The Austin Chronicle

Judge Chantal Eldridge Under Fire in Rape Case

D.A. seeks judge's recusal in sexual assault case awaiting sentencing

By Sarah Marloff, August 23, 2019, News

The spotlight on Travis County's lax response to sexual assault cases now falls on 331st District Court Judge Chantal Eldridge, who has yet to sentence a man found guilty by a jury earlier this year. Now, the Travis County District Attorney's Office, under fire for its own handling of these cases, has filed a motion for Eldridge to recuse herself from the case. A hearing, which Judge Daniel H. Mills of Johnson City will preside over, has been scheduled for Sept. 19 at 1:30pm.

On Jan. 31, the D.A.'s Office announced that Byron Montiel Flores was convicted of raping a woman he hired to clean his house in August 2017. In a motion filed Aug. 6 of this year, prosecutors stated Eldridge has "refused to proceed with the punishment phase of this trial" and accused her of being partial and suffering from personal bias: "Her favoritism became so extreme as to be wrongful and inappropriate in proceedings after the jury's guilty verdict." The filing alleges Eldridge had letters from Montiel Flores "unofficially" translated and read post-conviction after he opted to have Eldridge assign punishment. In the months that followed, Eldridge also removed Montiel Flores' lawyer and appointed new counsel "without request from the defendant" or the prior attorney; Eldridge, according to the filing, tasked the new counsel with determining whether the previous lawyer "rendered ineffective assistance of counsel for his punishment election." On Facebook, the grassroots advocacy group Survivors Justice Project wrote: "This is an example of how demanding our systems are for victims of sexual assault. Not only did this case begin almost 2 years ago, it may now start all over again and the victim may be asked to testify again."

Eldridge's own history is tainted with allegations of sexual assault. In 2006, a 16-year-old Brazilian foreign exchange student who lived with Eldridge accused the former indigent-defense attorney of sexual assault, but that case remained dormant until March 2018, when Eldridge ran and won in the Democratic primary to unseat Judge David Crain. A Travis County grand jury declined to indict Eldridge last August.

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