Last night Fox 4 News Dallas aired a news story where reporter Shaun Rabb interviewed me about the broiling controversy surrounding District Judge Tammy Kemp (who presided over the murder trial of Amber Guyger last month) and Dallas County District Attorney Judge John Creuzot.
First a recap: Amber Guyger was a Dallas Police officer who famously shot and killed Botham Jean in his own apartment. Guyger said she thought it was her apartment and mistook Mr. Jean for an intruder. Controversy surrounded this case from the beginning. Initially the case was investigated by the Texas Rangersa and the then District Attorney Faith Johnson filed a manslaughter charge against Guyger. After Judge John Creuzot was elected District Attorney, he instructed his office to reinvestigate Guyger which ultimately resulted in the filing of a murder charge against Guyger. The case proceeded to trial before Judge Tammy Kemp in the 204th Judicial District Court. Judge Kemp issued a gag order in the case instructed both sides not to make statements about the case that would be reasonably likely to prejudice the jury. That gag order specfically said they were not prevented from giving interviews to the media about the case, only that they could not make statements likely to prejudice trial of the case (for instance, statements likely to inflame the jury, evidence that would likely be inadmissible, et cetera).
The night before the trial began, District Attorney Judge John Creuzot gave an interview on Fox 4 News where he spoke about the Guyger case. Crezuot mentioned that the family was anxious and that he felt their pain. He also stated that he was comfortable that his office was moving forward with the murder charge but that ultimately he did not know how the case would end up.
The next day in court Guyger’s defense lawyers presented the judge with the news story and argued that Creuzot had violated her gag order. Judge Kemp’s reaction – not pleased, to say the least – went viral on the internet. Eventually Judge Kemp issued a show cause order to Creuzot, which is the first step in a contempt of court allegation. Judge Kemp’s show cause order stated that Creuzot had violated her order by giving a media interview about the Guyger case. The District Attorney’s office then moved to have Judge Kemp recused (to have another judge take over the hearing). Judge Kemp referred the recusal motion to the administrative judge to appoint another judge to preside over the issue. Judge Kemp then filed an extra motion – which is what’s driving this latest round of controversy – striking the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office from defending Judge Creuzot against the contempt allegation. Judge Kemp argued that agents of the state (which assistant district attorneys are) cannot be adversarial to the state (which Judge Kemp represents in a contempt allegation) and therefore are disqualified.
Creuzot has retained private counsel (outside the DA’s office) and that lawyer has filed a writ of mandamus arguying (1) Judge Kemp’s gag order was unconstitutional to begin with; (2) Creuzot didn’t violate the gag order because nothing he said was actually prejudicial, (3) Judge Kemp’s order striking the DA’s office from representing Creuzot after she had been recused is void.
It’s going to be an interesting case. Not only are two powerful forces (a district judge and a district attorney) colliding, but two aspexts of the law seemingly at odds are also colliding.