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State Bar puts Jana Duty on 18-month probation

The State Bar of Texas has put Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty on probation for 18 months for professional misconduct in the capital murder case of Crispin Harmel.

Duty will still be able to practice law but will have to comply with the terms of her probation. She has also been ordered to pay $3,250 in attorney’s fees to the State Bar. Duty, who lost her bid for re-election in the Republican primary in March, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Her former First Assistant District Attorney, Mark Brunner, also was recently placed on probation for a year by the State Bar for failing to inform victims about a pending plea bargain in a bank robbery case.

A State Bar disciplinary panel found Wednesday that Duty had violated several rules in the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Misconduct.

The violations were being dishonest, making a false statement about the qualifications or integrity of a judge, making untruthful statements to others and disobeying a court ruling, according to the probated suspension filing.

The first violation, according to the filing, happened during Harmel’s first trial in May 2014. Harmel has been accused of following Jessika Kalaher out of a Wal-Mart in Cedar Park and strangling her to death in September 2009.

Duty told defense lawyers that time stamps showing the sequence of events were not available in a Wal-Mart surveillance video but later discovered they were and refused to share the information with the defense, the filing said.

Judge District Rick Kennon declared a mistrial. “The judge found,” according to the filing, “that (Duty) affirmatively stated to Defense that a time-stamped copy of the video did not exist and did not correct the statement when she learned otherwise.”

Duty also violated a gag order Kennon had issued in the case by speaking to an American-Statesman reporter on May 6, 2015, and then failed to show up for a court hearing Kennon scheduled after she violated the order, the filing said. It said Duty “later explained in an email to the judge that she felt he had not respected her and therefore she would not respect him by showing up.” Duty spent a few days in jail in August for violating the gag order.

Kennon later ruled that Duty had withheld evidence in the case but that Harmel could be retried. After his ruling, Duty violated another professional rule by stating in a court document that Kennon had improperly sealed his divorce case to further his professional career, the filing said.

It wasn’t the first time Duty had faced grievances filed against her by the State Bar. It reprimanded her for releasing confidential information from an executive session of the Commissioners Court when she was county attorney in 2011.

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