DA entitled to mandamus relief from district court order recusing his entire office from criminal case

In re The State of Texas ex rel. John Warren 02-17-00285-CV (Tex.App— Fort Worth, September 12, 2017)

This is a mandamus action where the Fort Worth Court of Appeals granted the mandamus, effectively reversing a district court order preventing the Cooke County District Attorney from prosecuting a specific individual.

A Cooke County grand jury indicted Edington with possession of methamphetamine. While the DA, Warren, has assistant district attorneys in his office, he assigned the case to himself. At different times, the record reflected Warren has spoken to different individuals and became angered with Edington refused to take a plea offer, including Edington’s wife. However, Edington’s wife was a state witness.  Edington’s attorney made an oral motion to recuse Warren. The district judge, Judge Woodlock, granted the motion stating he did not “like somebody’s wife being accosted and talked to about the case” and proceeded to remove Warren’s entire office. Warren brought this mandamus action.

The court addressed both recusal and disqualification. The office of district attorney is constitutionally created and protected; thus, a district attorney’s authority cannot be abridged or taken away.  Warren argued that because no evidence of the statutory grounds allowing for disqualification of a district attorney was admitted and because only a district attorney may recuse himself based on a conflict of interest, he has shown a clear right to relief from the order. He further argues that because the State’s right to appeal is limited, he does not have an adequate remedy at law. The Fort Worth Court of Appeals agreed. Disqualification is dictated by statute and no evidence was submitted for any statutory grounds. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. art. 2.08. The court was also unable to locate or reference authority for such a forced recusal absent a conflict of interest. Therefore, the respondent’s order violated well-settled legal principles, and Warren has shown a clear right to mandamus relief.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. The panel consists of Justices Meier, Gabriel, and Sudderth. Justice Gabriel delivered the opinion of the court. Attorneys listed for the State of Texas is Eric Erlandson and John D. Warren. Attorney listed for the real party in interest is J. Stanley Goodwin.