Affluenza Killer’s Mother Deported and Arrested

December 31, 2015
By David Lee
FORT WORTH (CN) – The mother of “affluenza” killer Ethan Couch was arrested Wednesday night after being deported from Mexico, and her son has been moved to Mexico City in anticipation of a months-long deportation fight.
Tonya Couch, 48, said nothing as she was led away from Terminal 2 at Los Angeles International Airport in handcuffs by three U.S. Marshals on Wednesday evening. They drove off in an unmarked black sedan.
She is being held at Los Angeles County Jail with no bail, according to jail records.
She faces one felony count of hindering apprehension and faces up to 10 years in Texas state prison.
Couch and her son, Ethan, 18, were captured Monday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, after being on the run from Texas authorities for two weeks.
Ethan Couch, who killed four people in 2013 while driving drunk on stolen beer, vanished after he failed to check in with a probation officer. He is believed to have fled soon after a Twitter user posted a video that appears to show him playing beer pong. He is prohibited from drinking while on probation.
Ethan Couch killed mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles, youth pastor Brian Jennings and Breanna Mitchell. He was driving a truck as much as 30 mph over the speed limit and had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 – three times the legal limit for adults. It is illegal for a minor to drive with any alcohol in his system.
Defense psychologist G. Dick Miller testified at trial that Couch was a product of “affluenza:” that his family felt their wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences. Miller said Couch’s parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have.”
Public outrage returned this month when Tarrant County authorities announced they were investigating Ethan Couch after the beer pong video surfaced.
He has eight years of probation remaining on his sentence, but prosecutors said Tuesday he’ll spend four months at most in jail for fleeing to Mexico as long as his case remains in juvenile court. Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said she is bound by Boyd’s sentence in juvenile court.
“That probation can be revoked – it is an anomaly of Texas law that if we revoke his juvenile sentence he would be held at a juvenile facility until his 19th birthday, which is April 11, 2016,” Wilson said. “His maximum sentence is four months in confinement. That, in my opinion, is not a sufficient punishment for the taking of four lives.”
Mexican officials said Wednesday they have moved Ethan Couch from Guadalajara to Mexico City after the Couches’ attorneys in Mexico filed legal documents known asamparos that contest deportation. He was granted a three-day stay of deportation.
Federal marshals believe Couch’s return could be delayed for months.
“We do not know if the Mexicans have the highest priority on this case like we do here in America,” Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Richard Hunter said Wednesday. “It is on their time schedule. We have seen these things happen as quickly as two weeks to two months.”
Ethan Couch’s attorneys, Scott Brown and Wm. Reagan Wynn in Fort Worth, said they helped the Couches find local counsel in Mexico because they are not licensed to practice law in that country.
“We believe that until the Mexican federal judge enters an appropriate order authorizing it, Ethan will not be returned to the United States,” they said in a statement Wednesday. “We are uncertain how long the legal process in Mexico will take or how it will ultimately be resolved.”
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said Wednesday that the Couches held a “going away party” before fleeing to Mexico.

From Courthouse News

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Texan Fights Fees for Paxton’s Prosecutors

