“Are you going to tell them we don’t have to prove they are innocent? Are you just going to stand there with your hands in your mouths and…” – defense lawyer in a press conference of Nov. 2015
Defense Bar in the Twin Peaks cases at an angry 2015 press conference
Waco – Fourth Amendment issues between the defense and the Judge emerged rampant an hour after the Courthouse closed on Friday.
The lawyers defending Twin Peaks cases are ready for a procedural fight. They demand that prosecutors and judges have actual search warrants before they order their clients into court for search and seizure of their body tissues.
Defense Attorneys are concerned that 19th Criminal District Court Judge Ralph T. Strother engaged in flawed communications with the DA’s office about allegedly invalid search warrants to obtain DNA from Twin Peaks defendants.
The communications between the Judge and prosecutors led to a pre-trial appearance by defendants and their attorneys resulting in a dramatic collection of tissue evidence from the accused on February 16, 2017.
Members of a law firm representing some of the defendants sent an e-mail to media outlets at 5:54 pm, an hour after quitting time, on Friday, March 24 to reveal that Assistant District Attorney Sterling Harmon responded to an open records request to reveal e-mails from Assistant Prosecutor Amanda Dillon to members of the defense bar that they claim show evidence of ex parte conversations between Judge Strother and the DA’s staff.
According to the e-mail, the material released by the DA’s office concerns “trial scheduling and scheduling defendants to appear for invalid search warrants,” especially in e-mails displayed on pages 5 and 6 of the public information response, as well as text messages at the end of Harmon’s reply.
In the e-mail, Assistant DA Amanda Dillion wrote:
Per Michael (Jarrett) and Abel (Reyna) please send the following email ASAP to the defense attorneys that have clients that need to be here this Thursday for DA collection:
Judge Ralph Strother has requested the District Attorney’s office to forward information about the upcoming Status Docket as our office have been in contact with Twin Peaks defense attorneys on a regular basis and would have th ebest means of sending out information.
Judge Strother is ordering that you and your client appear for the Status Docket on Thursday, February 16th, 2017. The client must appear and the Announcement Form must be signed and turned into the Court by 1 p.m.
In a return e-mail of Wednesday, February 15, 2017, former District Judge Susan Criss of Galveston, who now practices criminal law from an office in Harker Heights, wrote:
I understand that your office has to give the defense bar notice of hearings you set. And we must do the same for you and your prosecutors.
I am extremely uncomfortable though with your office serving as the conduit of information from either Court. It encourages and invites redress of both your office and Courts. Litigation at this level is stressful enough for all involved without adding these concerns…
Judge Criss prefaced her remark by writing:
Much speculation exists that this is about your office’s attempts to collect DNA. If you have a court order or warrant, then please provide. Some may object and seek redress with the Court. No harm in that for you if your warrant is good. No one’s DNA will change or disappear if we get the chance to read and think about it before Court.
According to a text message from Ms. Dillon to a Court Coordinator, there was a great deal of confusion about the legal instrument by which this search and seizure would be accomplished.
Hey I think we’re going to need an order to appear from Judge Strother if we are the ones sending the email- can you get him to sign something real quick for both dates?