November 22, 2008
Pounding the table

It just keeps getting better down in Willacy County.

A county prosecutor who obtained indictments against Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others pounded his fist and shouted at the judge Friday about special treatment for high-profile defendants as a routine motions hearing descended into chaos.

Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra, who is accusing the public officials of culpability in the alleged abuse of prisoners at a federal detention center, asked presiding Judge Manuel Banales to recuse himself. Guerra has complained about Banales' handling of the case, a probe he has dubbed "Operation Goliath."

Attorneys for the vice president and other defendants leapt to their feet in objection, as Guerra pounded the table and accused Banales of giving the defendants special treatment in allowing motions to quash the indictments to be heard before the defendants were arraigned.

"Now all of a sudden there is urgency!" Guerra shouted at Banales. "Eighteen months you kept me indicted through the election!"

Charges accusing Guerra of extorting money from a bail bond company and of using his office for personal business were dismissed in October, but he had already lost the March Democratic primary.

The defendants in the prisoner abuse case, who were not required to be in court, were all expected to waive arraignment, but the hearing never progressed that far.

"Did you think, judge, my grand jury didn't take this seriously?" Guerra said. "They indicted the vice president."

Banales called a recess to contact the chief justice of the state Supreme Court for suggestions on how to proceed, and ordered Guerra to remain in the courthouse.

"I will not obey that order," Guerra said, but agreed to stay if the judge asked him respectfully.

Banales adjourned until Wednesday.

The thing is, I do think his grand jury took this seriously, and if you read stuff like this, it's easy to see that there's some really nasty stuff associated with the detention facility, and it really does need to be investigated. It's just that DA Guerra, whom South Texas Chisme refers to as "DA Hissy Fit", may not be the best person to be in charge of such investigations. I just hope that the underlying problem here doesn't get lost in the circus.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 22, 2008 to Crime and Punishment
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