Web Posted: 11/19/2008 7:12 CST
Cheney-targeting DA is no-show
By Lynn Brezosky and Peggy Fikac - Express-News
RAYMONDVILLE — Willacy County prosecutor Juan Angel Guerra stumped a presiding judge and attorneys for clients as high up as Vice President Dick Cheney when he failed to show up to court on his own grand jury’s indictments.
The no-show infuriated attorneys who’d spent the day milling about with what they’d hoped would be slam-dunk motions to quash the cases.
And it put Presiding Judge Manuel Bañales in a position he said he’d never been in before.
“At the very least I expected the district attorney to be here,” Bañales said, asking Guerra’s office manager, “Do you know where he is?”
The manager, Hilda Ramirez, was subpoenaed by defense attorney J.A. “Tony” Canales when buzz circulated in the courthouse that Guerra was nowhere to be found.
Canales summoned Ramirez to act as representative for Guerra in hopes the motions could go forward.
She told the judge she had been trying to reach Guerra all day.
When Bañales asked if she were concerned for Guerra’s safety she said she would not know how to answer the question.
Guerra’s cell phone message box was full much of the day, but an assistant who answered the line late Wednesday said he was not ill.
Bañales said he would not hear the motions without the state present and set arraignments for Friday morning.
He allowed all defendants to waive court appearances and appear via their lawyers and set a jury to be called Dec. 8.
“The State of Texas is entitled to have its day in court,” he said.
Guerra, a 53-year-old Rio Grande Valley prosecutor who drew national attention for suing counterparts in the county justice system and staging a protest with barnyard animals, long has alleged high-ranking corruption in the deals that brought the impoverished county a $60 million immigration detention center.
On Monday, he got a grand jury to sign off on a slew of indictments including an acceptance of honorarium charge against state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., and an engaging in organized criminal activity charge against Cheney and Gonzales.
Cheney is accused of contributing to the neglect of federal immigration detainees by contracting for-profit prisons.
“By working through corporations as prisons for profit, Defendant Richard Cheney has committed at least misdemeanor assaults of our inmates and/or detainees,” the indictment reads, adding that a “money trail” can be traced to Cheney's substantial investments in the Vanguard Group, which invests in privately run prisons.
This morning, attorneys filed motions to quash indictments "for prosecutorial vindictiveness and failure to allege an offense."
"In most of the indictments, the prosecutor identifies himself as the victim. The prosecutor has usurped for himself the role of prosecutor, judge, victim, and director of the grand jury. His conflict of interest and abuse of office require that he be stopped," Canales said.
A number of experts were shaking their heads at the indictment.
Shannon Edmonds of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, after reviewing a faxed copy of the indictment against Cheney and Gonzales, said he’d never seen one like it.
“It’s a creative indictment, but I don’t think it properly alleges any crime,” Edmonds said. “It’s more of just a rambling narrative … I think a court will find that it’s legally insufficient in that it fails to allege a crime.”
Chip B. Lewis, a prominent criminal defense lawyer in Houston whose clients have included former Enron chairman Ken Lay, said, “It’s a shame. I’m not a Cheney supporter by any means. I’m Democrat. But the misuse of our criminal justice system is apparent … It just smacks of partisanship and it’s a shame that credence can be lent to this type of charge because you have a grand jury indictment.”
Lewis said, “I don’t think he (Cheney) will ever spend a day in court.”
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