A visiting judge Thursday denied an attempt by an attorney for nine bikers arrested in the deadly Twin Peaks shootout to remove McLennan County’s two felony court judges from presiding over the cases.
Adam Reposa, who represents nine bikers associated with the Bandidos, failed in his efforts to prove 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson and 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother are biased and should not hear the bikers’ cases.
Visiting Judge Doug Shaver, of Houston, rejected the recusal motion, but cautioned McLennan County officials at the end of the hearing to try to expedite the bond issues involving the jailed bikers as quickly as possible for the sake of the taxpayers paying for their incarcerations.
Reposa tried to base his claims of judicial bias on an incident that occurred when Strother and Johnson intervened two weeks ago after three bikers from Austin, who were booked into the jail on lesser charges, were released on bonds lower than the $1 million set for the others.
Johnson and Strother had been told that those bikers’ assumed $1 million bonds had been lowered by another magistrate, prompting the judges to meet with Jail Magistrate Virgil Bain and jail officials to find out what happened.
No one lowered the bonds as they first thought. Bain set lower bonds for them because they were not charged with first-degree felonies, like the 174 or so other bikers in custody at that time.
The two judges said at the time that no bonds would be reduced without their authority. Since last week, the judges have approved reduced bonds for 58 bikers after agreements were reached between prosecutors and their attorneys. A total of 47 had been released from jail as of Thursday evening, including three who posted $1 million bonds before the bond-reduction discussions began.
Both judges testified about their involvement in those three bonds and said they have not rejected any agreements for reduced bonds since negotiations started May 30.
Security at the courthouse was dramatically increased Thursday morning with the anticipation that the nine bikers would be brought to court at once.
But Shaver ordered only three be brought at a time after consulting with sheriff’s deputies. Only Justin Garcia, Reginald Weathers and Gilbert Zamora, whom deputies identified as members or associates of the Bandidos motorcycle gang, were brought into court.
Over the objections of Reposa, Shaver said there was no need for all nine bikers to be brought into court because his ruling would apply to them all.
Shaver limited the scope of Reposa’s questions to the recusal issue, although Reposa tried to launch into an argument that the complaints against the bikers don’t actually allege the elements of a crime and are identical, creating the appearance that everyone there is guilty of the same criminal actions.
“The judge obviously shut down where I was trying to go today, which is, if you read the complaint, then you see it doesn’t allege a cause of action,” Reposa said. “So I think the judge would agree you can’t hold someone on $1 million if they don’t allege a cause of action, but I was chopped off.
“But they closed out with the judge telling the district attorney and basically admitted that you have people who don’t belong in jail, and he said that is a problem, but it doesn’t rise to the level of calling into question the fairness of the judges. That was his legal conclusion, and I respect that.”
Reposa said he doesn’t think his motion was an exercise in futility because the hearing brought more attention to those he claims are wrongfully jailed.
“I don’t think it is a bad idea to have people focusing on the fact that there are people in jail who don’t need to be in there,” he said. “Hopefully, we will someday get to the conversation of whether or not they actually stated a claim in their arrest affidavits.”
Both felony courts had scheduled dozens of bond reduction hearings for each Friday in June and a few in July. But only one, from Friday’s 54th State District Court docket, Lawrence Kemp, remains unresolved because of the agreements between prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Both Johnson and Strother refused to comment on the proceedings after Thursday’s hearing.