Medina's defense. The lack of an obvious motive does speak against arson. Or maybe it just speaks for incompetence.
Yep, it's truly a mess of Texan proportions. And don't forget that Rosenthal, the D.A. who seems determined to protect Medina from the mercurial grand jury, is himself the subject of an investigation that may result in his ouster. He's accused of deleting emails illegally and using his office to serve his political ends. As a result, Rosenthal was forced to give up his bid for re-election earlier in January.
That lends credence to Ryan's theory that Rosenthal is just running cover for his GOP ally: "If this was David Medina, comma, truck driver, comma, Baytown, Texas, he would have been indicted three months ago."