The lawyer versus the jurors

As we know, the complaints by two grand jurors over DA Chuck Rosenthal’s decision to dismiss the indictments that were returned in the Medina arson case have led to the Medinas’ attorney asking the judge to sanction them for violating secrecy laws. Both the lawyer and the jurors are sniping at each other over this.

Attorney Terry Yates continued to accuse the two grand jurors, foreman Bob Ryan and assistant foreman Jeffrey Dorrell, of breaking the law by publicly discussing the case outside the grand jury. Among the accusations was the suggestion by Yates that Dorrell was a gay activist and may have been trying to use the case to embarrass conservatives like Medina and Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.

Dorrell and Ryan headed the grand jury that handed up indictments last Thursday against Medina and his wife Francisca Medina in connection with a fire at the couple’s Spring-area home last summer.


State District Judge Jim Wallace agreed to dismiss the charges Friday morning, and Yates asked Wallace to sanction Ryan and Dorrell for contempt for discussing the grand jury proceedings. Wallace said he would decide later this week if a hearing was needed to address the issue.

In a scathing letter sent to the Houston Chronicle Sunday, Ryan blasted Yates for calling him and Dorrell “runaway jurors” after they publicly criticized the district attorney’s office.

Such comments, Ryan’s letter states, “impugn the integrity of twelve citizens of Harris County who have given up considerable amounts of their time to insure justice is done.”

Yates said Sunday he did not question the integrity of all the grand jurors, but believes Ryan and Dorrell illegally discussed in the media grand jury proceedings that by law are secret.

“I don’t fault any of the other grand jurors,” Yates said, “just these two fellows who violated the law.” Yates said Ryan and Dorrell acted illegally when they told reporters Jan. 17 that Rosenthal’s unwillingness to prosecute was politically motivated.

Ryan and Dorrell said they broke no laws and were careful not to mention anything discussed in secrecy.

Ryan also said that the grand jurors were “greatly insulted by Mr. (Dick) DeGuerin’s statement that ” ‘they are nutty.’ ”

DeGuerin said he did not call the grand jurors nutty but had said that it was “nutty” for a grand jury to indict people when prosecutors have said insufficient evidence was available to support an indictment.

“I’m tickled to death to appear in court for a show-cause hearing,” said Ryan, a Houston real estate broker.

“Whatever Judge Wallace wants to do with it, I’ll respect and abide by,” said Dorrell, a Houston civil lawyer.

Ryan’s letter can be seen here. I want to highlight this bit:

As a former assistant district attorney, [Yates] well knows that grand juries hear cases brought on their own motion, from a competent citizen or from the district attorney. His client’s case was received from the latter. He also knows that for a true bill to be handed up there must be a minimum of nine votes in the affirmative, not two “runaway jurors.” Comments like his serve only to impugn the integrity of 12 citizens of Harris County who have given up considerable amounts of their time to ensure justice is done. These are not 12 hicks from Mayberry, U.S.A., who just rode into town on the turnip wagon.

This case was brought to our grand jury last fall, well in advance of District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal’s problems. We were asked to “hold over” to continue the case. Yates’ allegations of a vendetta are reprehensible, and I am personally offended. His action of filing a motion for sanctions against [Jeffrey] Dorrell and me is laughable, as our comments clearly steer clear of violating our oath of secrecy of the proceedings. We are represented by counsel whom Yates knows and well respects.

Ryan’s timeline, and his statement that the charges were brought by the DA, just adds to the mystery. Again, why bring the matter to a grand jury if, as ADA Vic Wisner said, the case is still under investigation? What was the rush, and why now the sudden change of direction? The least unpleasant conclusion I can think of is that the DA just didn’t have its act together. Every other possibility has political implications.

I have no opinion on the question of whether or not Ryan and Dorrell violated the secrecy oath. The judge will let us know what he thinks soon enough. They seem to be prepared to accept any consequences of their actions, which is laudable. I’ll be fine with whatever the judge decides.

This, however, is something I’m not fine with:

Yates said Dorrell is a gay activist who may have an agenda against conservatives like Rosenthal and Medina.

Rosenthal, he added, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of the state’s now-defunct sodomy law in 2003. That may have made him a target for Dorrell, a former Log-Cabin Republican president who, Yates said, led an effort to strike down the sodomy law.

“There is no doubt that his action comes from an agenda,” Yates said.

Dorrell said he supports gay rights, but is not an activist and follows no agenda during his work as a grand juror. He said he had forgotten that Rosenthal had argued in defense of the old sodomy law. He also said he did not help any effort to strike down that law.

Regardless of his political leanings, Dorrell questioned how he could have swayed fellow grand jurors to indict the Medinas to embarrass Rosenthal.

