Judge amends orders, alleges county attorney committed crime
County Court-at-Law Judge Vincent Messina, who last week appointed a special prosecutor after County Attorney Matt Mills said he would refuse to prosecute alleged violators of the governor's executive orders, on Monday filed an amended order stating that Mills may have broken the law. The judge's amended order contained two new exhibits: a copy of articles relating to Mills that were in Saturday's issue of the HCN, and a copy of Section 7.02(a)(2) of the Texas Penal Code. Messina alleges that when Mills told the HCN last week that he went to Lift the Bar Fitness on the afternoon that owner Todd Hebert allegedly re-opened the gym to members in violation of the governor's orders and also told the newspaper that Hebert did not want to speak to the media, he "inextricably intertwined himself in a potential criminal offense." According to Messina, the offense carries the same punishment as the Class B misdemeanor charge for those who violate the governor's orders: a fine of $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail. Mills disputes Messina's claim that he is disqualified due to conflict of interest in the matter and cited the 2008 Landers v. State case. "In applying the Landers opinion to the case at hand, the trial judge would need evidence of a due process violation in the form of actual prejudice to a defendant," Mills stated in an email to the HCN. "Instead, the argument from the trial judge is that a potential defendant might get better treatment, rather than actual prejudice. There is no support for this opinion under Texas law." The county attorney said he intends to file a writ of mandamus challenging Messina's appointment of District Attorney Ryan Sinclair to serve as prosecutor in any cases involving pandemic-related violations.
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