A visiting judge denied a motion Tuesday to remove Judge Matt Johnson from presiding over a Bandidos chapter president’s case, paving the way for jury selection in the first of the Twin Peaks cases to start Wednesday.
Judge Robert Stem of Marlin denied a motion to recuse Johnson after a six-hour hearing in which Johnson pledged to be fair and impartial to Christopher Jacob Carrizal, all other Twin Peaks defendants and others whose cases come before him.
Stem ruled that efforts by Houston attorney Casie Gotro, who represents Carrizal, did not raise issues that meet the threshold required to remove a judge from hearing a case.
A panel of about 145 potential jurors was released for the second time Tuesday morning after Gotro, who arrived in court 30 minutes late, delivered her recusal motion less than a minute after Johnson had started impaneling the jury pool.
Through audible groans from the crowd, the panel was told to return to court at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Johnson notified regional administrative Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield of the motion, and Stubblefield appointed Stem to hear the recusal motion, starting about noon.
Johnson was appointed to hear Carrizal’s case after Visiting Judge Dan Mills on Monday recused 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother on a similar motion from Gotro. Strother had hoped to impanel the jury in Carrizal’s case Aug. 25, but that was put on hold after Gotro filed her recusal motion in front of about 180 potential jurors who showed up that day.
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Gotro said after the hearing that Carrizal is eager for his day in court, but she doesn’t think she will be able to select a jury from this panel. Some members heard an exchange between her and Johnson after she filed the recusal motion Tuesday morning, and she thinks it could have prejudiced the jury pool, she said.
Gotro said Johnson showed “hostility” toward her and was visibly upset when she asked if she could leave the room to use the telephone and he told her to stay there in the annex courtroom. She said she asked him if he would find her in contempt if she left, and she said the judge told her he might.
She declined to give details about her plans to proceed Wednesday morning, but the judge instructed the attorneys to be in court at 8 a.m., an hour before potential jurors are set to arrive.
If Carrizal’s trial proceeds, he would be the first of 154 indicted bikers to go before a jury after being arrested in the May 15, 2015, shootout between rival biker groups at Twin Peaks in Waco. Prosecutors indicted 155 bikers, but one has since died in a crash.
Carrizal, 36, of Dallas, is charged with one count of directing activities of a criminal street gang, one count of engaging in organized criminal activity with the underlying offense of murder and one count of engaging in organized criminal activity with the underlying offense of aggravated assault.
As she did at Strother’s recusal hearing, Gotro focused on a January status conference in which bikers who appeared that day were met with search warrants for their DNA from the district attorney’s office.
Gotro claimed Strother and Johnson both helped facilitate the execution of those search warrants by calling the dockets. She also claimed that the judges participated in improper communications with the DA’s office to set up the collection of the evidence.
Both judges denied any ex parte communications with prosecutors and said they required the bikers to appear at routine dockets like all other defendants.
The judge presiding over what is scheduled to be the first Twin Peaks biker trial postponed …
Johnson said he was aware of the search warrants for the DNA and said he denied the request to force the bikers to appear solely for DNA collection. He said he required all bikers indicted in his court to appear at the January docket call because the cases had been pending awhile, the discovery process had begun, bikers had been replacing their attorneys without notifying the court and it had been some time since their last court appearance.
Johnson had not met Gotro or Carrizal until Aug. 25, when he tried to fill in for Strother to impanel the jury after Gotro’s recusal motion against Strother. Johnson left after Gotro said she would file one against him, also. Her recusal motion was not filed until Tuesday, however.
Prosecutor Amanda Dillon, who obtained the DNA search warrants, said there were differences in the way Johnson and Strother handled what attorneys for the bikers have dubbed “the DNA docket.”
She said Johnson’s court handled the requests differently and “more professionally” than the other court.
Carrizal voluntarily agreed to give a DNA sample while he was represented by another attorney.
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