By Lynn Brezosky and Peggy Fikac / San Antonio Express-News
RAYMONDVILLE - Some of the top names in South Texas legal defense converged at the Willacy County courthouse with briefcases and a sense of conviviality about indictments reaching as far as the White House.
Lawyers like J.A. "Tony" Canales, a former U.S. attorney who is representing Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, said they hoped to get a range of charges brought by embattled District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra quickly dismissed.
Guerra, a 53-year-old Rio Grande Valley prosecutor who drew national attention for suing counterparts in the county justice system and staging a protest with barnyard animals, long has alleged high-ranking corruption in the deals that brought the impoverished county a $60 million immigration detention center.
On Monday, he got a grand jury to sign off on a slew of indictments including an acceptance of honorarium charge against state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., and an engaging in organized criminal activity charge against Cheney and Gonzales.
Cheney is accused of contributing to the neglect of federal immigration detainees by contracting for-profit prisons.
“By working through corporations as prisons for profit, Defendant Richard Cheney has committed at least misdemeanor assaults of our inmates and/or detainees,” the indictment reads, adding that a “money trail” can be traced to Cheney's substantial investments in the Vanguard Group, which invests in privately run prisons.
This morning, Canales filed a motion to quash indictments "for prosecutorial vindictiveness and failure to allege an offense."
"In most of the indictments, the prosecutor identifies himself as the victim. The prosecutor has usurped for himself the role of prosecutor, judge, victim, and director of the grand jury. His conflict of interest and abuse of office require that he be stopped," Canales said.
Courthouse officials said Guerra had not been seen today.
A number of experts were shaking their heads at the indictment.
Shannon Edmonds of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, after reviewing a faxed copy of the indictment against Cheney and Gonzales, said he’d never seen one like it.
“It’s a creative indictment, but I don’t think it properly alleges any crime,” Edmonds said. “It’s more of just a rambling narrative … I think a court will find that it’s legally insufficient in that it fails to allege a crime.”
Chip B. Lewis, a prominent criminal defense lawyer in Houston whose clients have included former Enron chairman Ken Lay, said, “It’s a shame. I’m not a Cheney supporter by any means. I’m Democrat. But the misuse of our criminal justice system is apparent … It just smacks of partisanship and it’s a shame that credence can be lent to this type of charge because you have a grand jury indictment.”
Lewis said, “I don’t think he (Cheney) will ever spend a day in court.”