Looks like we may have to wait awhile for any further action in the lawsuit against the Sheriff's office that launched Chuck Rosenthal and his infamous emails into the public consciousness.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay temporarily halting the trial for a federal lawsuit that unearthed the e-mails -- and could delay a Feb. 25 hearing to decide whether Rosenthal should be held in contempt for deleting e-mails after they had been subpoenaed.
If U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt is recused, another judge would preside over the trial and the Rosenthal contempt hearing. Hoyt began hearing evidence on the contempt motion nearly two weeks ago, but temporarily halted it at the request of Rosenthal's lawyer. On the witness stand, Rosenthal acknowledged making erroneous statements during previous sworn testimony.
The decision came just hours after a jury had been seated in Hoyt's court to determine whether two Houston brothers' civil rights were violated when they were arrested after one of them photographed a Harris County sheriff's deputy at a drug raid. Opening arguments were set to begin today.
Attorneys for four sheriff's deputies targeted in the brothers' federal lawsuit had appealed to the Fifth Circuit, seeking Hoyt's recusal, based on remarks the judge made in chambers during a pre-trial conference last week.
The higher court granted the delay so it could review a transcript of that conference after the deputies' attorneys questioned whether Hoyt could fairly and impartially preside over the civil case, filed by Sean Carlos Ibarra and Erik Adam Ibarra. The substance of Hoyt's remarks is not known since that transcript and the motion seeking his recusal are sealed. The deputies' attorneys also would not comment on why the judge's words concerned them.
But when Hoyt denied their recusal motion and proceeded with jury selection Tuesday, the deputies' attorneys appealed to the Fifth Circuit.
The Fifth Circuit also granted a request to place all motions under seal, shielding them from public view.
Civil attorneys who spoke to the Chronicle on background said they expect the Fifth Circuit to act quickly on the recusal matter.
They said the Fifth Circuit is typically hostile to recusal motions and rarely grants them, even when a strong case for it can be made. With Hoyt, however, there is precedent. Comments he made during the middle of a 1997 toxic tort trial led the Fifth Circuit to remove him from the case.
On a related note, Mark Bennett had sent in a request for "all documents related to the Harris County Sheriff's Office's email retention policy, including emails and other correspondence discussing the policy and changes to the policy [for the time period from January 9, 2008, through January 18, 2008]", and got a response. You can view what he got here (PDF). Looks to me like this would conflict with Willie Mata's assertions about the policy and the way it was implemented, but you be the judge.Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 13, 2008 to Local politics