Liberty County judge sued

May 1, 2009 4:48:45 AM PDT
The Liberty County Courthouse is abuzz again, and that spells new trouble for embattled Liberty County Judge Phil Fitzgerald. Cell phone records and a lawsuit are raising the ante. 13 Undercover has the latest on our joint investigation with the Cleveland Advocate newspaper. Judge Fitzgerald's long friendship with retired lawyer Glen Vickery isn't news in Liberty County, but when the judge chose to dismiss Vickery's DWI case he opened a Pandora's box of trouble.

"Sure there's a long friendship. Every case I hear in this court I usually have some prior knowledge or friendship with one side or the other," said Judge Fitzgerald.

The dismissal has been voided by another judge and a new trial ordered, but an ethics investigation is underway. As a county judge, Fitzgerald apparently had no legal authority to hear the case in the first place. KTRK's legal analyst says that could run afoul of two criminal statutes.

"That is an impersonation of another type of public service. He could be charged with tampering with a record. He signed the record," said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

The canon of ethics says you can't be a judge and also executor of an estate outside your family. Last month, we told you Fitzgerald was running the estate of Glen Vickery's daughter when he threw out Glen Vickery's criminal case.

"Until the governor gets us to secede from the union, we're still under laws of the United States. We don't have fiefdoms in the United States and he's acting like we do," said Ron Krist, lawyer for Jessica Vickery.

Fitzgerald sees no conflict, but that's not what's prompting this lawsuit. Vickery's daughter now wants to know where all her money is.

"We're talking about 900 acres to a thousand acres of property in north Liberty County. You're talking about several apartments. You're talking about an annuity. It's an estate clearly worth over a million dollars," said Krist.

Jessica Vickery's lawsuit accuses Fitzgerald of mismanaging her estate for the past seven years.

"He's done no accounting, never acknowledged any of his activities. He shouldn't be serving," said Krist.

The lawsuit claims Fitzgerald is conspiring with Glen Vickery.

"If it is shown there is a misapplication of funds in his fiduciary capacity, of course, that would constitute a crime," said Krist.

Jessica Vickery's other lawyer, Richard Morrison, said, "It's a breach of trust not only to the beneficiary of this trust, our client, as well as the people of Liberty."

While the Krist Law Firm looks for the money, we've been taking a closer look at Judge Fitzgerald's cell phone records. On New Year's Eve, the day the judge dismissed Vickery's criminal case, guess who he called? Glen Vickery.

"The government loves phone records to put people together at a certain place and time," said Androphy.

"I'm not surprised, but it is not very sophisticated," said Krist.

In early March, the Liberty watchdog blog i-dineout.com began raising questions about the DWIcase. The judge made longer call to Vickery then. Just after we interviewed Fitzgerald about Glen Vickery on March 10, he called him at least twice and again the following morning.

Our legal analyst said the damage has already been done.

"The public has been damaged. They've seen favoritism. That's not something that plays very well in the community," said Androphy.

Judge Fitzgerald better hope the i-dineout.com poll is skewed since 85% of those voting want the judge to resign.

The cell phone records also raise new questions about the judge's involvement in the hurricane cleanup in Liberty County, now subjects of state and federal investigations.

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