December 31, 2015
By David Lee
McKINNEY, Texas (CN) – A Texan sued a state judge and County Commission on Wednesday, claiming special prosecutors in Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal securities fraud case are overcharging taxpayers for pretrial legal fees after a secret deal with a judge.
Jeffory Blackard, of Sulphur Springs, sued presiding Tarrant County District Judge George Gallagher, the members of Collin County Commissioners Court and county Auditor Jeff May in a proposed class action in Collin County Court.
He claims special prosecutors Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice seek “threatened expenditure of public funds that would unlawfully serve to enrich private attorneys at the expense of taxpayers in Collin County.”
Blackard claims the special prosecutors are limited to what court-appointed attorneys for the indigent are paid under the Texas Fair Defense Act.
“Defendant Judge Gallagher has discretion to adjust the payment in an amount not to exceed $1,000.00, but that payment is a ‘[per] case adjustment’ and cannot occur until disposition of the case,” the 19-page complaint states.
“For these reasons, the payment sought by the Attorneys Pro Tem violates Local Rule 4.01 and Tex. Code Crim. Proc. §§ 2.07 and 26.05. It seeks an illegal expenditure of taxpayer funds.”
Blackard cites an agreement between the prosecutors and Collin County District Court Judge Scott Becker that they would be paid $300 per hour. He claims the fees may not be paid until the case is disposed of – Paxton has yet to go to trial.
“The Attorneys Pro Tem may believe their case to be extraordinary, and may have been promised lucrative fees, but there is no legal basis for a fee payment to occur prior to disposition of the case or for an amount higher than the amount permitted in the fee schedule,” the complaint states.
“Any other result would open the door to drastic consequences, including severe financial impact to Collin County. Additionally, allowing individual judges to value intriguing white collar prosecutions far more than the effective defense of capital cases is plainly contrary to the plan and intent of the rules and statutes.”
A Collin County grand jury in August charged Paxton with two first-degree felony counts of securities fraud and a third-degree felony count of failing to register with the state securities board in August.
Paxton is accused of fraudulently selling more than $100,000 in Servergy stock to two investors in July 2011 without disclosing that he would be paid commissions on it. He also failed to disclose that he had been given 100,000 shares in the company but had not invested in the company himself, according to the indictment.
Judge Gallagher denied 10 dismissal motions from Paxton’s defense attorneys this month, paving the way for trial. He was not persuaded by arguments that the charges are unconstitutionally vague or that state District Judge Chris Oldner improperly impaneled the grand jury before recusing himself.
Paxton’s attorney, Bill Mateja with Fish Richardson in Dallas, declined comment.
“The lawsuit speaks for itself and beyond that we don’t have any comment,”
he told ABC-affiliate WFAA on Wednesday.
Prosecutor Wice said Paxton’s insistence on limiting pretrial legal fees is as “predictable as it is frivolous.”
“Mr. Paxton’s considerable resources would be far better spent in mounting a defense as opposed to his misplaced and inexplicable concern with our compensation,” he told the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday.
Blackard seeks declaratory judgment, a temporary restraining order and an injunction. He is represented by Scott Harper with Griffith Bates in Dallas and Todd P. Graves with Graves Garrett in Kansas City, Mo.

From Courthouse News.

‘Affluenza’ Killer Fighting Return to US

December 30, 2015
By David Lee
FORT WORTH (CN) – Captured “affluenza” killer Ethan Couch and his mother won a three-day stay from a Mexican court after fighting attempts to return them to Texas.
Mexican authorities detained Couch, 18, and his mother Tonya, 48, in Puerto Vallarta on Monday after a two-week manhunt after Texas authorities issued a juvenile-equivalent arrest warrant for Couch when he failed to check-in with a probation officer.
It is believed he went on the run after a six-second video was posted on Twitter earlier this month that shows someone resembling Couch at a beer pong game. Couch is banned from consuming alcohol during his 10 years of probation.
Couch and his mother were scheduled to be flown from Guadalajara to Houston on Wednesday and turned over to authorities in Tarrant County. An unnamed official with Mexico’s Migration Institute later told The Associated Press the Couches were granted a three-day deportation stay.
Couch made headlines in 2013 when he was sentenced to probation and therapy after killing four people on the side of a south Fort Worth road while driving drunk. A defense psychologist testified at trial that Couch, then 16, was the product of “affluenza:” that his family believed wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences. Couch was deemed as having “freedoms no young person should have.”
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said Wednesday he was told the Couches’ attorneys filed a “legal writ” to stay in Mexico.
“Is anyone surprised the Couch duo are putting up a legal fight to not return and face justice?” Anderson tweeted. “Not me. Will it never end?”
Couch’s extradition is expected to be delayed for several days up to two weeks. He will face at most four months at a juvenile facility until his 19th birthday because his case is still in juvenile court, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said Tuesday.
“That probation can be revoked – it is an anomaly of Texas law that if we revoke his juvenile sentence he would be held at a juvenile facility until his 19th birthday, which is April 11, 2016,” Wilson said. “His maximum sentence is four months in confinement. That, in my opinion, is not a sufficient punishment for the taking of four lives.”
Only if Couch violates probation again in the adult system will he face more jail time – 10 years for each of his four intoxication manslaughter convictions, Wilson said.
“I wish the system were different,” she said. “Our system of law means the best result in this cause would be – in our opinion – to get him in adult court.”

