November 20 2008
A county prosecutor who brought indictments against Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others asked on Friday for the judge to remove himself from the case.
Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra pounded his fist and shouted at the judge, alleging he was giving special treatment to high-profile defendants. It sent the routine hearing into chaos.
Guerra, who is accusing the public officials of culpability in the alleged abuse of prisoners in a federal detention center, asked Presiding Judge Manuel Banales to recuse himself. Guerra has complained about Banales’ handling of the case.
Attorneys for the vice president and other defendants leapt to their feet in objection as Guerra pounded the table and accused Banales of giving the defendants special treatment in allowing motions to quash the indictments to be heard before the defendants were arraigned.
Banales called a recess to contact the chief justice of the state Supreme Court for suggestions on how to proceed. He also ordered Guerra, who had slipped out once before in the hearing, to remain in the courthouse.
Banales adjourned court later in the afternoon after announcing that he would send all documents pertaining to the motion to the chief justice. He tentatively scheduled the parties to return to court Wednesday morning.
Some officials have questioned Guerra’s motives. They’ve accused him of trying to end his tenure with a bang and even scores with political enemies.
The vice president is the highest public official Guerra has pursued, but he made a nearly 20-year career of passing over routine crimes in favor of public corruption before being defeated in the March Democratic primary election.
It was Guerra’s interest in the contracts to build and run a federal detention center that led to some of his biggest successes — three guilty pleas on bribery charges from former county commissioners in 2005. But he also believes it was the motivation for his own legal battles.
Guerra continued working for more than a year while under indictment on charges of extorting money from a bail bond company and using his office for personal business. Banales dismissed the indictment in October.
At Friday’s hearing, Guerra shouted: “Now all of a sudden there is urgency. Eighteen months you kept me indicted, through the election.”
Half of the indictments returned Monday are linked to privately run federal detention centers in the sparsely populated southern Texas county. The other half target judges and special prosecutors who played a role in an earlier investigation of Guerra.
The GEO Group Corp. was indicted on a murder charge for the death of an inmate at a federal prison.
“The indictment is the product of prosecutorial vindictiveness and is void on its face,” defense attorney Tony Canales, who represents the private prison operator, wrote in a motion. Canales is also the legal representative for Cheney and Gonzales.
The defendants did need to appear in person Friday.