DALLAS - A hearing on the indictments of Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and other public officials for alleged prisoner abuse and organized crime activities in South Texas erupted into a shouting match after the district attorney and the presiding judge sought to disqualify each other from the case.
Willacy County district attorney Juan Angel Guerra asked Presiding Judge Manuel Banales to recuse himself from the case, claiming the judge held a grudge against the prosecutor, who was himself under indictment for alleged misuse of public property and extortion until Banales dismissed the charges last month.
"Eighteen months you kept me indicted through the election," Guerra yelled, according to TV news reports.
Banales told Guerra that he could not serve as prosecutor in the case because he claimed to be a victim of an alleged conspiracy that included Cheney, Gonzales, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., the county's district clerk, and another judge.
Although Banales on Thursday signed the indictments handed down by a Willacy County grand jury on Tuesday, he entertained motions from attorneys for the defendants to quash the indictments before the arraignment. Neither Cheney nor Gonzales were present at the hearing.
Banales called a recess so he could try to contact the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court for suggestions on how to proceed, and ordered Guerra - who had slipped out once during the hearing - to remain in the courthouse, according to the Associated Press.
Guerra first said, "I will not obey that order," but then agreed to stay if the judge asked him respectfully.
After the recess, Banales adjourned for the day and announced that he would send all documents pertaining to the recusal motion to the chief justice. He tentatively scheduled the parties to return to court Wednesday.
The public officials are accused of profiting from the operation of private, bond-funded prisons in the county. Gonzales is accused of seeking to prevent investigation of prison abuses, including the beating death of an inmate. The prisons house detainees for the Department of Homeland Security, an agency that the indictments claim Cheney influenced and urged to increase per diem payments for holding the inmates.
Attorneys and spokesmen for the public officials have denied wrongdoing.