From Courthouse News.

‘Affluenza’ Killer Arrested With Mother in Mexico

December 29, 2015
By David Lee
FORT WORTH (CN) – Teenage “affluenza” killer Ethan Couch and his mother were arrested in Mexico Monday night after spending two weeks on the run.
Couch, 18, and his mother, Tonya, 48, were detained by Mexican authorities on Monday night, on a street corner in the Pacific resort town of Puerto Vallarta. Prosecutors in Jalisco state notified ABC News, and the information spread like wildfire around the world.
Couch, who killed four people in 2013 while driving drunk on stolen beer, went on the run this month after he failed to check in with a probation officer.
He and his mother vanished after a Twitter user posted a video that appears to show him playing beer pong. He is prohibited from drinking while on probation.
Couch has eight years of probation remaining on his sentence, but prosecutors said Tuesday he’ll only spend four months in jail for fleeing to Mexico as long as his case remains in juvenile court. Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said at a press conference that she is bound by Boyd’s sentence in juvenile court.
“That probation can be revoked – it is an anomaly of Texas law that if we revoke his juvenile sentence he would be held at a juvenile facility until his 19th birthday, which is April 11, 2016,” Wilson told reporters Tuesday morning. “His maximum sentence is four months in confinement. That, in my opinion, is not a sufficient punishment for the taking of four lives.”
Wilson said she will ask the juvenile court to transfer his case to an adult criminal court next month “and into the adult system where we no longer have to be concerned with the best interests of the child.”
Only if Couch violates probation again in the adult system will he face more jail time – 10 years for each of his four intoxication manslaughter convictions, Wilson said.
“I wish the system were different,” she said. “Our system of law means the best result in this cause would be – in our opinion – to get him in adult court.”
Wilson said Couch’s mother will be charged with felony hindering apprehension and could face up to 10 years in state prison.
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson told reporters the Couches did “what we thought all along” – that they carefully planned to disappear.
“They even had what you would call a ‘going away’ party before they left town,” Anderson said. “Our suspicion that his mother was helping him was true, so we followed those leads. The information we received really turned on Christmas Eve, when concrete information came in.”
The sheriff said Couch’s father, Fred, denied any involvement in Couch’s disappearance and has cooperated with investigators. Anderson said Couch is now an adult as far as the state as concerned.
“I would like him in adult prison,” he said.
The sheriff also said Couch is suspected to be one of the teenagers in the beer pong video, but there is no concrete proof other than receiving information that he was at the party the night the video was taken.
The Couches are being held at immigration offices in Guadalajara on Tuesday and will be placed on a commercial flight to Houston later in the day, Mexican officials told The Associated Press.
Couch’s attorneys, Scott Brown and Wm. Reagan Wynn in Fort Worth, said they have not spoken with their client.
“We do not anticipate being able to do so unless and until he arrives in the United States,” they said in a written statement Tuesday morning. “Until we have more information concerning this situation, it would not be producent for us to make any further public statement.”
Couch and former Texas state Judge Jean Boyd sparked national outrage in 2013 when she sentenced him to 10 years probation and therapy for driving drunk and killing four people on the side of a road in south Fort Worth.
The young man killed mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles, youth pastor Brian Jennings and Breanna Mitchell. He was driving a truck as much as 30 mph over the speed limit and had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 – three times the legal limit for adults. It is illegal for a minor to drive with any alcohol in his system.
Defense psychologist G. Dick Miller testified at trial that Couch was a product of “affluenza:” that his family felt their wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences. Miller said Couch’s parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have.”
Public outrage returned this month when Tarrant County authorities announced they were investigating Couch after the beer pong video surfaced.
Couch’s family settled the last of several civil lawsuits against them in October.
They agreed to pay the family of Lucas McConnell $60,000 in annuity payments for his college education and $35,000 in attorneys’ fees. Lucas was seriously injured while riding with Jennings when they pulled over to help a disabled vehicle before the crash.

