13 Undercover

Did judge help out in DWI case?

Monday, March 16, 2009

New questions are surfacing about justice and allegations of special treatment for a suspected drunk driver and again it's the Liberty County Judge in the middle of the story.

Sunday night 13 Undercover reported the Liberty County Judge and his family made money off his own town's hurricane disaster. Now it's a curious case at the courthouse.

It was December 30, 2008 at the Liberty County courthouse and Criminal Judge Don Taylor had cleared his criminal docket for the year and went home. But the next day, cases were dismissed in Taylor's court without his knowledge.

"Did I ask him," asked Liberty County Judge Phil Fitzgerald. "No he wasn't here."

So why did Liberty County Judge Phil Fitzgerald decide to play criminal judge for a day?

"I guess because I was here," he replied.

Our legal analyst has seen a lot, but he says what happened next is off the smell meter.

"I've never seen it before and I've seen a lot of funky deals going on but this is the most funky in terms of the relationships there," KTRK analyst Joel Androphy said.

The county judge dismissed nine criminal cases that weren't even set for a hearing that day.

"It's bizarre that a case gets resolved when it's not on the docket," Androphy added.

One of them was a DWI case against a prominent lawyer named Glen Vickery. Vickery had been busted in downtown Liberty. A blood test was taken. So why the sudden rush to dismiss the case when Judge Taylor was not even there?

"I was approached by the county attorney's office and acted on their request," Fitzgerald said. "It is as simple as that."

The motion to dismiss was filed by assistant county attorney Tommy Chambers. I asked him if he thought the case should have been dismissed.

"I really can't comment on that, it's under investigation and I filed the motion," he responded.

I asked him if he was told to dismiss this case.

"Wayne, I don't really want to comment on an ongoing investigation," he responded.

Here's the motion, it says the case was dismissed in part because of no lab test.

"Cases don't get dismissed because there's no test," Androphy said. "If that were the case nobody would blow."

I asked Chambers the definition of lost and defined it as you couldn't find it.

"Right," he said. "I couldn't find it."

Chambers claims he called both Liberty police and the Department of Public Safety laboratory.

"Nobody had it...well that's not exactly accurate&ahh&Look I really don't even want to get into it," he said. "I need to look into it and we're going to try and acquire the lab test."

The Liberty Police Department is just blocks from the courthouse. They told us they have the test. They had it since last October. That's not lost.

"The judge should have informed the county attorney about what you discovered," Androphy said.

And not just that Judge Fitzgerald and lawyer Vickery are old friends.

"I don't see a conflict," Fitzgerald said.

But we've learned Judge Fitzgerald is executor of Jessica Vickery's trust. She's Glen Vickery's daughter.

I asked the county judge if he knew of the canon of ethics.

"Well I know of it," he responded. "I can't quote every canon."

Well one of the canons says Fitzgerald can't be a judge and financially responsible for a trust fund that doesn't belong to one of his relatives and Vickery is not a relative. Of course there's also that little ethics rule about appearances.

"The bottom line is, judges should not be involved in cases where their impartiality is questioned," Androphy said. "The fact that he stayed on this case makes this case even more foul smelling."

This on the heels of reporting the county judge made money off his own town's disaster. He was involved in the renting of trucks as part of a $3 million county debris contract. Oh, his brother-in-law was in charge of the daily cleanup.

Neither the judge, nor the county contractor has filed affidavits declaring their relationship. And the judge won't tell us and you how much he made.

"I think you're crossing the line and getting into my personal finances," the judge told us.

We've also found evidence Liberty County failed to maintain some of the records it would need to ensure taxpayers weren't being ripped off in the hurricane cleanup.

You can read more about this investigation in our Houston Community Newspaper partner the Cleveland Advocate.

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