Texas DA Fights|to Hold Onto Her Job

     GEORGETOWN, Texas (CN) — A Texas district attorney who spent five days in jail for a contempt conviction and withheld evidence in a murder trial is fighting a petition to boot her from office.
     Williamson County voters elected Jana Duty aka Jana L. Hunsicker, a Republican, in November 2012.
     Williamson County, pop. 422,000, is part of Greater Austin. Its seat, Georgetown, is 30 miles north of the state capital.
     Williamson County residents Elizabeth Schleder and Thomas Madden sued Duty on June 13 in Williamson County Court, on behalf of the state, seeking to remove her from office,
     Schleder claims in the lawsuit that since Duty lost a March primary runoff in her bid for re-election, which gave her opponent the office because there was no Democrat challenger, Duty “rarely comes into her office, performs any work, or contributes any expertise, services or time to the office of district attorney … despite continuing to collect her $152,000/year salary.”
     Asked on Wednesday if it’s true that Duty rarely comes into work, a secretary in the District Attorney’s Office said: “That is not true, sir. I don’t know where the media is getting all their information. But I’m here every day and Ms. Duty is here, I’m not going to say every day, but it’s more than rarely.”
     Duty did not respond Wednesday to a voice message seeking comment.
     Duty erred in the capital murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated robbery case her office brought against Crispin James Harmel, who was accused of strangling 27-year-old Jessika Kalaher in September 2009.
     Police found Kalaher’s body in her car parked across the street from a Wal-Mart in Cedar Park, an Austin suburb, Austin’s NBC affiliate KXAN reported in May 2014.
     Harmel’s defense hinged on Wal-Mart surveillance footage, which his attorney maintained proved that he could not have murdered Kalaher.
     Harmel’s attorney asked Duty’s office for a time-stamped version of the footage before the trial and prosecutors told him no such copy existed, according to an April 27 ruling in Hamel’s appeal to Texas’ Third Court of Appeals, in Austin.
     During trial, Duty learned that the time stamps showed up by playing the video with different software, but she did not tell the defense, according to Schleder’s lawsuit.
     Harmel saw the time-stamped footage when the prosecution played it at trial and moved for a mistrial, which was granted in September 2015.
     Duty refiled the charges against Harmel, who filed a pretrial writ of habeas corpus, arguing that the double jeopardy clause should apply to his case.
     “At the hearing on Harmel’s pre-trial writ of habeas corpus, the district attorney admitted that she withheld this information from defense counsel for a variety of reasons, including her perceived mistreatment by defense counsel and the fact that the state had worked hard to figure out how to play the video so that the time stamps were displayed, something she felt defense counsel could also do on its own,” Justice Scott Field wrote in the April ruling for a three-judge panel of the Third Court of Appeals.
     But the panel denied Harmel’s motion, on the grounds that even though Duty intentionally withheld the evidence, she did not “goad” Harmel into moving for a new trial.
     “The grant of pre-trial habeas relief to a defendant on double jeopardy grounds is rare given that prosecutors do not ordinarily attempt to ‘throw’ their cases,” Field wrote.
     A judge issued a gag order in the Harmel case on April 9, 2015, according to the case record.
     Duty testified on June 3, 2015 in Harmel’s double jeopardy hearing that she had not talked to the media about the case, but acknowledged 12 days later that she had talked about it with reporters from a local TV station and newspaper, according to the new lawsuit.
     The court found her guilty of contempt in August 2015 and sentenced her to 10 days in the Williamson County Jail and a $2,000 fine.
     She served five days, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
     Schleder says in the new lawsuit that she and other Williamson County taxpayers will pay the “enormous additional expense” of retrying Harmel because of Duty’s ethical lapses.
     Duty’s professional snafus date back to 2011, when while working as a Williamson County attorney, the State Bar of Texas reprimanded her for releasing confidential documents from a Williamson County Commissioners Court meeting, the lawsuit states.
     The State Bar came calling again this year, accusing Duty of violating the state’s rules of professional conduct. Duty signed an agreed judgment on June 1 that suspended her law license from June 1 until Nov. 30, 2017, according to the lawsuit.
     “The [State Bar’s] Commission for Lawyer Discipline, however, probated the suspension subject to Duty’s compliance with the terms of the probation,” the complaint states.
     Schleder says the Williamson County District Attorney’s Office is in “disarray” because of “Duty’s dereliction and abandonment of her responsibilities.”
     She asked the court to suspend Duty from office and appoint a replacement until the new DA takes office in January 2017.
     Duty fired back on June 17 with a motion to abate the lawsuit.
     “Plaintiffs do not have authority to prosecute the case or act on behalf of the state,” her Austin attorney Daniel Richards wrote in the motion to abate and to be heard.

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