Judge guilty in official oppression case

December 19, 2009 7:11:52 AM PST
A jury returned a guilty verdict Friday afternoon in the trial of a judge accused of breaking the law. Harris County District Court Judge Donald Jackson was accused of offering to dismiss a woman's case in exchange for a sexual relationship. Up next is the punishment phase of the trial, which will be on Monday. Jackson faces up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. He was convicted of offering to help Ariana Venegas get off a DWI charge in exchange for a relationship.

After the verdict was read, both sides had different reactions.

"Obviously the jury came to the right decision," said prosecutor Lance Lang. "It showed that we're not going to tolerate corruption. We expect our judiciary to behave themselves, at the highest level, to not put themselves in this position, and to not take advantage of people who have cases pending in their courts."

"Why am I disappointed? Because I believe in the defensive issues that we presented and there's a lot of reasonable doubt," said a dejected Lewis Dickson, who was one of the attorneys representing Judge Jackson.

Venegas was not present in the courtroom when the verdict was read Friday, but her attorney tells us she was overcome with emotion.

Prosecutors haven't yet decided what they'll ask for during the punishment phase of the trial. The defense says they'll likely appeal the decision.

Friday's closing arguments

In court Friday afternoon, defense attorneys for Judge Jackson began closing arguments by yelling at their own client. They told the jury they're ashamed of Judge Jackson for meeting up with a defendant in his court and trying to date her, but they insisted it wasn't official oppression. Like they've done throughout the trial, the judge's attorneys attacked Venegas. It was a tactic that didn't surprise her attorney.

"In a criminal trial, the victim is not a party to the case, but she's along for the ride, and that ride was a rough one," said Rob Todd, Venegas' attorney.

Prosecutors tried to use the judge's own words against him, pointing out that he repeatedly lied to investigators when first questioned about Venegas. Once again, prosecutors played the secretly recorded conversation between Jackson and an investigator where the judge initially denied calling Venegas and asking her to dinner.

"I have no recollection of ever contacting a defendant and asking them to go to dinner with me. I have had lots of defendants end up being my waiters in restaurants and coming to my table and saying you are my judge," Judge Jackson said on the tape.

Both sides agree that Judge Jackson did call, meet, and tried to date Venegas. However, defense attorneys insist the judge only did something stupid, not illegal.

As the jury deliberates, Venegas' attorney says he hopes the jury sends a message.

"He's admitted he did this. It's not just wrong, it's beyond wrong. It's something that doesn't only just reflect on him, it's reflective of every judge down here," said Todd.


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