Grand jury declines charging judge candidate accused of sex with teen


Highlights

The decision clears the way for Eldridge to take the bench after running unopposed in November.

The attorney for the former exchange student said she is disappointed with the grand jury’s decision.

A Travis County grand jury declined to charge judicial candidate Chantal Eldridge after an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against her.

The grand jury’s decision came down Friday, clearing the way for Eldridge, an Austin defense attorney, to take the bench next year after she runs unopposed in November’s election for the 331st District Court. Eldridge defeated incumbent state District Judge David Crain in March’s Democratic primary, amid allegations that she had sex with a 16-year-old exchange student who had lived with her in 2006.

Eldridge has consistently denied any wrongdoing and told the American-Statesman last spring that the accusation came after the teenager became upset over his use of a computer in the home and requested to move in with another family.

Eldridge and her attorney, Jackie Wood, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Special prosecutor Rusty Hardin, who presented the case to the grand jury over three days this week, did not return messages seeking comment.

Allison Wetzel, the attorney for the student — now a 27-year-old man living in Brazil — said she and her client were disappointed in the grand jury’s decision.

“This happened to my client when he was 16 years old, and he’s been consistent with what happened to him for the past 12 years,” she said. “He has nothing to gain and no motive to lie about this, but we have to respect the grand jury’s decision, and we understand this is their decision to make.”

Eldridge would have been indicted if at least nine of the 11 grand jurors had believed the evidence shown to them suggested she committed a crime. Most cases are heard by 12 grand jurors. The breakdown of the vote is unclear, and grand jury proceedings are closed to the public.

The man traveled from Brazil to Austin to testify, and Eldridge also testified.

The former exchange student told police in 2006 and the American-Statesman this year that he had sex with Eldridge when he lived with her in Southwest Austin. He said Eldridge asked him to teach her how to play poker. They played for about 30 minutes before she brought up the idea of playing strip poker, he said. The man said they continued to play until they were both naked and eventually went to his bedroom and had sex.

The accuser said the two got into an argument after he expressed discomfort about the encounter. The police report reviewed by the Statesman said Eldridge called the exchange student placement company and told officials the teen was angry and was packing his belongings.

When the teen was told by a company employee that he could not leave, he made the claims of inappropriate sexual contact, the document states.

The investigation never became public at the time and ended months later after the teenager returned home to Brazil.

It resurfaced this spring during the runup to the Democratic primary when the man came forward with the allegation. His accusation prompted state District Judge Brenda Kennedy, the county’s presiding criminal judge, to appoint Hardin, a prominent Houston defense lawyer, to investigate the man’s claims and determine if they merited going to a grand jury.

It is unclear whether an indictment would have kept Eldridge from taking the bench with a pending felony charge, according to Eric Vinson, executive director of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.



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