For the second time in three years, a claim by Judge Rick Davis against a member of the district attorney's office has failed. Thursday, Shane Phelps was cleared of charges that he hindered and threatened a grand jury.
What visiting Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent did find were deep divisions between Judge Davis and the DA's office.
It was Davis that filed a claim believing that Phelps abused his power and affected a grand jury's decision not to act against District Attorney Bill Turner. That grand jury met away from the Brazos County Courthouse on December 1.
Davis called five juror affidavits the "principle evidence" in his filing for the court of inquiry. Some of those affidavits referred to the fear of grand jurors that they may face retribution from the DA's office. It was also in some affidavits that during a group phone call placed to Phelps on December 1, he was angry and threatening.
Instead, grand jurors who testified both days said Phelps did not affect their decisions, and that they had already decided not to pursue allegations of an alleged illegal campaign contribution to Turner. Seven jurors testified Thursday, none of them saying Phelps changed their minds or made them fearful.
A pair of grand jurors also testified that Davis had prepared their affidavits, and that the wording was stronger than they had remembered dictating.
Kent, knowing the political climate, asked Davis, Turner and Phelps what could be done to change the rift between the sides. Turner and Phelps said they've tried and didn't know how to repair it. Davis offered that he had friends in the DA's office, but that it was very difficult now.
"I don't like the things the way they are," Davis said during emotional testimony in which he often paused to compose himself. "I wish it were not as it was."
Judge Kent said the grand jury had no right to look into a political matter. Jury foreperson Amanda Short was handling and looking into material from Turner's election opponent, Patrick Meece. It was material she should never have investigated without the whole grand jury, Kent said. Meece had brought the documents to Short after digging through garbage of The Matthews Group, the corporation that had given the contribution to Turner. The district attorney was later cleared by an election commission.
Kent said it was obvious Patrick Meece was digging through trash for Turner documents with political motivation, and that the grand jury should not have been dealing with his documentation.
It was also learned that Phelps had told a local media reporter about the December 1 grand jury meeting, which led to reporters being outside the Galleria Village room that day. While Phelps said he did not do so with intent to intimidate or influence the grand jury, Judge Kent did say telling the media subjected the grand jury to undue scrutiny.
Kent extended those remarks to include Turner, who told the media that his office had put in a motion to recuse Judge Davis from that grand jury. That press release came November 28, three days before the grand jury met. Turner said that using the media was a way to inform the public of courthouse happenings, but Kent said the grand jury matters needed to be kept more secret to protect the mission of the jury.
The wife of Patrick Meece, Justice of the Peace Margaret Meece, testified about helping the jury foreperson, Short, prepare an affidavit for a grand juror to appear for the December 1 meeting. Judge Kent felt Judge Meece's involvement gave the appearance of inpropriety -- a JP calling a sheriff's sergeant to pick up a subpoena for a grand juror investigating her husband's political rival.
Further, Judge Kent said the subpoena was not proper because a jury foreperson can only subpoena a witness, and not a fellow juror as Short did.
Judge Davis would only comment afterwards that he accepted Judge Kent's decision.
"The allegations brought by Judge Davis were completely baseless," Phelps said following the ruling. "On its face, this court of inquiry failed. I did nothing wrong. I did nothing improper, and I think Judge Kent said that very clearly tonight."
Judge Kent's ruling included an apology to Phelps for the ordeal he had gone through.
As per the ruling, Brazos County will be paying the thousands of dollars of attorneys fees of the attorney pro tem and Phelps' representative. Attorney Pro Tem Buck Files had his cost alone at $350/hour with a total of 90 hours of work. The county may have to pay other fees as well.
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