I think Yates’ speculation about motives does him no credit. The facts of the case give merit to his complaint about the secrecy oath. What he’s doing here sounds like a smear attempt to me. He should stick to the facts and keep his conspiracy theories to himself.

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5 Responses to The lawyer versus the jurors

  1. Cal says:

    Let the memory be refreshed!
    Dorrell isn’t an activist?

    By Matt Lum

    HOUSTON–Anti-gay language was removed from Senate district 13’s version of what will go on to become the state’s GOP platform last week, marking the first time such language has been removed since it was first introduced almost twenty years ago. Although there is little possibility the final state-approved version will reflect the district’s recommendation, Log Cabin Republicans in Houston and across the state are pleased with the progress.

    “This was not a victory for gays, it was a victory for fairness,” says Jeffrey Dorrell, former LCR-Houston president who lead the effort. “Texas voters are fed up with old-style campaign fear-mongering. This is a final wake-up call to Republican candidates everywhere–from now on, scapegoating gays will be political suicide.”

    The platform recommendations of each Senatorial district are sent to the state committee that will meet in June. The 31 versions of the platform (one for every district in the state) will be cobbled together to form the state platform. “The state committee is not bound to observe anything that any senatorial district does, but considering the imprimatur of the entire district, our version does carry some weight,” said Dorrell.

    For the past six years, Dorrell has lead Houston’s Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) in a systematic effort to seat gay and gay-friendly GOP precinct chairmen and delegates to the Texas GOP in hopes of moderating the stridency of right-wing conservatives in the party, according to LCR. The changes in district 13’s platform were possible because Dorrell was able to secure a seat on the district’s platform committee.

    “It was kind of grudging and I had to negotiate for the spot on the committee and I campaigned for it,” Dorrell says. “But the pleasant surprise was that the result was as successful as it was. I thought I would get voted down on everything. Instead, we had a group of people that are willing to listen. When you can’t persuade them on issues, sometimes you can persuade them on being politically pragmatic.”

    Platform planks condemning homosexuality as “tearing at the fabric of society” and “contributing to the spread of disease,” as well as those calling for continued criminal penalties for sodomy and dozens of other references to homosexuality were all deleted by the committee Dorrell worked on, and later by the full district. Although the platform still calls for repeal of no-fault divorce and still opposes adoption of children by gays, it is nevertheless the most moderate position statement to come out of a Republican convention anywhere in Texas, if not in the United States, in decades.

  2. Kenneth Fair says:

    Code of Criminal Procedure article 20.02(b) states: “A grand juror … who discloses anything transpiring before the grand jury … in the course of the official duties of the grand jury shall be liable to a fine as for contempt of the court, not exceeding five hundred dollars, imprisonment not exceeding thirty days, or both such fine and imprisonment.”

    All I’ve seen from the published reports that Ryan and Donnell have said is (1) the grand jury indicted Medina, (2) they think Rosenthal should have prosecuted Medina, and (3) his refusal to do so is politically motivated rather than based on the evidence. The first is a matter of public record. The second reveals nothing about the grand jury proceedings because it is completely obvious – they wouldn’t have indicted if they didn’t think further prosecution was warranted. The third is a matter of opinion based not on the grand jury proceedings but on the actions of Chuck Rosenthal and the DA’s office.

    Unless there’s something more that’s not in the published accounts, I don’t see where Ryan and Donnell have violated their oaths.

  3. Baby Snooks says:

    You can always count on Republicans to fall back on the “homosexual agenda” when the “left-wing conspiracy” doesn’t cut it. If all else fails, they will send in Kay Bailey Hutchison to dismiss it all as a mere technicality and then probably add that none of this really was anyone’s business to begin with. In her mind, of course, it was their house. If they wanted to burn it down, that was their choice. If the insurance companies wanted to cover it, that was their choice. So what crime, really, was committed if indeed they burned their house down?

    Bob Ryan and Jeffrey Dorrell did not violate the sancrosanctity of the grand jury. They revealed no evidence, discussed nothing of the grand jurors deliberations. What they did do, however, was state publicly how they were expected to rubber stamp a district attorney’s obvious attempt to have them “no-bill” the matter which is a very serious matter.

    Probable cause requires the element of motivation. And the motivation was quite evident in the financial mess the Medinas were in at the time.

    But that of course was known to one and all. It has been in the media for some time. As has the arson investigation.

    The real question is when is someone going to move to remove Chuck Rosenthal from office?

  4. The jurors did not embarrass Rosenthal. Rosenthal embarrassed Rosenthal by the obviously political dismissal of a legitimate indictment. Rosenthal deserves to be driven out of town on a rail.

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