After almost four hours of testimony Thursday, a judge immediately found Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty guilty of contempt of court.
Visiting District Judge Doug Shaver sentenced Duty to 10 days in jail and a $500 fine. She won’t be serving any of her time soon, one of her lawyers said, because after being booked she was expected to be released from jail on a personal recognizance bond pending appeals.
Duty was calm when the judge sentenced her Thursday afternoon.
Shaver said he found Duty in contempt of court because she knowingly and intentionally violated the gag order in the Crispin Harmel capital murder case, knowingly and intentionally failed to appear in court and also knowingly and intentionally disrespected the court “in her response and her veiled threats.”
Duty testified Thursday that she talked to an American-Statesman reporter May 6 because defense lawyers were already violating the gag order by filing accusations in court motions that she had withheld evidence in the Harmel case.
“They were getting to say anything they wanted to say to the media, because the media goes and reads these pleadings and prints them verbatim as gospel,” Duty said. She also said she didn’t violate the gag order because she didn’t talk to the reporter about the facts of the case and was simply defending herself.
The state on March 20 asked for a verbal gag order in the Harmel case that presiding District Judge Rick Kennon then issued. Kennon issued a written gag order April 9.
Kennon filed a contempt of court motion against Duty when she didn’t come to a May 8 hearing, the day after the Statesman published a story in which Duty commented on a motion filed by Harmel’s defense team.
Duty said Thursday she didn’t show up for the hearing because the judge wouldn’t tell her what it was about, and because it was only going to be a 10- to 15-minute hearing. She also testified that it wasn’t a “good idea” when she sent Kennon an email saying she wasn’t going to show up because he had disrespected her by not saying why he was holding the hearing.
Kennon testified Thursday that, when he initially scheduled the hearing, he was just going to verbally admonish Duty for talking to a reporter.
After missing that hearing, Duty sent an email to Kennon and other attorneys in the case that said: “If you feel I need to be reprimanded for communicating with the Statesman, I understand. But making a public spectacle out of punishing me just hurts everyone. No one will come out unscathed.”
Defense attorney Kristin Jernigan testified Thursday that she had felt threatened by the email.
Harmel is charged with strangling Jessica Kalaher in 2009 after following her out of a Wal-Mart in Cedar Park. His trial ended in a mistrial in May 2014.
He was scheduled to be retried this spring until defense attorneys accused Duty and prosecutors of withholding time stamp information on a crucial surveillance video from Wal-Mart that conflicted with the defense’s timeline of events.
Duty testified Thursday that the Harmel case had “devolved to the point of insanity.”