Fort Worth

Ethan Couch attorneys argue for judge’s recusal, say teen could sue

Victims of 'affluenza' teen Ethan Couch finally speak out

(video by Jared L. Christopher - Star-Telegram.com)
Up Next
(video by Jared L. Christopher - Star-Telegram.com)

Attorneys for Ethan Couch on Tuesday continued trying to get him out of jail, arguing that a criminal court judge has no authority over the case because Couch’s probation should be treated as a civil case.

The attorneys also argued that state District Judge Wayne Salvant — who in April sent Couch to jail for 720 days as a new condition of his probation — has a financial interest in the case because Couch could sue him for wrongful incarceration.

Couch’s attorneys and Tarrant County prosecutors presented arguments for about an hour in a hearing on whether Salvant should be removed from the case.

Couch’s attorneys, Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn, filed a motion earlier this month asking Salvant to recuse himself. Salvant deferred the decision to administrative Judge David Evans, who presided over Tuesday’s hearing in downtown Fort Worth.

Evans will review the case and issue a written decision.

Couch, 19, is serving 10 years of probation for killing four people in a 2013 drunken driving crash in southern Tarrant County. The case got national attention after a witness at his trial said he suffered from “affluenza,” meaning that he couldn’t tell right from wrong because of his affluent upbringing.

Late last year, he skipped a probation appointment and fled to Mexico with his mother. The two were arrested weeks later in the beach town of Puerto Vallarta. Couch has remained in Tarrant County custody since January.

At issue Tuesday was whether his probation case, which began in juvenile court, should have ended up in Salvant’s court, Criminal District Court No. 2. That court’s jurisdiction is limited to adult felony cases.

Couch’s case was transferred to Salvant’s court in April, when he turned 19. Salvant then added four 180-day jail stints to Couch’s probation.

Judge Wayne Salvant sentenced the 'affluenza' teen to nearly two years in jail on concurrent terms on Wednesday in a Fort Worth courtroom.

But Couch’s attorney, Reagan Wynn, argued Tuesday that “a transfer of probation is a civil case” and that a judge with broader jurisdiction should be presiding over Couch’s case.

“[Salvant] had no subject matter jurisdiction,” Wynn told Evans. “If that is the case, there is an argument that [Couch] has been illegally incarcerated since April 2016.”

If Couch has been illegally jailed, Wynn said, then he could have an “arguable” case for a lawsuit against Salvant. Wynn said a lawsuit against Salvant could create a conflict of interest that could also force Salvant to recuse himself.

[Couch’s case] ceased to be a civil case when it was transferred from juvenile to felony court. There’s no disputing that.

Prosecutor Richard Alpert

But prosecutor Richard Alpert told Evans that Couch’s case “ceased to be a civil case when it was transferred from juvenile to felony court. There’s no disputing that.”

Alpert called the defense’s argument about a possible lawsuit a “novel theory.” He said, “Their argument is based on a hypothetical argument that they may sue the judge. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Couch appeared in court Tuesday in a red county-issued jumpsuit. His hair, which had been dyed black when he fled to Mexico, was blonde on Tuesday, and he wore a thick beard.

Fred Couch, his father, attended the hearing but was not available for comment.

Tonya Couch, Ethan Couch’s mother, was not present. She is awaiting trial on charges related to her son’s flight to Mexico.

She was indicted earlier this year on charges of hindering the apprehension of a fugitive and money laundering.

Tonya Couch went home Tuesday after posting bond and receiving an electronic ankle monitor. She'll be on 24-hour home confinement as she faces a felony hindering apprehension charge. (Ryan Osborne/Star-Telegram)

  Comments