Waco: Visiting judge rejects Twin Peaks recusal motion

McLennan County Courthouse. (File)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A visiting judge Monday rejected a prosecution motion to rescues a local judge from hearing two pending Twin Peaks cases, but stopped short of imposing sanctions against the district attorney.

Retired state district Judge Phillip Vick ruled that 19th District Judge Ralph Strother will remain the presiding judge in upcoming trials of defendants Billy McRee and Jorge Danie Salinas, both of whom were indicted for engaging in organized criminal activity related to the May 17, 2015 gunfight outside the Twin Peaks restaurant that left nine bikers dead and more than 20 others injured.

David Conrad Beyer and Brian Bouffard, both Fort Worth attorneys who represent McRee and Salinas respectively, presented an argument Monday morning aimed at preventing the forced recusal and after about 90 minutes of argument, the judge took the matter under advisement and asked the lawyers to be back in the courtroom at 1:30 p.m. to hear his decision.

The pronouncement from the bench took only about 2 minutes.

“I find the state does not present a case that supports granting the motion,” Vick said.

“The state’s motion is denied.”

Beyer and Bouffard also asked that the judge impose sanctions against the state intended to repay the lawyers for their time and expense in getting that case ready for last week, but being denied a chance to present their evidence when the state filed the recusal motion.

“Sanction is a rather drastic measure and I find not appropriate here, so I shall deny any sanctions at this time,” Vick said.

Neither the state nor the defense called any witnesses in the Monday hearing.

Prosecutors had in four previous efforts to remove Strother, had supported the judge and opposed any motion to force his to step aside.

They lost in each case and Strother chose to voluntarily step aside in a fifth case.

“If you do not order Judge Strother’s recusal today, judge, then we’ll file a motion to recuse him in all of the rest of his cases,” First assistant District Attorney Michael Jarrett said.

He told Vick there were 70-some cases set in Strother’s court.

Jarrett made no comment after the judge’s ruling.

“While it was clear from the second it was filed that the district attorney’s recusal motion was only for purposes of delay, we are, nevertheless, pleased that Judge Vick was able to see through Abelino Reyna’s charade,” a statement issued after the hearing by Bouffard and Beyer said.

”We will immediately seek another disqualification hearing before Judge Strother,” the joint statement said.

“While we fully expect Mr. Reyna to come up with yet another delaying tactic we urge him to stop hiding the truth and to let the truth be heard,” the statement reads.

Neither McRee nor Salinas is yet set for trial, Beyer said.

Strother said he was caught by surprise when Jarrett handed him the motion seeking Strother’s recusal from cases involving McRee and Salinas.

The defense lawyers were disallowed from presenting their motions because the motion to recuse had to be dealt with before any other action could take place.

Beyer, after Strother recessed the Monday hearing, said the move by the state was an effort to sidetrack the real issue.

“The state was just playing with the docket,” Beyer said.

“They (the state) should have filed that motion much earlier if they thought that really should happen,” Beyer said.

The original motions filed by Beyer and Bouffard dealt with subpoenas filed by defense lawyers seeking testimony and evidence from D.A. Abel Reyna relating to an alleged investigation into Reyna by federal agents.

Reyna had filed a motion to quash those documents and the defense lawyers were fighting for their release.

But those issues never were heard as Strother allowed deference to the recusal motion.