From Courthouse News.

Texas Colleges Can’t Bar Guns From Dorms, AG says

December 22, 2015
By David Lee
GRANBURY, Texas (CN) – Texas public universities cannot ban guns from dormitories due to the state’s new campus carry law, Attorney General Ken Paxton said Monday.
Paxton cited Senate Bill 11 in a nonbinding advisory opinion . S.B. 11 forbids public universities from banning concealed license-holders from carrying handguns on campus. Signed into law in June, S.B. 11 goes into effect for public and private four-year colleges and universities on Aug. 1, 2016 and junior colleges on Aug. 1, 2017.
The law allows exemptions in “limited circumstances,” but Paxton says a dormitory ban goes too far.
“If an institution placed a prohibition on handguns in the institution’s residential facilities, however, it would effectively prohibit license holders in those facilities from carry concealed handguns on campus, in violation of S.B. 11,” the 6-page opinion states. “This is because ‘rules, regulations or other provisions concerning the storage of handguns in dormitories’ presupposes their presence in dormitories.”
Paxton’s opinion was in response to a Nov. 18 letter by state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who cited concerns about some colleges considering banning handguns in some or all dormitories or other college-owned student housing.
Students and faculty at the University of Texas at Austin in particular have staunchly protested against campus carry in the months since S.B. 11’s passage. A task force recommended to the school’s leaders this month to ban guns in dormitories due to the “unacceptably high” risk of theft or misuse by roommates.
UT-Austin said in a statement Monday evening that President Greg Fenves is “reviewing all relevant information as he studies how to implement S.B. 11 safely and lawfully on our campus.”
Paxton stated that public colleges cannot ban guns from a “meaningful number” of classrooms.
“S.B. 11 does not expressly address the extent to which the carrying of concealed handguns can be regulated specifically within classrooms,” the letter states. “If an institution prohibited the carrying of concealed handguns in a substantial number of classrooms, a court would likely conclude that the effect would be to ‘generally prohibit’ license holders from carrying concealed handguns on campus, contrary to the Legislature’s express requirements.”
Paxton concluded that public school leaders cannot leave it to professors to determine whether to allow guns in their classrooms, that the law places authority only with school presidents or chief executive officers.
He said in a statement Monday evening that courts would likely rule against a school that “delegates to individual professors the decision” to ban guns from their classrooms.
Paxton concluded that individuals cannot sue public colleges for money damages for violating S.B. 11 due to sovereign immunity, but they can sue school leaders to force compliance.

From Courthouse News.

