Monday, September 17, 2012

Skeen trial: Visiting Judge to decide on Judge Matt Johnson's recusal for alleged temper tantrum, threats

Waco – Tax Collector Buddy Skeen could face seven consecutive trials and any sentences imposed upon his conviction could be ordered to run consecutively.

It's up to a visiting judge from Milam County, retired 20th District Judge Ed Magre, who will decide in an early morning hearing Tuesday if 54th District Judge Matt Johnson will preside over Mr. Skeen's trials for misapplication of a fiduciary property, giving a false name and forgery, and theft by a public official.

Potential jurors chosen to hear the case were sent home for the night. They will be back in the morning and the case could go forward, pending the decision of the visiting judge.

When attorneys for embattled Tax Collector Buddy Skeen pressed for a change of venue last week, claiming he could not get a fair trial in McLennan County, they met in the judge's chambers to talk about their motion. At that point, they pointed out that the judge is an injured party under the definition of state law because Mr. Skeen acted as a public official in his alleged acts of fraud and theft.

According to state criminal procedure statutes, no judge so affected may sit in judgment in such a case.

They also applied their argument to prospective jurors, as to their being injured parties.

If the state were permitted to amend the indictment, they argued, their client should get an additional 10 days to prepare his case.

According to a motion for the judge's recusal, “Judge Johnson became visibly angry and stated to counsel that, if Defendant insisted on an additonal 10 days to prepare for trial in light of the amendment of the Indictment, the court would not entertain any plea agreements on any of the counts or cases subsequently tried...”

The motion goes on to state that Judge Johnson told the attorneys that if they pressed for the extension of time to prepare for trial, “that Defendant asserting his statutory right to an additonal 10 days to prepare for trial would result in  Defendant being subjected to an additional seven (7) trials after the jury tiral currently scheduled.”

On top of that, he told the defense attorneys, he would order any sentences imposed on Defendant to run consecutively rather than concurrently.”

Based on the judge's demeanor and the tone of his statements, wrote Jeff Kearney, “counsel took his statements to be a direct threat to 'stack' Defendant's sentences if Defendant asserted his legal rights.”

Citing the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Mr. Kearney argued that the law says “No judge...shall sit in any case where he may be the party injured...or where...the party injured may be connected with him by consanguinity or affinity within the third degree.”

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