Rosenthal found in contempt of court

March 28, 2008 5:22:25 PM PDT
Former Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has been held in contempt of court. Eyewitness News has learned a federal judge made the decision late Friday afternoon. Rosenthal was accused of deleting thousands of emails subpoenaed in a civil rights lawsuit. He hoped stepping down from office would keep him out of the news, but he now finds himself back in it.

Former DA Rosenthal and his attorney owe $18,900 for Rosenthal's deletion of more than 2,500 emails after they were subpoenaed in a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The non-deleted emails were eventually made public and in them we found political, racial, and sexually explicit communications as well as romantic exchanges between Rosenthal and his secretary at the time, Kerry Stevens. And though both have now left the county, federal Judge Kenneth Hoyt on Friday found that Rosenthal should have known better than to delete the emails, especially after the judge had ordered him to produce the emails in court.

In his 24-page opinion [READ FULL CONTEMPT ORDER], he found inconsistencies in Rosenthal's testimony about the matter. And he said that the DA's four decades of experience should have helped him to know better than to have violated the law, regardless of Rosenthal's claim that his inexperience with computers and miscommunication with staff contributed to what he called a "mistake."

Hoyt's decision, released late Friday, emphasizes that Rosenthal's multiple explanations were not sufficient and the mistake excuse was wholly inapplicable.

The judge says he was troubled by Rosenthal's actions and says the DA's silence about the matter was deafening. And even as the discussion unfolded in court, the judge says Rosenthal remained mute. The judge also says Rosenthal's attorney, Scott Durfee, who is the general counsel for the DA's office, helped Rosenthal hide what he'd done and did not report it to the court.

We tried to contact both Rosenthal and Durfee for comment. They were not available.

Just yesterday, we told you the woman at the center of the email scandal involving Rosenthal retired from Harris County. Hundreds of romantic emails from Rosenthal to Stevens were found on his county computer. When his successor was brought in, Stevens was given a pay cut.

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