Trucker's attorney wants judge off case


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The attorney for a truck driver charged with killing two people in a fiery 2005 accident accused a prominent Ellis County judge of misconduct and called Thursday for his removal from the case.

Dallas Attorney David Finn contends 40th District Judge Gene Knize angrily threatened him and behaved unprofessionally toward him during jury selection last month for the trial of James Leon Williams. But Mr. Finn said he did not plan to call for the judge to recuse himself until after Judge Knize unexpectedly dismissed the jury before the trial could begin.

Mr. Finn said the jury included several people he believes would have given his client the best chance for acquittal. Mr. Williams, 56, is charged with two counts of criminally negligent homicide in the deaths of James R. Nation and Debra Carder.

Prosecutors allege Mr. Williams fell asleep at the wheel on June 24, 2005, as he was heading north on Interstate 35E through Waxahachie. Mr. Williams' truck slammed into the victims' cars, which were slow or stopped, according to a police report.

The defense contends Mr. Williams did not fall asleep but had to swerve because vehicles ahead of him had stopped suddenly.

Mr. Finn said the original jury included at least one truck driver and two women married to truck drivers.

"This is the best jury I could ever hope for," he said.

Judge Knize, who was overseeing an unrelated case in his courtroom in the same building, was not at Thursday's recusal hearing. He did not respond to a message left at his office seeking comment.

Judge Bill Coker of Dallas presided over the hearing. He is expected to issue a ruling on Mr. Finn's motion today, after he reviews court transcripts from the jury selection, he said.

Mr. Finn and fellow attorney Mark Griffith of Waxahachie called four members of the jury pool who were present during the Jan. 9 selection process. Though they recalled varying degrees of interaction between the judge and Mr. Finn, all said they do not believe Judge Knize would give Mr. Williams an impartial trial as long as Mr. Finn was his attorney.

"There was an obvious personality conflict between Mr. Finn and Judge Knize," said Shannon Smith, who added that Mr. Finn seemed "a little cocky."

Mr. Smith, who was not selected for the jury, said the judge appeared angry with Mr. Finn.

Jeff Spence, who was chosen for the jury, said he remembers the judge "responding to Mr. Finn like he was the new kid on the block. He kind of attacked and was really out of hand with Mr. Finn.

"I did not see any way that he could get a fair trial the way it was presented to me," Mr. Spence said.

Much of the 2 ½-hour hearing focused on a series of exchanges between Mr. Finn and Judge Knize, one of which was documented in a court transcript.

As Mr. Finn finished questioning potential jurors, he thanked the pool. According to Mr. Finn and others, some on the jury pool then applauded that the day was nearly over.

Judge Knize responded by asking, "Am I supposed to bow and genuflect now?"

"No, that's what I do," Mr. Finn said in response. "Thank you."

At one point, Mr. Finn described a threat the judge made against him.

"He said, 'I suggest you better make darn sure you are never one minute late to my court if you know what's good for you,' " recalled Mr. Finn, who said he had never been late to Judge Knize's court.

The most combative testimony came when Mr. Finn took the stand and was questioned by Ellis County Assistant District Attorney Don Maxfield.

Mr. Maxfield questioned why, if Mr. Finn felt threatened by the judge, he did not call for the judge's removal regardless of the jury's status.

Mr. Finn is a former prosecutor and judge. He said he believes it is unprecedented for a judge to dismiss a jury without providing an explanation and without being prompted by a motion from the prosecution or defense.

Southern Methodist University professor Fred Moss, a former federal prosecutor, agreed.

"It's certainly unusual to do so without a motion and it's even more unusual to do so without explanation," Mr. Moss said. "It is very strange."

Though a recusal hearing that pits attorneys against the judge who might still hear their case is risky, Mr. Moss said it could end up helping Mr. Finn's case regardless.

"Sometimes if you complain and you lose, the judge will bend over backwards to be fair in order to prove you wrong," Mr. Moss said. "So it might actually benefit you in the long run."

Source: Dallas News
poor mr.finn. Judges believe they are above the law seldom are they removed from the bench.
Our truck driving friend does'nt have millions, SO just like elswhere the judge appears to be leaning torward a verdict before trial. its not fair its a circus.

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