A hearing that would determine whether McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna should be disqualified from two Twin Peaks cases took an unexpected turn on Monday after the State filed a motion of recusal for the judge during the hearing.
At the beginning of the hearing, prosecutors asked 19th District Court Ralph Strother to postpone the hearing to its original scheduled date of Feb. 23.
According to First Assistant District Attorney Michael Jarrett, prosecutors were notified by court staff via email about the hearing date change last week. The attorneys for defendant Billy McRee and Jorge Salinas both said the State was given a notice before that.
After Srother said he wanted to proceed with the hearing on Monday, prosecutors gave him a motion to recuse himself from both cases.
Strother admitted in open court, the motion came as a total surprise. After he reviewed the motion privately, the judge said he would not recuse himself voluntarily.
"This motion is basically saying the State wants to avoid any accusations of impropriety and allow a third party judge to hear the case,” Jarrett said.
In 2017, district judges removed Strother from at least four Twin Peaks cases, including the first trial.
The motion states allegations in previous recusal motions involved allegations of communicating with staff about scheduling without one of the involved parties not being represented.
“On January 16, 2018, Judge Strother moved the date of hearing on a motion from February 23 to January 22. This was seemingly done in response to an amended filing by the defendant and done without hearing or consultation with the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office,” the motion to recuse states.
Brian Bouffard, the attorney for Salinas, said he wasn’t as surprised about the filing as he would have liked to be.
“This was their opportunity to come in and tell the truth under oath and as they have done in previous said instances, they're trying to avoid that. We're ready when they're ready,” Bouffard said.
David Conrad Beyer, the attorney for McRee said there is a belief the motion was filed in bad faith.
“They seem to talk out of both sides of their mouth. On one hand, they are trying to keep [Strother] from being recused now on the other hand, they’re trying to do so. Interestingly enough, they're trying to do so very hard in such a way as to keep us from having a hearing they don't want to have,” Beyer said.
Jarrett admits in previous cases, prosecutors argued Strother was qualified to preside over these cases.
"The change is because of the previous rulings of the other courts. This is the first time this issue has come up since the six-week trial of Christopher Jacob Carrizal,” Jarrett said.
Carrizal, the president of Dallas Bandidos was the first biker to go to trial.
He added the DA’s Office wants to ensure every defendant has a fair trial.
"It's important that as prosecutors, we follow the rules, follow the decisions by the courts and we ensure that the public has a trust in the system. In order to do that, the state felt it was imperative for a different judge to hear these cases,” Jarrett said.
Barry Johnson, a Republican candidate for McLennan District Attorney, claimed the DA’s Office didn’t want to have a hearing before the March primary.
Jarrett said the motion had nothing to do with politics and that the State will be ready to have the disqualification hearing when the judge schedules it.
Now, Third Administrative Judge for Judicial Region will now appoint a judge who will preside over a hearing to decide whether Strother should preside over these cases.
Shortly before 5 p.m. on Monday, the hearing had not been set yet.
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