Son Contradicts State’s Allegations

The son of accused Judge Regina Arditti testified Monday that he had no knowledge of an alleged agreement between his mother and another District Court magistrate.

Dante Vance, testifying as a prosecution witness, said the state questioned him in 2009 during a grand jury hearing about a possible nepotism violation against his mother. But he said he was never interviewed or questioned by the state regarding allegations of bribery and abuse of official capacity, which his mother is now facing.

“The state has employed despicable tactics in calling a son to the stand to hurt his mother, to put pressure on the mother to plead guilty so the son won’t be called,” said defense attorney Theresa Caballero.

“Dante told them and the grand jury he didn’t know anything about any wrongdoing, and today he killed the state. He showed the jury the love that he has toward a loving, caring, guiding mother.”

Judge Arditti is on trial for allegedly entering into an agreement with Barraza to hire each other’s relatives. Prosecutors indicted Judge Arditti for bribery and abuse of official capacity after she refused to plead guilty to a charge of nepotism, allege defense attorneys.

Vance revealed during testimony that he lied on the application for bailiff in convicted former Judge Manny Barraza court. He said he was afraid he wouldn’t get the job if it was discovered he was fired from a job in the District Court Clerk’s office.

When Judge Arditti discovered Vance had applied for the bailiff position in Barraza’s court, Vance said, “She just didn’t want me to apply. It was the wrong court. She was afraid.”

Criminal District Court No. 1, which was formerly known as the Impact Court, handles mainly drug cases fraught with violent offenders. Vance told the jury he was attacked by a defendent during court. He said he was forced to tackle the man and push him into the corridor where two jail officers helped him bring the man under control.

In addition, Vance said his mother refused to help him get the job. He testified that he asked her to help, but “she said absolutely not.”

Visiting Judge Steve Smith of Brazos County issued an arrest warrant for Vance on Friday when he failed to appear for testimony after being subpoenaed by the state. According to the summons, Vance was asked to appear on May 2nd, but the subpoena wasn’t delivered until May 3 and was served on fellow employee Robert Thomas, the court reporter in Judge Arditti’s court.

State prosecutors made a motion outside the presence of the jury on Monday, asking the judge not to make the jurors aware of what Assistant District Attorney Joe Monsivais said had been described as the “sloppy” handling of the subpoena. The motion was granted.

Judge Smith withdrew the arrest warrant on Saturday after consulting by email with defense attorney Caballero regarding the errors present in the summons and the problems serving the document.

Vance testified that he went to Barraza’s law office in the Lower Valley where he waited almost 30 minutes to talk to the former judge. After realizing he was not going to get in to see Barraza, he said he handed a resume to Barraza’s sister Sally Mena, who was Barraza’s secretary and office manager for 27 years.

Mena, who was hired as Judge Arditti’s court coordinator, testified last week that she had no knowledge of an alleged agreement, or of the allegations of bribery and abuse of official capacity. Mena is alleged to have been hired by Judge Arditti as part of the so-called illegal agreement.

Prosecutors continued presenting their case Monday afternoon, bringing to the stand the courthouse director of the Human Resources Department. They introduced nearly 30 documents, mainly job applications, Personnel Action Forms known as PAFs, emails and letters requesting authorization from the judge.

The defense argued that the documents do not supercede the authority of a district judge, an elected official with the authority to hire and fire staff at will. Prosecutors introduced the Human Resources paperwork, alleging that the applications and letters were all done after Mena and Vance were hired.

During the questioning of Betsy Keller, human resources director, defense attorney Stuart Leeds established that district judges do not have to follow civil service procedure or courthouse policy when hiring or firing staff.

Keller testified that district judges are elected officials and their staff members are considered “at-will employees,” meaning they can be hired or fired by the judge without cause. She said the judges do not have to follow courthouse policies.

Defense attorneys Leeds and Caballero have described the state’s witnesses as irrelevant, and have elicited testimony from witnesses that they do not have any knowledge of the alleged agreement between Judge Arditti and Barraza. And that the witnesses do not have any knowledge of the bribery or abuse of official capacity allegations brought by the state.

They allege the state’s case is irrelavent, littered with witnesses who know nothing but hearsay, innuendo and rumor. The attorney’s say the case is so bad that even basic details provided by the witnesses are suspect.

During testimony last week, a fellow employee described Vance as scrawny and ill. Defense attorney Caballero, during Monday’s testimony, asked Vance to step in front of the jury, take off his jacket and turn so they could see his physique. Vance, who said he works out at a gym about three times a week, stands almost 6-feet tall and weighs 218 pounds.

“Would you rather have a 66-year old woman as bailiff or a 28-year-old bailiff like Mr. Vance,” said Leeds who had earlier identified an older woman bailiff in a photo entered into evidence.

“They (prosecutors) have nothing. They just want to muddy the reputation of Judge Arditti.”