Former DA takes the stand in civil case

February 26, 2008 6:58:09 PM PST
Former Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal faced some tough questions today. He took the stand in a civil trial against the Harris County Sheriff's Office, and was asked about the more than 2,000 e-mails he deleted from his account that were subpoenaed as part of the trial.After more than an hour of questioning, Harris County's former top prosecutor emerged from the federal court house smiling. It was a sharp contrast to the straight face he kept while on the stand in Judge Ken Hoyt's court. Just feet away sat Sheriff Tommy Thomas and four deputies. They are accused of violating the civil rights of two Houston brothers, Erick and Sean Ibarra.

Lloyd Kelley, the Ibarras' lawyer, called Chuck Rosenthal along with other county officials to testify. Early in the questioning Kelley attempted to bring up the former DA's controversial emails that were subpoenaed in the case.

He asked, "Mr. Rosenthal, in response to a court order did you destroy approximately 2500 documents?"

Rosenthal's lawyer immediately objected and after a sidebar conference with the judge, Kelley moved to different questioning and attempted to show the DA's office never properly investigated the case.

The Ibarras contend deputies brutalized them and destroyed evidence after they videotaped and photographed a drug raid deputies were conducting at a neighbor's house.

Kelley asked, "Mr. Rosenthal, are you friends with Sheriff Thomas?"

"I consider us friends," Rosenthal answered.

At times Kelley asked questions with seemingly obvious answers and, despite their condescending tone, Rosenthal answered calmly. He repeatedly testified his knowledge of the 2002 incident was limited. He reiterated that point when he left the courtroom.

"I was not there," Rosenthal told Eyewitness News. "I don't know what happened."

That may be true in part because he testified his office closed their investigation and sent it back to the sheriff's internal affairs division. The former DA also pointed out he was not the actual prosecutor on the case. The matter was handled by other lawyers in his office.

It was this case that led to Rosenthal resigning from the office of district attorney. E-mails that had been turned over to the Ibarras' attorney contained romantic letters to his assistant along with dozens of racist and sexist e-mails. Rosenthal resigned a day after learning the Texas attorney general's office planned to file a lawsuit to remove him from office.

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