Prosecutor defies judge's order to produce wallet
Simmering feud between DA's office, Judge Charlie Baird flares up again.
By Steven Kreytak
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
In November, state District Judge Charlie Baird sentenced Trent Stewart to 25 years in prison for robbing an East Austin store owner at knife point, a crime during which police say Stewart dropped his wallet before fleeing.
Baird soon told lawyers in the case he wanted to trim five years from his original sentence for Stewart, and over the objections of prosecutors, he granted a defense motion for a new trial. Two weeks ago he released Stewart, who had been in jail since his July arrest, while prosecutors appealed his ruling.
Now Baird is trying to help Stewart get back the contents of his wallet.
The strange case reached a tense standoff Tuesday when prosecutor Amy Casner refused to comply with Baird's order that she bring the contents of the wallet � Stewart's driver's license, Social Security card and Department of Veterans Affairs card � to court so they could be returned to Stewart. She said the contents are evidence.
Baird said Stewart needs the documents to get a job while free on bond and suggested that copies would suffice at a future trial.
"I don't know why, from the standpoint of reasonableness, you can't comply with this request," Baird said.
Casner and Steve Brittain, a defense lawyer hired by the district attorney's office to represent Casner in court, argued that the documents are key evidence against Stewart and that the law prohibits judges from ordering that they be given to a defendant.
"The bottom line is, the best evidence in this case are the original forms of identification," she said.
The hearing ended with Baird adjourning the case for a week after giving Stewart copies of the documents and an affidavit stating that they are exact duplicates. He said he hoped the affidavit would prompt the relevant agencies to issue replacements.
Before Casner argued her case, fellow prosecutors successfully petitioned the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin to grant an emergency stay in the case that prevents Baird from acting until the appeals court considers motions by prosecutors. It is unclear if Baird knew of the order during the hearing. The motions before the 3rd Court seek to bar Baird from ordering prosecutors to turn over the documents and from holding Casner in contempt of court for refusing to produce the documents.
The episode is the latest in a series of disagreements between the Travis County district attorney's office and Baird, a former appeals judge who took over the 299th District Court at the beginning of last year.
Stewart, who was in court, and prosecutors declined to comment on the case after court. Baird also said he couldn't comment while the case is pending.
The charge against Stewart comes from a July 14, 2007, incident in which he is accused in a police affidavit of walking into the City General Store on East 7th Street, grabbing the 66-year-old store owner by the shirt and demanding money. Police found Stewart's wallet and a folding knife at the scene, the affidavit said. A day later, Stewart went to the Austin police station and admitted to the robbery, saying he did it to pay off a drug debt, the affidavit said.
On Nov. 5, Stewart pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, without a plea bargain, meaning Baird would sentence him. After a hearing on Nov. 27, Baird sentenced Stewart to 25 years.
A week later, the judge sent an e-mail to Casner and Stewart's defense lawyer, John Butler, saying he had "been thinking about" Stewart's punishment. "I have concluded that the sentence is both excessive and disproportionate in relation to other sentences assessed by me in similar circumstances." He told Butler to file a motion for a new trial and said he would grant it for the sentencing portion.
Baird later explained in an interview that he had gone into the hearing with the mistaken belief that Stewart had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in a previous robbery case when he had been sentenced to seven years.
After prosecutors objected to Baird's plan, he granted a motion for a new trial for both the guilt/innocence phase, which had been resolved with a plea, and the sentencing phase. Prosecutors filed an appeal, which is pending.
On Jan. 31, days after he released Stewart on bond, Baird sent another e-mail to prosecutors and Stewart's lawyers saying he has been monitoring Stewart, who has been living in transitional housing for recovering addicts in East Austin. He said that Stewart soon would leave the building to find work. "Mr. Stewart will need his driver's license and other identification in order to apply for employment and cash his paychecks," Baird wrote.
He told Casner to bring the documents to court Tuesday.
Judge needs to make a decision and stick to it.
How about, "judge needs to abide by the law and not flout it"?
That same judge recently ignored the law in one of our Williamson County cases. Defendant, who was being prosecuted for bail jumping, was told to submit to a urine sample before leaving. He left without submitting a sample. So, judge issued a warrant and order No Bond.
Defendant, who ran down to Travis County, was caught and brought before Judge Baird, who set a $50,000 bond and then granted a personal bond.
It's one thing to mess things up in your own jurisdiction. It's quite another when it reaches into another jurisdiction.
Just read some of Judge Baird's old appellate opinions. You'll get the picture pretty quickly.
No kidding! Once a rogue, always......
You have got to wonder why even Travis County would elect him to the bench.
The Third Court of Appeals issued an opinon today in which Judge Baird dissented. Since his election to the trial bench, does he continue to visit on the appelate courts?
What case are you looking at? I don't see it in the releases from today or yesterday.
My bad. The case was today, but out of the 13th COA
Isn't there a statute that allows a district court to sit on an appellate case in certain circumstances? I've seen it done once before.
Yes, one of our judges (Ken Anderson) has sat on a couple of cases. He is rightfully proud of the chance to get the call and has published opinions now.
Guess you have to take the good with the bad.
Not if the law was a de-throned judge could no longer sit.
Dude, I totally agree with you. I've often thought that there should be a ban on visiting judges that have lost an election (a ban that isn't limited to judges who lose their first election). (In fact, I came by this belief shortly after Baird burned me the first time.) But, unfortunately, he doesn't fit into that category. Moreover, I think the statute that allows for district courts to sit is separate from the visiting judge section.
As the old sports cliche goes "It is what it is." Or as the young newsie is rumored to have said to Shoeless Joe Jackson, "Say it ain't so."
I must have missed something. When did it become OK for a judge to advocate for a defendant?
I understand he is now a district judge and has an independent basis for sitting as an appellate judge. I thought he lost his seat on the CCA, and even a district judge who lost his seat on the appellate court ought no longer be able to sit on an appellate court. Losing a seat, for reasons of political affilliation or otherwise, is tantamount to a vote of "no confidence" by the electorate.
Killer gets 15 years, over Travis prosecutors' protests
Judge Charlie Baird cites fairness, says other defendant got only 13 years via plea deal.
By Steven Kreytak
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
After striking a deal the day before that gave Raul Acedo's co-defendant a 13-year prison sentence for murder in the 2006 death of Timothy Neal Shroyer Jr., prosecutors argued Tuesday that Acedo deserved a much harsher fate in the case: 40 years.
Acedo was a frequent methamphetamine user with a prison record whose gun was used to shoot Shroyer near the Austin airport on July 1, 2006, they argued. He admitted running over Shroyer after he was shot and fought police for the gun when they arrested him a day later.
Whether it was Acedo, 30, or co-defendant Robert Brett Hall, 20, who shot the 28-year-old Shroyer, prosecutor John Hunt argued, "Mr. Acedo represents a serious danger to the civilians who are outside these walls."
State District Judge Charlie Baird disagreed and sent Acedo to prison for 15 years. The sentence was the minimum allowed given Acedo's criminal record and came after a spirited give-and-take between prosecutors and the judge.
Appeals court sides with district attorney in dispute with judge
Charlie Baird told to abandon order involving evidence he wanted returned.
By Steven Kreytak
Saturday, February 23, 2008
The Travis County district attorney's office scored a victory Friday in its ongoing battle against state District Judge Charlie Baird.
Asked to mediate a dispute in an aggravated robbery case in which Assistant District Attorney Amy Casner this month defied Baird's repeated orders to hand over evidence, the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin on Friday found that Baird had no authority to give the order.
For the rest of the story, click here.
To read the opinion of the Third Court of Appeals, click here.
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