Guedry to get new trial, judge says

April 1, 2011

Law & Courts

Former Beaumont police officer James Cody Guedry will get a retrial of his official oppression conviction, Jefferson County Criminal District Judge John B. Stevens Jr. said in a written ruling issued Friday afternoon, the last business day before a legal deadline.

“Sometimes we are faced with decisions between what is easy and what is right,” Stevens began his 11-page ruling. “In this case it would be easy to simply deny the motion for a new trial, but it would not be right under the law.”

A Jefferson County jury convicted Guedry of the Class A misdemeanor in December, after which Stevens ordered a presentencing investigation. On January 18, Stevens sentenced Guedry to 30 days in state jail, probated for 90 days. [Click to read Stevens' sentencing memorandum, provided by The Beaumont Enterprise.]

Guedry was specifically convicted of  wrongfully using a Taser twice against Derrick Newman during a late-night traffic stop on Aug. 24, 2007. [For more background on the case and a link to a police video of the incident, click here.]

On Feb. 8, Guedry’s new attorney, Glen Morgan, filed a motion for retrial, arguing that prosecutors did not present a legally or factually sufficient case for Guedry to be convicted, and that his trial lawyer, Mitch Adams of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), provided ineffective counsel.

After two delays, Stevens heard evidence and arguments Thursday on a lengthy amended motion Morgan filed late Wednesday afternoon. Although Jefferson County Assistant Criminal District Attorney Rod Conerly initially asked for a continuance, at the conclusion of Thursday’s hearing he decided against it. Monday was the last day Stevens could have ruled on the motion before it was automatically denied under state law. [The document is courtesy of KMBT-TV.]

Morgan argued in the hearing that Adams, the trial lawyer, had an inherent conflict of interest and was ineffective during Guedry’s trial. The conflict of interest claim stems from the fact that Adams is representing David Todd Burke, another former Beaumont officer, in his appeal of his conviction of official oppression of Newman in the same incident.

In September, a Bexar County jury found Burke guilty of wrongfully using his police baton to strike Newman 13 times while knowing that he was acting illegally. (Burke’s first trial in April 2010 ended in a hung jury and mistrial.) State district Judge Layne Walker of Jefferson County sentenced Burke to 90 days in state jail, also probated.  (UPDATES: On Aug. 24, 2011, the Ninth Court of Appeals upheld Burke’s conviction. Burke appealed that ruling to the Texas Court of  Criminal Appeals, which on June 27, 2012,  granted Burke a new trial. )

Morgan argued that much of the evidence presented at the trial had little or nothing to do with his client, and that Adams failed to either object or ask for a ruling that the jury should disregard such evidence.

In his ruling, Stevens wrote that he himself saw problems with Guedry’s defense from the outset of the trial when he noted that Adams had failed to make a motion to quash Guedry’s indictment, which had wording problems. Also, Stevens wrote, he learned that Adams had not requested a plea offer prior to trial, only discussing it with Jefferson County prosecutors just before jury selection.

And while Adams denied there was any conflict in his dual representation of Burke and Guedry, Stevens said the evidence proseuctors used regarding Burke’s actions “certainly harmed (Guedry).”

Stevens wrote that in a sidebar hearing during the trial, Adams said that his trial strategy would not include blaming Burke. “(Adams’) actions cannot be considered sound trial strategy,” the judge wrote.

Stevens wrote that it was revealed outside the jury’s presence that Adams was to have been assisted during the trial by another lawyer, but that lawyer became sick. But the judge was not informed of that, and Adams did not move to continue the trial.

In the midst of the trial, another lawyer, Craig Schexnaider – who is defending Guedry, Burke and three other officers in a civil lawsuit filed by Newman — appeared and asked to join Adams as co-counsel. Schexnaider had been Guedry’s original attorney of record in the criminal case, but later asked to withdraw.

Stevens wrote that when he reviewed Schexnaider’s motion to withdraw, he learned that the stated reason was “conflict of interest,” which had not been pointed out to him by Adams. While Stevens allowed Schexnaider to join the defense table when he said the conflict of interest no longer existed, “this was the second instance in the midst of his trial where (Stevens) had (Guedry) extemporaneously consider whether he wanted to be represented by attorneys with possible conflicts of interest in his representation.”

“Strangely, Mr. Schexnaider disappeared from the rest of  the trial the next day,” Stevens wrote.

“The record indicates Mr. Schexnaider effectively abandoned (Guedry) for the seven months he was co-trial counsel,” the judge wrote. “Mr. Schexnaider chose to concentrate on civil litigation for that seven-month period. Only at the eleventh hour did he briefly appear for (Guedry) at trial and then as a replacement for” the lawyer who fell ill.

Stevens wrote that he was well aware of the problems in Adams’ representation of Guedry well before Morgan, Guedry’s new attorney, elucidated them in Thursday’s hearing.

“It is plain and clear under the totality of the record facts and circumstances that (Adams) was ‘over his head’ in single-handedly undertaking to represent (Guedry) who was charged with such a complex-issued criminal offense,” Stevens wrote.

“All this is not to say that (Adams) is not a good man or a capable attorney as this judge knows him to have earned a good representation of being both,” Stevens wrote. Despite that, he found that Adams’ representation of Guedry was “manifestly ineffective (and) amounts to an abdication of an attorney’s responsibility to effectively advocate his client’s case.”

It is not known when Guedry’s new trial might take place. The Jefferson County Criminal District Attorney’s Office is likely to appeal Stevens’ ruling.

UPDATE:  On April 14, the prosecutor’s office filed a notice of appeal of Stevens’ ruling. On June 12, Beaumont Police Chief Frank Coffin reinstated Guedry as a community relations officer, citing Stevens’ ruling for a new trial. On Sept. 5, 2012, the Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont upheld Stevens’ ruling granting Guedry a new trial. On Oct. 10, the Jefferson County Criminal District Attorney’s Office filed a petition for discretionary review of the Ninth Court ruling with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

After denying the petition on Jan. 16, 2013, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Feb. 14, on its own motion, returned the case to the Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont. On Feb. 26, the Ninth Court issued a mandate in the appeal, returning to the Criminal District Court of Jefferson County.

CORRECTION and CLARIFICATION:  In his written order, Judge Stevens misspelled the last name of attorney Craig Schexnaider (omitting the letter “i”), an error which this post originally duplicated. The spelling has been corrected in all instances, including the ones quoting Stevens’ order. This post also originally incorrectly stated the number of days Burke was sentenced to jail (probated).

RELATED:  Ruling on retrial motion in Guedry case expected Monday and Beaumont police chief says department will rebound from setbacks

Find links to full coverage of the Guedry and Burke cases here.

Copyright © 2011 Ken Fountain. All rights reserved.

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About Ken Fountain

I'm a journalist and writer based in Houston. My areas of specialty include law and courts, local government and industry and environmental issues. You can follow me on Twitter at @twitter.com/kenfountain and email me at kenfountain1 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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