GALVESTON — A district judge presiding over the trial of a man accused of keeping his son in an 8-foot-by-6-foot particleboard box was recused Wednesday after making posts about the case on social media.

Judge Michelle Slaughter of the 405th District Court was recused by former Montgomery County Judge Jim Keeshan on the third day of the trial.

Slaughter said in a statement that her online posts contained public information that was publicly available in the courtroom.

“In an effort to provide governmental transparency, I made statements on my Facebook page that were readily available to any member of the public who was present in the courtroom,” she said.

Recent posts on Slaughter’s public Facebook page included a reference to a piece of evidence that had not yet been admitted in the trial of David Wieseckel, 44.

The particleboard structure the father allegedly kept his son restrained in was erected in her courtroom on Tuesday evening after the jury had been dismissed for the day. It had not been admitted into evidence when the post was made.

Attorneys discussed setting up the box for jurors while on the record in court Tuesday.

Slaughter also shared a link to a news story on the trial, which began this week, and made a post referring to opening arguments.

“After we finished Day 1 of the case called the ‘Boy in the Box’ case, trustees from the jail came in and assembled the actual 6’x8’ ‘box’ inside the courtroom!” the post said.

Because Slaughter would have assessed punishment if Wieseckel was found guilty of the charges of injury to a child and unlawful restraint of a child, she was essentially a “quasi-juror” in the case and should have refrained from reading materials outside the scope of the trial, attorney Nicholas Poehl, who is representing Wieseckel, said.

Slaughter instructed jurors to “not post anything on Facebook or other social media about this case until I release you from this instruction,” according to the motion for mistrial.

The judge’s Facebook posts compromised Wieseckel’s right to a fair trial, Poehl said.

Poehl filed a motion to recuse Slaughter and a motion for a mistrial after seeing the posts on Slaughter’s Facebook page Tuesday evening, he said.

Jurors were polled Wednesday on whether they had read any outside information on the case, although Slaughter did not mention her online posts.

All jurors said they had not read any outside material on the trial.

According to the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge “shall abstain from public comment … in a manner which suggests to a reasonable person the judge’s probable decision on any particular case.”

Slaughter dismissed the motion for a mistrial, but that order was voided by the motion to recuse, Poehl said.

In a hearing on the motion to recuse Slaughter, Galveston County First Assistant District Attorney Donna Cameron presented evidence but did not argue for or against the recusal.

“We are not going to argue one side or the other,” she said.

In her response to the motion for a mistrial, Slaughter wrote that her online posts noted only that the trial was occurring and made no statements on outcome, evidence or any other information that was not visible in a public courtroom, Cameron said.

Judge Olen Underwood, who presides over the Second Administrative Judicial Region, appointed Judge Lonnie Cox of the 56th District Court to the case after Slaughter’s recusal.

Jurors heard less than an hour of testimony before being dismissed Wednesday.

Wieseckel is standing trial after being arrested with his wife, 50-year-old Linda Schwan, on charges of injury to a child and unlawful restraint of a child.

Schwan’s case is pending trial later this year in Slaughter’s court.

Attorney Julia Hatcher, who is representing Schwan, said Wednesday she intended to ask that Slaughter also be recused from her client’s case.

Posts on Slaughter’s public Facebook page going back to March 2013 make references to jury selections, trials and the court’s docket.

The majority of the posts discuss cases in broad terms, including verdicts and announcements about the start of trials.

Seana Willing, executive director of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, said social media are more frequently affecting trails.

“It’s something that all states are encountering as social media grows,” she said.

Slaughter’s public Facebook page had 359 “likes,” or 359 subscribers who see posts on the page as of Wednesday evening.

The “biography” section of the page states that the social media site would have no bearing on Slaughter’s rulings.

She wrote: “Likes and comments to this page will have no bearing on how I rule on any case. I will listen to and review all evidence in each case. I am fair and impartial and will rule in accordance with the law as it is written.”

Reporter Alex Macon can be reached at 409-683-5241 or alex.macon@galvnews.com.

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(10) comments

Kevin Lang

Oh, boy. It's generally not very good when judges are the subject of news articles.

Everytime I've been on a jury, the messages were quite clear:

--Don't read about the case.
--Don't write about the case.
--Don't talk about the case.
--Don't contact anyone about the case.
--What happens in the courtroom, stays in the courtroom.
--After the trial is over, you're generally free to talk about the case as much as you want. During the trial, keep it all zipped up.

Guess that sometimes, it's do as I say, not as I do.

Were these postings legal? I don't know. However, it's not just about whether it's legal, but whether it can be perceived as unethical. It doesn't pass my smell test.

ole dad

I won't even try to understand what would motivate this judge to jeopardize prosecuting this scum bag.

Richard Worth

If a juror pulled a stunt like this they would be facing a hefty fine at the minimum.

George Croix

It's never a good idea to live your life in a virtual world.
The real one is about all most folks can handle.

Raymond Lewis

For the life of me, I can't figure why a sitting judge would make such a lame brained move.

LJ ODom

I agree with oledad. When the presiding Judge is as reckless as the Defendant there is a problem. I don't know her but posting information of that nature so it can be "liked" by her friends or followers seems narcissistic. Clearly she was not thinking of the child in this case. Hasn't he suffered enough? She needs to excuse herself and hand this case over to a more responsible Judge. I am ashamed that people like this keep getting elected.

Kurt Sistrunk

The Court's instructions to Jurors about what they can and can't do during trial are given in and effort to protect the integrity of the case, to avoid a possible mistrial, and to ensure that both parties have a fair trial. Having to try a case a second time at a later date after a mistrial is not an easy task because as time passes, witnesses are impacted, and crime victims are left waiting for their day in court.

During trial, neither the state, the complaining witness, or the defense need a Court to unwittingly play town crier or even remotely appear to be a little too involved in a case. The reason being is because at the end of the day, there is no greater concern above seeing that Justice is done.

All of us in the criminal justice system learn something every day we go to Court. I'm confident that having now been through this, the next time the situation arises, the Court will let the press report what goes on in the public courtroom during trial.

Miss Priss

I've never seen a judge rationalize their behavior like I'm reading in these quotes.

If she had done something like that in corp America, she would have been canned. I guess things are looser for district court judges.

Mike Leahy

Oledad: I think I will speculate on what would motivate a judge to jeopardize prosecuting this scumbag: Personal Aggrandizement.

I guess she figured until her big chance to get on TV's "Dancing with the Judges" comes along, this is the next best way to keep the public aware of how important she is. Need that public name recognition for elections, too. Looks like she has achieved that goal...

Linda Vaccaro

Guess her way of doing things is "Do as I say, not as I do!" [wink]

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