Delta Firm On Its Ban on Big Game Trophies

December 22, 2015
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – Delta Airlines is standing by its ban on transporting big-game trophies after the highly publicized killing of Cecil the lion and is asking a federal judge to toss a hunter’s lawsuit.
Dallas resident Corey Knowlton sued the airline in October, joined by the Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club, Conservation Force, the Campfire Association and the Tanzania Hunting Operators Association.
Knowlton made headlines in 2014 when his $350,000 bid to kill an endangered black rhino in Namibia was accepted. Knowlton killed the rhino in May. Two months later, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer grabbed headlines of his own when he killed Cecil with a bow and arrow in Zimbabwe.
Delta banned the shipping of big game trophies days later.
Knowlton accuses Delta of robbing “wildlife habitat of its economic value, encouraging habitat conversion to agriculture, grazing, and industry, and undercutting range states’ tried-and-true conservation strategy.”
He claims the ban “jeopardizes the benefits of tourist hunting and its centrality to conservation” in Africa.
Delta downplayed Knowlton’s concerns in a motion to dismiss filed Monday. The airline says his complaint “reads more like a press release than a pleading.”
“Instead of detailing the operative facts or explaining the governing law, plaintiffs make lengthy public-policy arguments about the conservation benefits of trophy hunting,” Delta says in the 36-page brief. “Whatever the merits of those arguments might be, they do nothing to establish that Delta is legally obligated to accept and carry as cargo trophies from the killing of big game.”
Delta says its ban has not injured Knowlton, that he was able to ship his trophies home anyway with another carrier.
“Nonetheless, Mr. Knowlton alleges that he has been injured by Delta’s trophy ban because he suffered ‘delay and greater expense’ in shipping his black rhino trophy home,” the airline says. “The complaint does not specify the length of this alleged delay. Nor does it specify how much it would have cost Mr. Knowlton – who paid $350,000 for the permit that allowed him to kill that black rhino – to ship his trophy home on Delta versus what it cost him on the carrier he actually used.
“Whether plaintiffs will be able to substantiate these vague allegations of insubstantial injury is a question that, if it needed to be answered, could be left for another day. But there is no need to answer that question: it is clear today that the claims plaintiffs have alleged fail as a matter of law.”
Delta wants Knowlton’s three claims to be tossed: that the ban is a form of “unreasonable discrimination,” that it violates state law regarding tortious interference with business relations and that the ban violates the Federal Aviation Act’s certificate requirements.
“Plaintiffs devote a good chunk of space in the complaint to articulating various harms they believe have been or will be caused by Delta’s refusal to carry trophy kills as cargo, but most of these harms are not legally cognizable,” Delta says in the brief. “Plaintiffs anticipate that many hunters will respond to Delta’s trophy ban by choosing not to go safari hunting in Africa, and much of the complaint focuses on the harms plaintiffs believe will occur as consequence of that choice. But if the hunters who make that choice are not members of the plaintiff organizations, any harm their choices cause plaintiffs is not actionable in this lawsuit.”

From Courthouse News.

County Fights Inmates’ Claims of ‘Futile’ Bail

December 22, 2015
By David Lee
DALLAS (CN) – A lawsuit brought by 16 immigrant inmates at the Dallas County jail over long immigration holds after bailing out should be dismissed for lack of a viable claim, Dallas County said.
Lead plaintiff Arturo Mercado sued the county and Sheriff Lupe Valdez on Oct. 26 in Federal Court, saying they should have been held for only 48 hours on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds after they bailed out – not for several days or months.
They say the practice makes posting bond an essentially “futile exercise for those with immigration holds” because it will not result in immediate release. They claim violations of their Fifth, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Valdez and the county filed a motion to dismiss on Dec. 18, arguing the inmates’ civil rights claims don’t state a viable claim and that Valdez has qualified immunity.
Regarding the plaintiffs’ due process claim, the county says the holds fail to meet the standard of “shocking the conscience” to where it “violates the decencies of civilized conduct.”
The county further argues against the Fourth Amendment claim of unreasonable seizures.
“In this case, because the plaintiffs’ periods of allegedly improper pretrial detention were ‘seizures’ covered by the ‘specific protections of the Fourth Amendment’ there is no basis for a separate claim under the rubric of substantive due process,” the 28-page motion says.
The county disputes the plaintiffs’ claim that they were denied bond as a direct result of the immigration detainers in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
“Plaintiffs fail, however, to identify any facts or legal authority to establish that Dallas County or Sheriff Valdez had the authority to set or allow them to post bonds in connection with the state criminal charges pending against them,” the county says. “The court may take judicial notice that only the presiding judge in these cases had judicial authority to set bonds in connection with the state criminal charges pending against the plaintiffs.”
The county says that even if immigration detainers were hypothetically issued by federal officials without probable cause, there would still be no claims because “there is no allegation that the immigration detainers were facially invalid.”
“It is well established that when a law enforcement official detains a person on the basis of some form of legal process authorizing the detention, the official’s actions do not violate the Fourth Amendment so long as the process relied upon is facially valid. This principle is most commonly encountered in the context of warrants or court orders.”
The lawsuit was filed one month after Valdez decided to no longer honor ICE hold requests for inmates accused of minor offenses. The policy change resulted in Gov. Greg Abbott quickly admonishing Valdez for enacting “sanctuary-city policies” that he will no longer tolerate.

From Courthouse News.