An Acquittal (7/08/98)
Hilaria Ruiz is currently on
trial in Tarrant County for a Class B misdemeanor. Not the typical defendant,
Ruiz is employed as assistant principal at Sagamore Hill Elementary School
and, I'm guessing, does not have a criminal record. I do know that she
was a high school drop out who returned to college and earned two degrees
while working full time and raising three children.
What makes the trial interesting
is that Ms. Ruiz is not accused of committing a crime but instead
is accused of doing nothing. Unfortunately for her, the failure
to act in some circumstances can be a criminal offense.
The statute reads: "A person
commits an offense if the person has cause to believe that a child's physical
or mental health or welfare has been or may be adversely affected by abuse
or neglect and knowingly fails to report [the information to law enforcement]".
Texas Family Code §261.109.
I'm going out on a limb: she
will be acquitted.
The case arises from incidents
that took place in the classroom of first grade teacher Modesto Rodriquez
which subsequently led to his conviction and a 20 year prison sentence
for child sexual abuse. Prosecutors claim that Ruiz was told by a mother
of one of Rodriquez victims of the abuse and that Ruiz failed to report
it in violation of state law.
I took notice of this misdemeanor
case when I saw that Tarrant County Assistant D.A. David Montague was the
prosecuting attorney. Montague has been with the D.A.'s office for years
and is an excellent felony prosecutor. Consequently, it is a bit odd that
he ends up being the lead attorney on a Class B misdemeanor, the
lowest level criminal offense that the D.A.'s office has the responsibility
Maybe Montague's presence is
some indication of how the State feels about its case.
But even with Montague at the
helm, the case is not one that is easily won.
I may be wrong, but this looks like
a "not guilty" coming down the tracks.
From what has been reported, it
is a bit cloudy as to what exactly the mother told Ms. Ruiz. Note that
the statute requires that Ms. Ruiz had "cause to believe" a child was in
danger. Unless the mother was direct and unequivocal, Ms. Ruiz can be excused
for not acting on murky information.
The crime involves the failure to
act. Most crimes, rightly so, require a Defendant to have done something
in order to be criminally responsible. Juries understand the concept:
a person is responsible for his actions. But when the government
makes it a crime for not taking action when you otherwise have no legal
responsibility to act, that becomes a tough sale.
Ms. Ruiz is like you. Rightly or
wrongly, a jury has a preconceived notion of what constitutes a criminal.
Ms. Ruiz will not fit that profile, and I suspect that most of the
jurors in Fort Worth can relate to her: she works hard, for little pay,
and is otherwise an upstanding citizen.
Barry Green is the District Attorney
for the 271st Judicial District.
Updates since the above column was written:
of Second Day of Trial (7/8/98)
a Blind Hog Finds an Acorn (7/9/98)
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