KCBD INVESTIGATES: District Attorney accuses judge of personal bias

Updated: Apr. 12, 2016 at 1:03 PM CDT
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Judge Carter Schildknecht
Judge Carter Schildknecht
106th Judicial District Attorney Michael Munk
106th Judicial District Attorney Michael Munk

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - KCBD has an update on a case out of Lynn County where the jury unintentionally sentenced a man to probation instead of prison.

In August, a jury found Sammy Carl Williams guilty of drinking and driving and causing an accident that left 10-year-old Nicolas Mata Junior without his left leg.

106th Judicial District Attorney Michael Munk prosecuted this case and believes the judge could have remedied the mistake before dismissing the jury.

Munk told KCBD he believes Judge Carter Schildknecht has a bias against him that has affected justice in the courtroom.

The 106th judicial district encompasses the counties of Lynn, Garza, Dawson and Gaines.

Back in July, Munk filed a motion to have Judge Schildknecht recused in certain proceedings because he claimed he could not get a fair trial in her court.

Judge Schildknecht's office said they could not comment because the judge is legally restricted on what she can say due to pending litigation.

KCBD obtained the full transcript of the recusal hearing as well as court documents in the Lynn County case where the child lost his leg.

Many statements cited by witnesses and jurors support Munk's accusations of the judge's prejudice.

"The elected constable had been instructed by the judge to escort me out of the courtroom," Munk said, recalling what led to July's recusal hearing.

"I had concluded with the grand jury and I was going into the courtroom to assist my assistant district attorneys because criminal docket was still going on," Munk said.

That is when Munk said Judge Schildknecht expelled him "illegally" from the courtroom, preventing him from completing his "constitutionally protected obligations." These are the arguments Munk made to an outside judge presiding over the recusal hearing.

Munk filed a motion of recusal in a felony stalking case where Judge Schildknecht would be the presiding judge because he questioned her "impartiality."

Witnesses in that recusal hearing recalled the judge telling the constable to "Get him out of here; I don't want to see his face."

One of Munk's employees testified that Judge Schildknecht told people in her office that she "didn't like him." The witness also testified that Judge Schildknecht referred to Munk as a "New York Jew" something she said with, "disgust."

Despite Munk's request, his motion to recuse was denied by the outside judge because, "The matters presented at the hearing center around the strained relationship between the judge and the D.A. and not about the ability of each side to receive a fair trial in this proceeding."

In August, Munk prosecuted another felony case in Schildknecht's court.

The jury in this case found Williams guilty of causing that accident that took Junior's leg.

The jury intended to send Williams to prison, but unintentionally sentenced him to probation instead because they misunderstood the verdict form.

Munk asked the judge for a mistrial, but Schildknecht denied this request.

Every member of the jury filled out an affidavit following that trial stating they misunderstood the verdict form and sentenced Williams to probation instead of prison time.

A handful of jurors also filled out another affidavit stating they noticed some tension between the judge and the district attorney in this trial.

Jen McLelland served as the foreman of the jury in that Lynn County case. She filled out both affidavits.

McLelland said one of Munk's investigators approached members of the jury immediately following the trial and asked, "Did any of you notice any tension between the judge and either of the lawyers?"

"And we all responded, 'Yes we did,'" McLelland said.

"Don't know what the story is there, don't know what's happening, but we did notice some tension between the judge and the district attorney," McLelland said.

One juror stated, "I was aware of the favoritism of the judge toward the defense in my opinion, if the judge has a grudge against the prosecutor it needs to remain unknown especially in court. I feel that the trial was unfair due to this."

Another stated, "…it was very obvious to me that the judge, Judge Schildknecht, did not like or respect the D.A…"

Another juror wrote, "…I am disappointed in our judge and the justice system."

"I noticed some of those sentiments myself and that's why I sent my investigator out to ask them if they were willing to fill out an affidavit, if they did notice any kind of favoritism," Munk said.

The alternate juror also signed an affidavit and stated she never noticed any animosity.

Munk is appealing Schildknecht's ruling in the Lynn County case. The decision now rests with the Seventh Court of Appeals.

KCBD's sources confirm that a complaint against the judge has been submitted to the commission on judicial conduct. That investigation and any subsequent actions are confidential until and unless a public sanction is issued against the judge.

Judge Schildknecht was just re-elected to the 106th District Court after running unopposed. Her term will expire in December of 2018.

Again, Schildknecht's office said the judge cannot make a comment at this time due to this pending litigation.

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