Judge recuses himself from Shawn Oakman trial

On Feb. 25, McLennan County’s 19th District Judge Ralph Strother recused himself of presiding over the Shawn Oakman trial. Shae Koharski | Multimedia Journalist

By Morgan Harlan | Staff Writer and Kalyn Story | Print Managing Editor

The sexual assault trial of former Baylor football player Shawn Oakman started Monday morning with defense attorneys filing a motion asking the judge to recuse himself, and 19th District Court Judge Ralph Strother agreed.

On Tuesday morning a visiting judge will be called in to preside over the selection of jurors for Oakman’s trial.

Oakman’s lawyers filed court documents on Monday that said the judge unsealed 11 sets of medical records for prosecutors on Feb. 20 and did not notify defense attorneys of the move. Consequently, they said Strother should be recused and at least two members of the prosecution team should be disqualified from the case.

In addition, attorney Alan Bennet asked that the charges against his client Oakman, be dismissed.

Later Monday afternoon McLennan County District Attorney Barry Johnson’s office responded to the motion to disqualify prosecutors, and a visiting judge may rule on that motion Tuesday morning.

“Defenses [sic] request to disqualify the assigned prosecutors is without merit. First, the State’s attorneys did not discuss any facts of the case with Judge Strother. Additionally, the State did not request any relief from Judge Strother, that was done after Judge Strother reviewed the file on his own,” the state’s response said.

The response, submitted by Gabriel Price on behalf of Johnson’s office, said the defense was unable to provide any authority that would authorize the sealing of subpoenas gathering records in the case.

“Judge Strother did comment that ‘If i did seal subpoenas that would have been a mistake and I must have signed the order without realizing what I was signing,'” the state’s response said.

Strother originally sealed the 11 documents by request from the defense in August 2018. Some of the documents included personal medical information from Baylor Scott & White.

After receiving a phone call from an attorney of Baylor Scott & White on Feb. 21, Bennet became aware of the unsealed documents.

In addition to the motion to recuse, the defense filed another motion on Monday, for the court to disqualify assigned prosecutors for Oakman’s case. According to the motion, “The Court might as well have ordered defense counsel to open his file to the State.” Bennett argued in his motion that Moody and Price should be removed from prosecuting Oakman’s case because they compromised the discovery process and violated the defendant’s right to due process, as well as any witnesses who were privy to this information.

“If this case is to proceed to trial, the Court must intervene and establish enforceable rules to protect Defendant’s rights,” the motion states. “The first step in this process is for this Court to reverse its order of unsealing sealed records. Secondly, the tainted prosecutor should be placed under protective order, requiring that they do not speak to or otherwise indicate in any fashion the contents of the unsealed materials and any thought processes of defense counsel gained by a review of said materials. Third, any witnesses who have been prepared to testify against Mr. Oakman after the intrusion should be excluded.”

The prosecution filed a motion titled “State’s Response to the Defendant’s Motion to Disqualify Assigned Prosecutors” late Monday. The motion stated that the judge looked at the file and determined that the sealed orders were done in error because he didn’t think a subpoena should be sealed. It said the state never requested they be unsealed, but the Judge drafted an order unsealing the records after his personal review of the clerk’s file. The motion said the State merely brought the irregularity to the court’s attention and the decision unsealing the records was made solely by the judge.

The third motion filed by Bennett on Feb. 25, was to dismiss with prejudice. In the motion, Bennett argued the unsealing of the documents created an unfair disadvantage for Oakman’s right to a fair trial. Bennett motioned that it should be thrown out of court.

Oakman was charged with sexual assault in April, 2016 and was indicted by a grand jury in July 2016. His trial has been pending for the last two and a half years.