Open Court: Mother of baby James Chairez to appear for first time; get to know Judge Jefferson Moore; courthouse restrictions eased

Reporter Debrief: Introducing ‘Open Court,’ a newsletter for trial junkies
Reporter Debrief: Introducing ‘Open Court,’ a newsletter for trial junkies

Hi and welcome to the second edition of the Open Court newsletter. I’m KSAT journalist Erica Hernandez. I’m writing this free newsletter every other week and when big news breaks. We’re calling it Open Court because I will give you the best access to the biggest cases happening in San Antonio and beyond.

Sign up for the free newsletter by entering your email in the field below.

Courts are open as of June 1 and trying to dig out of a huge backlog of cases from the pandemic closures and delays.

Last month, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said 35,000 criminal cases were awaiting trial.

Bexar County Administrative Judge Ron Rangel, who presides over the 379th state District Court, said since reopening judges are already seeing movement on cases that have been idle for years.

“In the last four weeks, we’ve resolved over 200 cases that were part of the backlog,” Rangel told KSAT, adding that he expects the number of backlogged cases to continue to drop.

A new emergency order issued by the Texas Supreme Court eased mask requirements at the Cadeena-Reeves Justice Center for people who are fully vaccinated. The order, which expires Aug. 1, also allows some Zoom hearings to continue taking place.

Rangel has also issued a new health protocol that reduces social distancing restrictions for unvaccinated people from six feet to three feet. This news comes as Mayor Ron Nirenberg says more than half of San Antonio’s population is fully vaccinated.

On the Docket:

Here’s a look at trials and court proceedings we can expect in the coming weeks. Dates are subject to change because of potential delays, rescheduling or plea bargains being reached.

  • D’Lanny Chairez: expected to make her first court appearance and is facing tampering with evidence charge in regards to the disappearance of her baby James Chairez -- hearing set for June 16
  • Richard Robeau - accused of killing his 76-year-old wife -- trial set for June 21
  • Jessica Briones: mother accused of killing her 4-year-old daughter; facing a charge of intentional injury to a child — hearing set for June 24.
  • Otis McKane: accused of killing SAPD detective Benjamin Marconi -- trial set for July 12

Get to know:

Judge Jefferson Moore

Judge Jefferson Moore has presided over the 186th Criminal District Court since 2015.

Moore got his undergraduate degree from Tulane University and then went to Loyola University of New Orleans Law School.

Before becoming a judge, Moore was a prosecutor and an Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps. officer.

According to an online biography, when he was a JAG officer, Moore “volunteered to become a paratrooper and graduated from the US Army Airborne School in Fort Benning, Georgia, before reporting for duty with the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.”

He spent time in Egypt and Korea before becoming the Chief of the Client Services Division at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

After leaving the Army for private practice, Moore ran for the seat he currently holds.

He also serves on the Veteran’s Specialty Court.

When not in the courtroom, Moore says he enjoys the outdoors, including hiking and camping.

He said his go-to breakfast taco is sausage and egg.

What does Moore love most about living in San Antonio?

“The people, everyone is so friendly.”

Legal Glossary:

There are often terms used in a courtroom that sound more like legal jargon than natural language. Even after years of covering court proceedings, I sometimes have to look up words to refresh my memory or make sure I fully understand what’s happening. In each newsletter, I will include a different word or phrase in this legal glossary section so that we can build our knowledge and understanding of the courtroom together.

Deposition: This is sworn testimony of a witness outside of court, usually before the trial, made in the presence of lawyers for both sides. This sworn testimony doesn’t become public record until they are filed with the court.

Closing Arguments:

Last week, a case in the 226th really got my attention about cases involving defendants with disabilities.

Eric Fox Hernandez is facing arson charges after allegedly burning down his home and his neighbor’s vehicle. Hernandez is diagnosed with autism and epilepsy.

From the judge to the prosecutors, you could tell that everyone involved in this case understood its complicated nature, and had empathy for Hernandez and his father who is his caregiver.

Still, the question of public safety was paramount, considering the defendant could start a fire. Was removing a GPS monitor from Eric as he awaits trial in the public’s interest?

In the end, the judge ruled the monitor must stay on but she modified the tracking restrictions.

The case will be reviewed again in 30 days and it will also be determined if he’s fit to stand trial.

If found incompetent, the typical next step is that the person is committed to a mental hospital, where they receive therapy until they are deemed competent to stand trial.

As for those who are diagnosed with a mental disability, such as autism, they may be identified as Intellectually Developmentally Disabled, or IDD. If the court determines that Hernandez falls under that classification, more flexible options could be on the table for getting him the help he needs while maintaining public safety.

Generally, this is achieved through a so-called 16.22 report, which the local magistrate orders within 12 hours of a person with a mental disability being arrested. That triggers further assessment of the defendant.

This case is representative of the complex nature of the criminal justice system as it relates to defendants with disabilities.

We will continue to follow this case.

Sign up for the free newsletter by entering your email in the field below.

For more on local coverage, visit the Courts page:

About the Author: