Texas Supreme Court Justice indicted in arson of his Houston home
January 17, 2008
HOUSTON — Texas Supreme Court Justice David Medina and his wife have been charged in an arson fire that destroyed their home in the Houston suburb of Spring last summer, their attorney said.
The justice was indicted Thursday in the three-alarm fire that also damaged a neighbor's house and caused nearly $1 million worth of damage last June, his attorney, Terry Yates, said.
Medina, 49, was charged with tampering with evidence and his wife, Francisca Medina, was charged with arson in the June 28 blaze. The Medinas have denied involvement in the fire.
"We were shocked and dismayed that this occurred," Yates said. "We will vigorously fight both these charges."
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal told Houston television station KHOU that he will move to dismiss the indictments for lack of evidence.
"It is our collective feeling there is not enough evidence to pursue prosecution of the indictments and that the indictments be dismissed," Rosenthal told KHOU.
Rosenthal did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press.
The fire began in the three-car garage next to Medina's house and soon spread to the home next door. The fire engulfed the rest of the Medina's home and damaged a third house, causing about $900,000 in damages. Medina's home, where his family had lived for nearly 15 years, was valued at about $309,000.
The Harris County Fire Marshal's office has said the fire was not electrical or accidental. A dog detected an accelerant at the scene, and authorities identified six "persons of interest."
Investigators became suspicious after discovering that a mortgage company sued in June 2006 to foreclose on the home. The suit, filed after the family missed payments for five months, was settled in December.
In a November interview with The AP, Yates acknowledged Medina's financial problems. In addition to the attempted foreclosure, the family owed nearly $1,900 in fees to its homeowners association. Medina makes $150,000 a year, which Yates called a "tremendous" pay cut from what he earned as a private lawyer.
Yates also pointed out that the Medinas had let their homeowners insurance policy lapse, meaning losses from the fire weren't covered.
Medina is a Republican former Harris County state district judge who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Perry to fill a vacancy in 2004.
Medina, who was born on Galveston Island and raised in nearby Hitchcock, was a corporate attorney in 1996 when he was appointed by then Gov. George W. Bush as a state district judge in Harris County. He won election later that year, becoming the first Hispanic Republican elected countywide. He won re-election in 1998.
Halfway through his second term, Medina left the bench to return to corporate work, saying at the time he did it to save money for college for his four children. In 2002, he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. After a jury couldn't reach a verdict, Medina pleaded guilty to making an improper lane change and paid a fine. The original charge was dropped.
In 2004, Medina became Perry's general counsel and was appointed to the Texas Supreme court about ten months later.
After the June fire, the Medinas sold the home in Spring and moved to Austin.
If convicted of the third-degree felony, Medina faces from two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
If the indictment is not dismissed, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct can suspend Medina with or without pay pending the outcome of the case.