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Medina grand jury disbanded, judge criticizes DA

I saw an earlier version of this story and was all set to get indignant about it, but now I think I’ll let the judge speak for me.

A judge criticized the Harris County District Attorney’s Office today for not standing behind a grand jury’s decision to indict a Texas Supreme Court Justice and his wife in connection the 2007 fire that destroyed the couple’s Spring home.

“Why did they bring the case to the grand jury if they didn’t want the grand jury to do its job?” state District Judge Jim Wallace asked. “At that point in time, you ought to stand by, and abide by, what the grand jury wishes to do.”

The criticism came on the heels of Wallace’s decision to disband the grand jury that indicted David Medina and his wife because of a procedural error by Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal’s office, nullifying at least two months of work and maybe more, Wallace said.

He said the case should have been investigated further before dismissing the indictment.

“The unusual aspect of this case is that it was dismissed so quickly,” he said. “It should have been allowed to run its course.”

Wallace also said he was frustrated because procedural mistakes by the DA’s office make it harder to find citizens to serve on grand juries.

“That’s my concern, because I know how hard it is to impanel grand jurors,” Wallace said. “They think ‘Why waste our time?'”

I think that about covers all of the main points, with one exception:

In an open letter to the Houston Chronicle, Assistant District Attorney Vic Wisner defended his quick dismissal.

“Regardless of my personal belief in the merits of a case, I cannot ethically proceed forward if I believe the prosecution will not survive an instructed verdict of not guilty and be an exercise in futility. I do not, nor should any prosecutor, conduct show trials,” Wisner said. “If I wanted to help the Medina’s and bury the case I would never have bought it to a Grand Jury in the first place.”

Wisner wrote that he has asked an “outside investigative agency to pursue the remaining investigative leads” in the Medina case. Reached this evening by phone, Wisner declined to identify that outside agency.

The disagreement over the Medina dismissal, however, was moot because prosecutors failed to file the proper paperwork to extend the grand jury’s initial term, which expired Nov. 2, said Medina’s attorney, Terry Yates.

Wallace agreed, ruling that the Medina indictments, plus more than 30 others in an unrelated mortgage fraud case, are now null and void.


Rosenthal on Tuesday denied that politcs played a role in the decision to dismiss the case.

“Absolutely not,” Rosenthal said. “It’s part of my oath that I don’t prosecute people if I don’t think there’s enough evidence to do so.”

Rosenthal said there isn’t enough evidence to justify pursing an arson charge against Francisca Medina and an evidence tampering charge against the judge, but that his office continues investigating.

Rosenthal said he isn’t aware of any similar procedural errors that could jeopardize indictments handed up by other grand juries.

He said the mistake occurred when the prosecutor who was handling the mortgage fraud case asked that the grand jury be held over, beyond their three-month term. Rosenthal said the prosecutor didn’t file the correct paperwork.

He said the chief of his grand jury division retired about a year ago, and the new chief didn’t catch the mistake.

He said he didn’t think other grand juries have been held over for the past year, so there aren’t any other cases that might suffer the same procedural snag.

This is old, familiar turf by now. Under other circumstances, the failure to file paperwork to extend the grand jury’s term would be a simple screwup. With all that’s gone on with the Rosenthal office, nothing is simple. Nobody trusts his motives or his judgment, so stuff like this takes on a life of its own. There’s a simple answer to this, of course. You know the words, so sing along with me: Chuck Rosenthal should resign. That won’t address all of the problems in the office, but it’d be a heck of a good start. Cory has more.

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One Comment

  1. Jeff N. says:

    I’m singing that song, too. Chuck R. needs to step down in favor of a prosecutor with good judgment, or at least one who hasn’t admitted to having bad judgment, as he has.

    From the outside, it looks like he’s holding on to office because he knows he’ll have a lot less leverage after he resigns. He must believe he’ll need all the leverage he can get to survive the upcoming contempt hearing in federal court, the results of the AG investigation into his e-mails, and Lord knows what else.

    He’s handled enough plea negotiations over his career to know the importance of leverage.