2008-11-19 / Front Page

CASE UPDATE: Texas Rangers hunt Guerra after he fails to show for Vice President Cheney's 1st criminal hearing

Arraignment of vice president and others reset for Friday morning in Raymondville
ROBERT WILCOX Editor/Reporter

CASE UPDATE: Texas Rangers hunt Guerra after he fails to show for Vice President Cheney's 1st criminal hearing

Arraignment of vice president and others reset for Friday morning in Raymondville

The infamous Texas Rangers were ordered by Presiding District Judge J. Manuel Banales to find AWOL lameduck District Attorney Juan Angel "Johnny" Guerra on Wednesday afternoon, after he failed to show for a criminal hearing for Vice President Dick Cheney's and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's pre-arraignment hearing in Raymondville.

Attorneys representing Cheney and Gonzales, who were indicted for engaging in criminal activity,

Attorney Eric Reed, center w/folder, represented former U.S. Attorney Mervyn Mosbacker at a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday afternoon, after he was indicted by District Attorney Juan Angel "Johnny" Guerra. Vice President Dick Cheney's attorney was ready to face Guerra who was absent without leave (AWOL) at the hearing. Reed later asked Judge J. Manuel Banales to appoint a special prosecutor for his client, while the attorney for Sen. Eddie Lucio said Lucio wants Guerra to try his case before Dec. 31st. Joe Hermosa/Valley Morning Star-photo editor

angrily demanded Judge Banales find Guerra in contempt of court and issue a bench warrant for his arrest.

Judge Banales, who arrived an hour late for the hearing without an excuse or apology, sternly told over a dozen anxious attorneys, "That's enough - I'm not going to entertain any motions today without a representative (Guerra) of the State of Texas present."

"I'm only here to make sure the indictments are properly processed, to call each case, and set a date for an arraignment and bail hearing for each defendant," Banales said. "I'm going to set Friday, Nov. 21st at 10:30 a.m. for their arraignment."

The judge first called for Guerra, who was not in the courthouse, and had not been there all day. After interrogating District Clerk Gilbert Lozano and Guerra's office manager, Hilda Ramirez, who both knew nothing of Guerra's whereabouts.

He gave up and asked a Texas Ranger to go find out where Guerra was, and to bring him to court on Friday. Judge Banales briefly expressed concern for his safety.

Former U.S. Attorney Tony Canales, who is representing Vice President Dick Cheney, Gonzales, and others intervened and asked the courts indulgence.

"I beg the court to deviate from the normal process," Canales said. "This is not the usual type of case where indictments are made," referring to Guerra's actions. "I've been here all day inquiring where is Mr. Guerra."

"Look at the amount of publicity this case has caused," Canales added. "If the courts finds that these indictments were not given to a district judge in open court; then these were not properly done."

Judge Banales acknowledged the local, national, and worldwide publicity.

Judge J. Manuel Banales ordered the Texas Rangers to find District Attorney Juan Angel "Johnny" Guerra, after he skiped out on a major criminal hearing; where he indicted local, state, and national political officials just two days earlier. Joe Hermosa/Valley Morning Star-photo editor

"I can't continue these proceedings without the State of Texas (Guerra) present," Banales said, "I need to know why he's not here. I may elect to appoint a special prosecutor on Friday if Mr. Guerra is not present."

Guerra has routinely not showed up in court, when he wants to delay a proceeding, according to Chronicle/News files. Last year, he skipped a hearing for a teenage mom who smothered her baby to death. The judge at the time had no option but to drop the charges. The mother used the extra time to flee to Mexico, according to Sheriff Larry Spence, who was interviewed in a prior news article.

At Wednesday's hearing, most attorneys were gravely concerned that Guerra was going to use a bait and switch tactic to prolong the criminal justice process.

Attorneys Eduardo "Ëddie"  Rodriguez, and his son Michael Rodriguez, who are representing 197th District Judge Migdalia Lopez, asked to speak in general to the court. Lopez was indicted along with fellow Judge Janet Leal, former U.S. Attorney Mervyn Mosbacker, and former Willacy D.A. Gustavo "Gus" Garza on official abuse of official capacity and official oppression charges.

Eddie Rodriquez said the indictments did not follow proper procedure.

"Ï do not want my client (Judge Lopez) to have to go through the process of being arrested, when these (indictments) will be quashed (stopped)," Eddie Rodriguez said. "I'm asking the court to not arrest my client and set all of the arraignments together," referring to all others indicted.

Judge Banales agreed with Eddie Rodriguez, and ruled he would not issue arrest warrants in lieu of issuing summons. The vice president and others would not need to make an appearance.

Attorney Michael Cowen, who is represeting state Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), said his main concern is that Guerra's (elected) term is almost over, and that Guerra is solely motivated to have Sen. Lucio arrested in front of cameras. Guerra, who lost reelection by 70 percent, is out of office Dec. 31st.

"My client wants Mr. Guerra to try his case," Cowen added. "I'm also concerned about Sen. Lucio having to appear this Friday monring and being arrested."

 Judge Banales ruled that all defendents, including Vice President Cheney could personally sign a statement.

"All of those indicted are elected officials, or have long government service," Banales said.

Cowen and Judge Banales then agreed on Dec. 8th for Sen. Lucio's trial. Jury summons will be issued later this week for prospective Willacy County jurors. Cowen also asked for the same consideration in the case of Guerra issuing other indictments against Sen. Lucio.

Attorney David Oliviera, who is representing GEO Corp, formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corp., told Judge Banales, "This is the second time Guerra has indicted GEO for murder and manslaughter."

"As the judge knows Mr. Guerra dropped the indictments a few days later," Oliviera said. "He did not follow proper procedure, and here we are again."

"Mr. Guerra lied to us - He told us he was not going to reindict," said Oliviera angrily. "I want him here to answer why he lied to us. Where is he? - He talked to the national media Tuesday night and then isn't here today."

Oliviera and other attorneys asked Judge Banales to hold Guerra in contempt of court and issue a warrant for his arrest. Judge Banales repeated again that all motions will be heard on Friday morning.

Lastly, attorney Eric Reed, who is representing Mosbacker, asked the court to immediately appoint a special prosecutor, so the whole matter does not become prolonged.

Judge Banales said he would consider it on Friday, and then adjourned the court hearing.

Updated Nov 19 at 11:44 p.m.

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