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.
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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.
According 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