Should lawyers share secret info?

January 6, 2009 2:43:16 PM PST
A district attorney plans to ask the state's Thirteenth Court of Appeals to reverse a judge's decision allowing attorneys of Victoria officials accused of leaking information about a sex abuse case to share their respective clients' grand jury testimony. Previously, Judge Robert Cheshire allowed the attorneys access to grand jury testimony, although they were ordered to keep it secret -- even from each other. Cheshire ruled Monday that the three defendants could share that information.

District Attorney Stephen Tyler said Monday that he planned to appeal Cheshire's ruling, the Victoria Advocate reported Monday in its online edition.

Former city attorney David Smith, Police Chief Bruce Ure and Lt. Ralph Buentello are accused of interfering with the investigation into former Victoria County Sheriff Michael Ratcliff, who was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage boy. They face charges of aggravated perjury, after most of the charges they had faced were dismissed. The officials said they feared Ratcliff's investigation was being buried because he was, at the time, Tyler's chief of staff.

Mayor Will Armstrong had also been indicted in the case, but all of those charges have been dismissed.

A hearing Monday included criticism of Tyler from defense attorneys who said they're missing vital information to defend their clients against aggravated perjury charges.

"The district attorney has not disclosed anything in this case voluntarily," said Randy Schaffer, who represents Smith.

Tyler has closed his files to lawyers for Ure, Smith and Buentello, Schaffer said.

"Usually, when a prosecutor has nothing to hide he opens his files," Schaffer said. "My question is what is he hiding and why?"

Tyler said he's hiding nothing, but defense lawyers have filed intentionally inflammatory motions. A motion seeking exculpatory evidence, also called Brady materials, asked Tyler for things defense lawyers would know he couldn't provide.

But defendants said they have no idea what Tyler can or cannot produce.

Cheshire ruled several defense requests were vague or extended beyond what the law allows.

Also during the hearing, trial dates were set for the trio. Ure's trial will be first and is now scheduled to begin March 30. Buentello's trial is tentatively scheduled for April 20. Smith's trial will likely be in late April or May.

If the appellate court considers the ruling which Tyler plans to seek, it could delay the trial, Cheshire said.

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