Judge Removed From Case-The Daily Light

Judge removed from case
By JONATHAN BLUNDELL Daily Light staff writer
Posted: Saturday, February 24, 2007 7:40 PM CST

Defense attorneys for James Leon Williams said they were pleased Friday afternoon after Senior Judge Bill Coker of the 191st District Court in Dallas granted their motion for recusal against 40th District Court Judge Gene Knize.Waxahachie attorney Mark Griffith and Dallas attorney David Finn filed the motion after Knize dismissed a second jury selected to hear cause No. 30,467-CR, the State of Texas vs. James Leon Williams.Williams is charged with two counts of criminally negligent homicide relating to the deaths of James Nation, 24, of Waxahachie and Debra Carder, 45, of Midlothian.

The two died in a multi-vehicle accident involving Williams and the 2000 Volvo truck-tractor semi-trailer he was driving on northbound Interstate 35 on June 24, 2005.A civil lawsuit was filed in July 2005, and the victims’ families were awarded a $1.5 million insurance settlement.The criminal charges were filed eight months after the accident, in March 2006.
Williams is released on bond and living with his family in San Antonio.During a hearing Thursday, Griffith and Finn contended that Knize showed a bias against the defense during jury selection with a threat directed toward Finn and then dismissing the selected jury without explanation.Finn testified he felt the jury was the perfect jury to hear the case and that it would be impossible for his client to receive a fair trial under Knize.

The 12-panel jury Knize dismissed in January included one truck driver and the wives of two other truck drivers.“I don’t think he can be fair in this case,â€? Finn said during his testimony.Finn then recalled a point near the end of the Jan. 9 jury selection when Knize stood, clapped and asked Finn if he was “supposed to bow and genuflect now?â€?
“He was trying to bully me and I stood up to him,â€? Finn said. “And that’s what made him upset.â€?

During questioning by Griffith, Finn said the judge threatened him before the jury selection was announced by saying, “I suggest you better make darn sure you’re never one minute late for my court – ever – if you know what’s good for you.â€?“He was furious,â€? Finn said. “He was shaking and I felt like he was going to punch me.â€?

During cross-examination, Ellis County chief felony prosecutor Don Maxfield questioned Finn about the threat, saying that the motion filed by Finn and Griffith said “something along the lines of … â€? before the quoted threat.“Was that a direct quote?â€? Maxfield asked after Finn phrased the threat differently several times during questioning. “Isn’t it true you don’t know what the exact quote was?â€?“I know what the judge said,â€? Finn said. “And he threatened me.â€?

Coker announced his decision granting recusal around 4:30 p.m., Friday.“We’re pleased with the results of the hearing,â€? Finn said. “We look forward to trying this case before a 12-member jury in Ellis County.â€?Finn said with Knize removed he was certain Williams could still receive a fair trial in Ellis County.

“I’m not at all concerned about the added publicity our motion has brought about,â€? Finn said. “I’m absolutely convinced an Ellis County jury will base their decision on the facts of the case.â€?Finn said District Judge John Ovard in Dallas will likely appoint a judge to oversee the case and expects the case to go to trial within two to three months.E-mail Jonathan at j.blundell@thedailylight.com

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