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Request to reinstate Judge Knize on local case denied

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ERIC CORNELISON
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WAXAHACHIE - Ellis County District Judge Gene Knize will not preside over a local negligent homicide case according to Judge Bill Coker of Dallas, who refused to overturn his original ruling.

Coker denied the motion to reconsider the order of recusal filed by Ellis County chief felony prosecutor Don Maxwell.

Judge Richard Davis of Canton has been assigned to take over the case.

Knize was accused of threatening Dallas attorney David Finn during the course of jury selection in the case of truck driver, James Leon Williams, 56, who was charged with two counts of criminally negligent homicide stemming from a June 2005 accident.

According to reports, once the jury was selected, Knize arbitrarily discharged them after some threatening words for Finn.

Finn said, 'After I thanked the jury, Knize got up and gave a mock clap and said, am I suppose to bow and genuflect now?'

Finn maintained the original jury selection, which included one truck driver and two truck drivers' wives, might have been favorable to defense arguments.

Williams' attorneys, Finn and Waxahachie attorney Mark Griffith, then asked for Knize to be recused from the case and a hearing was held on Thursday, Feb. 22.

Coker issued a one-page ruling, which did not include an explanation, following the hearing, which dismissed Knize from the trial.

Maxwell later requested Coker reconsider his motion and put Knize back on the case.

Maxwell contended the jurors' statements during the recusal hearing showed the dismissal of the jury was the right decision on the part of Knize.

Finn then filed a brief response on Friday, March 2 stating all parties were given ample notice of the hearing on the recusal motion filed by the defendant.

Finn went on in his response, 'The State of Texas had every opportunity to call any witness, including Judge Knize that they felt were relevant to the issue, as did the defense.

'The defense did call witnesses and introduce exhibits; case law regarding this issue was presented prior to the hearing by both the State of Texas and the defendant.'

Finn said there was no new evidence or any new law to justify the state's motion to reinstate Knize and nothing had changed subsequent to the recusal hearing except for the fact the defendant prevailed.

According to the response by Finn, the state's motion was, 'Simply an attempt to take another bite at the proverbial apple.'

'Judge Coker listened to all of the evidence, heard directly from the jurors, read the motions and briefs, took his time and read the trial transcript and ruled, not exactly a knee-jerk decision,' said Finn.

'You will note that the state didn't cite a single case in the history of Texas in which a judge unilaterally dismissed a legally empanelled and regularly constituted jury,' Finn said. 'There is not precedent because it's unprecedented.'

In Maxwell's reply, filed on March 2, to the response filed by Finn, 'Defendant asserts as fact that the judge discharged the jury for the state's benefit.'

'There is no evidence from the defendant or any other source that any benefit came to the state,' continued the reply by Maxwell stating the state was equally dismayed by the discharge of the jury.

Maxwell said it was the defendant's burden to show bias, prejudice or animosity by Knize.

He said Finn could have called Knize and asked him his reasons why he discharged the jury, but chose not to do so.

'Having failed to do so, the defendant cannot now speculate as to the judge's reasons just to support his bare assertions.

The state contended there was no new evidence supporting recusal for any conduct of the trial judge during a judicial proceeding of the high degree of antagonism sufficient to show fair judgment by the trial judge was impossible.

On Monday, March 5, Finn filed another response, 'This statement by the state is clearly contrary to the evidence introduced during the hearing and it was Judge Coker's job to assign the weight, if any, to be given to the testimony and the evidence.'

Finn continued to say, 'Judge Coker evidently gave some weight to that evidence. The fact that the state does not like his ruling is of no moment.

'Arguing balls and strikes once the umpire had made his call is generally a waste of time and energy in all fields of endeavor, as it appears to be in the case herein.'

'If a trial judge can arbitrarily discharge and impanel juries until one is obtained that will render such a verdict as the state demands, or the prosecution desires, then of what value is the boasted right in retaining a chosen jury?' asked Finn.

Maxwell's reply also requested the court vacate its order and issue a new order denying the Motions to Recuse and if not, at a minimum clarify its order as to the reason for the recusal.

Finn has since stated, 'I appreciate the support that I'm getting from across the state; this whole episode reminds me of what Ambrose Redmoon on said, ‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important.'

'In this case it's justice.'

Maxwell and Knize have not returned repeated calls to comment for this story.

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