The Dallas County district attorney’s office has subpoenaed two more courthouse employees — including a second judge — in its official-oppression investigation into Criminal Court Judge Julia Hayes.
Prosecutors began a grand jury investigation of Hayes and subpoenaed her after she held a prosecutor in contempt for not following a court order last week. The district attorney’s office this week also subpoenaed the judge’s court coordinator, Teresa Pigg-Curry, and Criminal Court Judge Angela King.
Attorneys for Hayes, Pigg-Curry and King on Wednesday questioned the actions of District Attorney Craig Watkins in launching the grand jury investigation and subpoenaing the women. The judges, like Watkins, are Democrats.
“This whole thing is, at best, bizarre. At worst, despicable,” David Finn, who represents Pigg-Curry, said Wednesday. “Somebody is giving District Attorney Craig Watkins some very bad advice.”
All of the women’s attorneys — including J. Michael Price II, representing Hayes, and Clint Broden, representing King — say Watkins is retaliating against Hayes for issuing orders his office didn’t like.
Hayes held prosecutor Keena Miller in contempt last week after she refused a court order to hand over the criminal records of police officers who were going to testify in a misdemeanor domestic violence case in Hayes’ court. Hayes wanted to review the records to see if any information on the officers’ pasts should be shared with the defense.
Watkins said Wednesday he could not confirm whether there is a grand jury investigation. Prosecutors typically do not comment on ongoing investigations. Earlier this week, Watkins called it “unfortunate that an officer of the court would characterize anything that we do with this administration, in this office, as retaliation.”
Bennett Gershman, a professor at Pace University in New York who studies prosecutorial misconduct, said the subpoenas by Watkins’ office are unusual and “outrageous.” He said appealing a judge’s orders — as the district attorney’s office has also done in the contempt ruling by Hayes — is the proper way to handle such disagreements.
“This is a kind of abuse of power that you hope you don’t see,” said Gershman, a former New York prosecutor. “This can destroy a judge’s impartiality by threatening them with a subpoena and criminal charges.”
Last Thursday, Hayes held Miller in contempt and ordered her to remain in the courtroom. The district attorney’s office objected to handing over the criminal histories of police officers, saying they are not required to do so and that federal law prohibits giving the information to defense attorneys. Defense attorneys argue the records can be released for a criminal justice purpose such as a court proceeding.
Later that day, Hayes suspended her decision to hold Miller in contempt after meeting with Watkins. She agreed to hold a hearing about the matter the next day.
Just before that hearing was to begin, the district attorney’s office gave Hayes a subpoena and a letter saying she was the target of an official-oppression investigation.
Prosecutors also told Hayes they had petitioned an appellate court regarding the order to turn over the criminal histories. The hearing on the contempt order was indefinitely postponed until the appellate court rules.
The Texas Penal Code defines official oppression as public servants using their offices to “intentionally subject another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention.” Official oppression is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in the county jail and a $4,000 fine.
State District Judge Carter Thompson, a felony court judge, quashed the subpoena of Pigg-Curry on Wednesday and of Hayes last week, their attorneys said. Thompson has agreed to hold a hearing to reconsider the quashing of Hayes’ subpoena, possibly as soon as Friday. It is not clear what else could be addressed at that hearing.
Broden, who represents King, said he plans to file a motion Thursday asking a judge to quash King’s subpoena. He said he did not know why King was subpoenaed. Broden said if prosecutors are seeking testimony about conversations about legal issues between judges, that information is confidential.
The district attorney’s office requested that all records of the proceedings in Thompson’s court be sealed from public view because they relate to grand jury proceedings, which are typically secret. Broden said he has told the court he objects to holding the hearing behind closed doors. It is not clear if the hearing will be held in private.
By JENNIFER EMILY
Dallas Morning News
Published: 08 February 2012 10:13 PM