Judge to make recommendation in police chief's perjury case by Friday
April 6, 2010 at 7:03 p.m.
Updated April 6, 2010 at 11:07 p.m.
THE STORY SO FAR
Days after Police Chief Bruce Ure took office in May 2007, District Attorney Stephen Tyler tried Victoria Police Officer Carlos Javier Echeverry on charges of sexually harassing a woman he stopped while on duty. Echeverry was acquitted of charges. The trial of Echeverry started a rift between the two officials.
Police later began an independent investigation into why former Victoria County Sheriff Michael Ratcliff, once Tyler's chief of staff, was not charged for sexually assaulting a teenage boy years before. Ratcliff was later indicted and agreed to a plea deal and probation.
In 2008, Ure, former city attorney David Smith, police Lt. Ralph Buentello and Mayor Will Armstrong were indicted on multiple counts, including misuse of official information and aggravated perjury, a third-degree felony, in connection with the Ratcliff investigation. The judge threw out all charges but aggravated perjury on Ure, Buentello and Smith. All charges against Armstrong were dropped.
In May, Judge Stephen Williams threw out the aggravated perjury charge against Ure, saying the DA could not be both the victim and the prosecutor of the case. Tyler appealed the judge's dismissal.
A defense lawyer questioned why the state has yet to file a brief, while the state provided some answers as the case between the Victoria district attorney and the police chief resumed Tuesday afternoon in a Victoria courtroom.
State District Judge Stephen Williams held the hearing to determine whether the state intends to file a brief and, if so, when.
Williams said he would have his findings and recommendations ready for the Court of Appeals by Friday.
Defense attorney Greg Cagle, who is representing police chief Bruce Ure, said he did not know how to react what he described as an unreasonable delay in the case.
"I've never been in a case where the state has refused and/or failed to file a brief," Cagle said. "I'm at a loss for words other than to provide the court with a timeline."
The brief in question is the same one that was missing when District Attorney Steve Tyler filed for an appellate extension in December, causing the 13th Court of Appeals to deny Tyler's appeal of a judge's 2008 dismissal of aggravated perjury charges against Ure.
Ure was indicted for aggravated perjury, a third-degree felony, in connection with the investigation of former Victoria County Sheriff Michael Ratcliff.
Cagle accused the state of "offering up excuses that have no merit."
The brief was originally due on Aug. 26. However, the Court of Appeals granted the state an extension until Jan. 20.
As of Tuesday, no brief had been filed.
Ruth Kollman, Tyler's attorney, said one of the reasons for the delayed brief was because the DA wanted the record unsealed.
"Although the court has access to it, nobody else has access to it," Kollman said.
Tyler was not present during the hearing.
According to the affidavit Kollman presented on Tuesday, "a relationship existed between this direct appeal and the mandamus petition because the dismissal order had been rendered within a sealed portion of the record."
The affidavit said Kollman hoped to use the outcome of Rosado v. Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan, a Supreme Court of Connecticut case, to compel the trial court to reconsider the sealing issue, which did not have the benefit of the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision at the time of the original sealing order.
"The orderly prosecution of the appeal from a procedural standpoint dictates unsealing the record first," according to the document. "It is highly relevant to the sealed records at the heart of this direct appeal."
The Supreme Court's decision was not finalized until December, causing the state to miss the original August deadline.
The affidavit went on to explain that Kollman did communicate via telephone with the clerk's office at the Court of Appeals, letting them know that she did intend to pursue an appeal on three occasions.
Kollman said pre-existing client commitments, a trial schedule and the onset of a severe illness, prevented her from preparing the brief by the January extension deadline.
Furthermore, Kollman's affidavit cited the sealed records further delayed brief preparation because "the secrecy of the sealed proceedings prohibit me from seeking assistance in the work I am performing in my capacity as 'of counsel' to the District Attorney."
It continued, "Thus, I cannot 'multitask' and delegate to an assistant when other commitments take precedence, but must do all the work myself."
At this point, Kollman said she is prepared to move forward at the trial court's direction and scheduling.
"The state has not abandoned its appeal," Kollman said. "Nothing the defense counsel says offsets that."
Ure shared his thoughts on the current status of the case.
"I am hopeful that we are one step nearer to closure in a situation that has become unbelievably, and needlessly costly, both in terms of time and money. We have much, much more pressing issues to deal with, such as addressing and combating local criminal activity, including domestic and gang violence, drugs and crimes against children," Ure said. " What appears to be an endless, meaningless, two-year-long journey by the District Attorney to unearth something, or anything for that matter, that was possibly 'illegal,' will hopefully be judicially disposed of very soon. It was time to move on a long, long time ago."