A Texas DA has been sentenced to 10 days in jail for contempt of court for violating a gag order in connection to a capitol murder case. Williamson County DA Jana Duty was also fined $500 for her comments.
She was sentenced to 10 days in the county jail and a $500 fine. The case marks the latest high-profile proceeding involving a public official and contempt of court.
A visiting judge, a retired criminal district court judge from Harris County, found that the DA should be held in contempt. According to Texas Lawyer magazine, Judge Doug Shaver found that Duty “‘intentionally, knowingly, and willfully’ acted to violate a gag order, failed to appear in court and disrespected the court with a response email that made ‘veiled threats.’”
A gag order had been issued in the Crispin Harmel capital murder case by Judge Rick Kennon.
Kennon is a civil and criminal court judge in Williamson County. The court is located in Georgetown, Texas.
The judge signed the gag order to prevent the attorneys and parties from talking to the media or otherwise making public statements about the case.
The order was reported to have been issued after Duty allegedly violated a temporary gag order signed April 9th when she talked to the Austin American-Statesman. A special prosecutor requested the gag order.
The Williamson County district attorney allegedly responded to an email by the Statesman. The publication allegedly inquired about a public document that had been filed, a motion by defense counsel that claimed Duty had withheld evidence in the case.
A May 8th Statesman article quoted from Duty’s email.
In today’s hearing, the Statesman reported Duty arguing that she only tried to protect her reputation.
Upon hearing that the DA had been quoted in the publication, Judge Kennon emailed counsel ordering them to his courtroom on May 8th. Duty did not attend the hearing.
Texas Lawyer magazine reported that Duty sent an email the same day saying she felt the judge disrespected her because he did not tell her the reason for the hearing. She also stated she intended no disrespect to the judge by not attending.
During Thursday’s hearing, the DA said that she did not talk about the facts of the case when she spoke to the reporter on May 6th. She argued that the judge did not tell her what the hearing was about so she did not show up. She thought it was only going to be a 10-15 minute hearing, reported the Austin American-Statesman.
Judge Kennon testified at the hearing that a written gag order was signed on April 9th based on a request by prosecutors. According to the Statesman, he also testified that the prosecutors could have asked for a hearing if they did not like the language in the order.
The judge admitted that he did not tell the DA what the May 8th hearing pertained to. He testified that he initially had expected to verbally reprimand her for talking to a reporter. He later filed a motion for contempt when the DA did not attend the hearing.
The Statesman reported that prosecutor Mark Brunner testified that the judge asked him to find the DA when she did not attend the hearing. Brunner said he called her on the phone and she said, “If he [Kennon] won’t respect me enough to say why we are all meeting even though I asked what the purpose of the meeting was, I’m busy working on other things and I’m not going to make it.”
Brunner also was reported to have testified that defense counsel sent him a copy of the gag order on April 9th but he did not see the order until May 8th.
The Statesman reported that the prosecution argued that the gag order was not sufficiently specific enough to hold one in contempt, and that Duty’s lawyer argued that the gag order should be voided because it was too general.
The Williamson County District Attorney will be released on a personal recognizance bond.
Duty’s attorney, Sam Bassett, told Breitbart Texas, “We are disappointed in the finding of contempt but respect the judge’s decision. Ms. Duty looks forward to moving on from this and continuing her duties as district attorney.” We will decide at a later time about the appeal but at this point we do believe an appeal is in order.”
Bassett also serves as president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association (TCDLA).
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served in Texas as a prosecutor and criminal court judge. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2