Sunday, April 05, 2009

Was allegedly corrupt El Paso judge part of broader conspiracy?

Speaking of drug cartels, here's a high-profile judicial corruption that sounds like something you'd more readily expect on the Mexican side of the river:

A newly elected felony District Judge in El Paso, Manuel Barraza, was arrested this week for allegedly dismissing or offering to dismiss drug cases in exchange for money and sexual favors. According to the El Paso Times ("District Judge Manuel Barraza charged with bribery," April 3):
In just three months on the bench, the indictment said, Barraza sought bribes from women and solicited a bribe from an undercover female agent, who helped the FBI build the case against him.

Barraza's encounter with the undercover agent occurred Feb. 5, according to the indictment. He allegedly promised to intervene in a felony case filed against her friend. Barraza also said he would transfer the case to his court if the woman had sex with him, the indictment stated.

Barraza allegedly gave her the name of a lawyer that she should hire. Then the law yer, not identified in the indictment, was to request that the case be transferred to Barraza's court.

The criminal case was never moved to Barraza's docket, records show.

Because of Barraza's immediate suspension, his caseload will have to be divided among other judges.

Under Texas law, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct may suspend a judge from office immediately upon his indictment. Barraza has 30 days to appeal.

The El Paso DA's office is reviewing dismissals in about 100 drug cases disposed of by Barraza during his three months on the bench. (Thanks to reader Matthew Venhaus for pointing out the El Paso Times misreported that Barraza dismissed 100 drug cases during that time. Oops!)

The local website, Newspaper Tree, wonders why the US Attorney instead of the local DA is prosecuting the cases, but that's a pretty typical result in a federal corruption investigation.

More concerning to me is the possibility that this isn't just a case of personal malfeasance, but that Barrraza was put in this position by individuals associated with drug smugglers to benefit from his corruption. The feds should be checking into his campaign supporters in addition to Barraza's own finances to discover whether this was merely a case of personal weakness and greed, or a full-blown conspiracy by drug smugglers to knowingly elect a corrupt district judge.

UPDATE: Newspaper Tree has a copy of the indictment (pdf).

Related Grits posts:


Matthew Venhaus said...

As a clarification, EPT misreported the disposition of 100 drug cases as dismissals.

Anonymous said...

President Calderon was quoted on the BBC the other night as saying that while there is corruption in Mexico, drug smuggling couldn't exist without the "the complicity of "some" U.S. officials".

While you don't often see this kind of corruption in the United States, it exists, as does the kind every other country in the world would call "corruption", but the U.S. calls "campaign contributions" (and which dwarf the Mexican style corruption to insignificance.

Follow the money... while I'm not of the conspiratorial mindset that assumes the CIA or the "International Zionist Plot" or the Illuminati are financing the non-prescription drug industry, it depends on much more financial and material resources than are available in Mexico, and that requires a huge organized system... i.e., a government.

Anonymous said...

Another example of the benefits of the War on Drugs!

Anonymous said...

"it depends on much more financial and material resources than are available in Mexico, and that requires a huge organized system... i.e., a government."

Are you referring to Mexico here? I will not argue that due to corruption South of the border, you are seeing more and more extensions of organized crime in the US, I doubt highly that the government has anything to do with it as a body. Now if you are talking about individuals, then I can see that. The Army in Mexico is fairly open to the highest bidder in some areas. Seeing as the drug catels are the ones with the money, it is not above suspicion that the Mexican military could be helping get this stuff over. Add the network of people in the states that is moving once across the border, and that gives a fairly large network of drug movers to allow for product across the border.

Anonymous said...

You would think the DA would already know something was wrong if a Judge unlike his peers is dismissing cases with sufficent evidence for no apparent reason. That is a no brainer to me.

Anonymous said...

The real brain teaser here is how this guy became a judge in the first place.

Three months is pretty fast for the judicial system to catch anyone, let alone a judge.

The question should be how this jerk became a judge in the first place and who set him up!!

Anonymous said...

That far out in West Texas the lines between Mexico and Texas become quickly blurred. The only thing that surprises me about this story is that the judge is actually being investigated. You would be surprised (and then again maybe not)how many of the small town local officails out past the Pecos river are affiliated with the sale of drugs.

Anonymous said...

Scott and readers:

Your article is steeped in ignorance of the presumption of innocence. The EP Times newspaper prints so much crap about crimes, that it inundates the paper, and causes it to have little in the way of news. And then it looks for other venues to tell readers about the crime in the country.

It's disappointing to see that your readership has become easily swayed by a one-sided article and has not chastised you for not doing an honest investigation before spouting drivel.

The DA allegedly fabricated an indictment in order to create a venue for the undercover fed to try to get somewhere with the judge, who by the way was a defense attorney, and a very good one. Kind of hard for him to also prosecute the judge, wouldn't you think? Also, the EP Times has corrected its reference to 100 dismissals and instead clarified that the cases were disposed of according to the law.

Please, remember why the press is so powerful and don't jump on the printed word's accusations without actually investigating. In many respects, what the press, both print and media, have done here is exactly the process used to discredit the Tulia Drug Sting victims by parading the defendant in the press before being given opportunity to even hire an attorney to defend himself. I wasn't reading your blog back then. Did you do the same to Joe, Freddie, and Kareem?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:46, good points, all, though Freddie, Kareem, etc., were protesting their innocence while the judge was apologizing if "I've embarrassed my family."

And if the DA's involvement in the federal undercover investigation is why the US Attorney is handling the prosecution, that would certainly be appropriate. How else can they investigate a judge accused of doing that?

It's also unlikely that the Obama Administration is targeting Democratic judges for political reasons. If there's some ulterior motive to the prosecution, it's not apparent. Perhaps you can inform us of the backstory we're missing? Whose water do you suspect the US Attorney is carrying?

I'm not in El Paso so I can't do a proper "investigation" and must rely on the EP Times, Newspaper Tree, local TV stations, and AP for what coverage I see from there. (For which reason, it's disappointing the EP Times blew the "dismissals" thing, which was a very basic distinction. Makes you wonder what their editors are missing in other coverage?)

In this post I raised initial questions in reaction to a brand spanking new media story (and bad information from the Times) that will play out over many months - I didn't answer them. The implications of having a corrupt district court judge recently elected in El Paso would be profound, if the allegations are true. I don't think it's out of line to say it need be investigated thoroughly. The presumption of innocence is important, but so is protecting the public from corrupt officials. And El Paso has seen its share.

Anonymous said...

Lol, he wasn't that good of a defense attorney. He was good at eating, I'll give you that. You reap what you sow and it caught up with him. Good riddance!