District Judge Pat Phelan for the 286th Judicial District has disqualified Chris Dennis, District Attorney, in cases involving two more defendants.
The motion was made by Laurie Key, a Lubbock defense attorney, to disqualify Dennis for prosecutorial vindictiveness.
Earlier this month, Dennis was disqualified from prosecuting seven cases brought by Christina Woods, a defense attorney in Levelland. That motion was also on the basis of prosecutorial vindictiveness.
In that hearing, Woods’ cited text messages Dennis had sent her that said “Any pending cases you have with offers outstanding…those offers are revoked, expired and null. Effective immediately.”
The transcript from that hearing on July 2 says Judge Phelan asked Dennis if he had sent the same text message to other lawyers, which Dennis said he had also sent it to Laurie Key and “numerous” others.
However, unlike Woods, Key said she never received any text or letter from Dennis saying he was not accepting plea deals from defendants she represents.
“I had no knowledge this was how he and his office were treating me until that hearing on July 2,” Key said. “Since then, I had no option but to file the motion to disqualify.”
Both lawyers said that Dennis’ treatment of them happened after disagreements in court. Woods said Dennis sent her the text message after an incident in another, unrelated, criminal case. Key said she has not received any plea offers or correspondence regarding plea offers since she and Dennis had a ‘heated exchange’ in May 2017.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Dennis said that the criminal justice system and process is fluid, and that things change.
“Things changed with how she [Woods] was representing some defendants in my perception,” Dennis said. “She adopted a new strategy and I needed to adjust.”
Anna Hord was appointed special prosecutor in the cases.
Dennis filed a motion for writ of mandamus in the seventh court of appeals in Amarillo on July 10 against all the defendants in Woods’ motion for disqualification and District Judge Pat Phelan.
A writ of mandamus is an order from a court to an inferior government official ordering the government official to properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion.
“I have serious doubts about whether or not there is any authority for this decision to be made at all,” Dennis said. “And that’s the purpose for the writ.”
Read the Wednesday, July 25th edition of the News-Press for the full story.
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