In Focus

Why Rosenthal had to turn over email

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thursday could be Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal's worst day since this email scandal started.

He was already forced out of the re-election race and is under state investigation, but now is facing fines or jail.

It's not over the emails we've seen, but the ones we haven't. Rosenthal admits to erasing thousands of emails after a federal judge told him to turn them over.

By now you probably know about Chuck Rosenthal's scandalous emails, but do you have any idea why he had to turn them over and even more importantly why he has to answer to a federal judge?

It all started on Houston's East Side, on a cold afternoon on January 4, 2002. Harris County Sheriff's Deputies showed up at a home with a search warrant, looking for drugs.

They arrested Niconar Gonzales' father.

"They put a shotgun on my head," he said. "Get on the floor or I'll shoot you in your head."

Niconar's grandmother took photos after she saw Niconar and other kids being kept outside without shoes or warm clothes that cold morning.

"My main concern was the kids," Madalyn Valdez said.

Next door neighbors Sean and Erik Ibarra were shocked by what cops were doing, so they too grabbed their cameras.

"What we wanted to insure happened that if it was an injustice with those kids next door, that is was documented," Erik Ibarra said.

"They wanted our film because they tore it up here," Valdez recalled. "They were laughing in front of us and tearing it up."

Officers arrested the Ibarras for evading arrest. The brothers were found not guilty and two years later filed a federal suit claiming the arrest and seizure of their film was a violation of their civil rights.

But the details of this raid six years ago and the arrest of neighbors for apparently photographing it won't even come up in court. This is all about Chuck Rosenthal. The thing is Rosenthal didn't know about the raid beforehand six years ago, he certainly wasn't there six years ago, in fact his name doesn't even come up in this lawsuit. So then why is Chuck Rosenthal going to court facing jail time in the morning?

"I think something should happen to him," said attorney Lloyd Kelley.

Lloyd Kelley is the Ibarra's lawyer. Kelley wanted Rosenthal to investigate the way sheriff's deputies behaved at the raid.

Kelley claims the DA's didn't conduct a proper investigation so he subpoenaed Rosenthal's emails to see what the DA was saying about the case.

Under court order, Rosenthal turned over hundreds of messages, but deleted 2,500 more. That's why Rosenthal has to face a federal judge.

"He destroyed evidence," Kelley said. "You can't do that in our system."

There wasn't anything in the recent emails about the Ibarras, but there sure was enough in there to cause Rosenthal a lot of trouble and help Lloyd Kelley's friend Clarence Bradford who happens to be running for DA.

Something Lloyd Kelly quickly dismisses.

"You would have to give me power of clairvoyance to know what he had," Kelley said. "I was looking for stuff about my case. What falls out is evidence of illegal activity, racism - sexism, all sorts of horrible stuff."

"I'd hate to see a political hit job ruin a guy's career, but Chuck Rosenthal has a lot to answer for here," said attorney Mark Bennett.

Houston defense lawyer Mark Bennett is the president elect of the Harris County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

Bennett believes Kelley had political, as well as legal motives, for exposing Rosenthal's email. In a federal contempt hearing, motive just doesn't matter.

"I don't know if he belongs there, but he's there and when you're in federal court and a federal judge tells you to do something, you do it," he said. "If I had a client who did the same thing, I would remind the client it was an exceptionally stupid thing to do. The question is was it contempt of court and was it a criminal violation?"

The hearing starts Thursday morning and is expected to last all day. Rosenthal is expected to speak in court under oath.

He refused an interview with us.

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