A Galveston defense attorney was escorted from the 56th District Court Friday after a dispute with Judge Lonnie Cox that quickly escalated in a case of a man who shot himself in fear of a prison sentence.
Attorney Mark Metzger in a motion to dismiss a case against Luke Thomas Pavilonis, accused Cox of capriciousness in rejecting a plea agreement that later led the defendant to shoot and kill himself, Metzger said.
“I’m really not going to take the blame for a man who kills himself,” Cox said. “I’m not going to take the blame for attorneys not being prepared and present and explaining what the case was about. I will not blindly take pleas.”
Metzger, on behalf of Pavilonis, had reached a tentative plea agreement with the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office several weeks ago in which Pavilonis would plead guilty to one count of intoxication assault and would receive a sentence of 10 years probation, Chief Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Russell said.
Russell declined to comment about other matters of the case.
Pavilonis was accused of running a stop sign in March 2017 after drinking too much and slamming into the back of Mandi Yarbrough’s Mercury Cougar, causing a large laceration to her right shoulder, according to a probable cause affidavit.
When both sides showed up to the 56th District Court to present the plea agreement, Cox denied it.
“On the day the case was set for a plea, the prosecutor did not show up to the case,” Cox said. “They sent a substitute prosecutor who didn’t know anything about the case. When I asked the prosecutor whether the family was contacted and things like that, he didn’t know. So I wouldn’t take the plea. I’m not going to take a plea where the victim and family of the victim was not contacted.”
Cox didn’t sentence Pavilonis, but reset the plea date. But Pavilonis feared he would be facing prison time, Metzger said.
But Metzger accuses Cox of using his position as a judge to bully defendants.
“Circumstances did not warrant a rejection of this plea agreement and this capricious, uninformed and ill-advised decision did then deprive the defendant of a fair and reasonable disposition that comported with the interests of justice,” Metzger said in his motion to dismiss.
After the failed plea agreement, Pavilonis shot himself in the head and died June 19, Metzger said.
“I just asked him to sign the motion,” Metzger said, after he was escorted out by a bailiff Friday. “I wanted it as a memorial for his death — so that people know he wasn’t a coward, but a victim.”
Metzger said that Cox isn’t capable of fairly handling cases because he routinely refuses to accept probation sentences for defendants accused in DWI-related offenses.
“That’s often true, but his client wasn’t charged with a felony DWI,” Cox said. “His client was charged with intoxication assault.”
Metzger and Russell approached the bench Friday to discuss a possible dismissal, but the exchanged ended with Cox asking for a bailiff to escort Metzger out of the courtroom.
“Bailiff, take this man out of here,” Cox said.
Metzger cursed audibly on his way out of the courtroom.
Metzger said the fight wasn’t over.
“The family said they feel Luke was bullied by the court,” Metzger said. “I just asked him to sign the dismissal. He said he’d get around to it when he gets around to it.”
Cox said Friday was a particularly busy day on the docket, but that he would soon dismiss the case.