Wernecke Case Assigned to Still Another Judge
For the second time in a week, there's a new judge overseeing the case of 13-year-old cancer patient Katie Wernecke.
Assistant County Attorney Tom Stuckey removed retired Judge Joaquin Villarreal from the case Thursday, just three days after Villar real was appointed. Fifth Administrative Region Judge Darrell Hester of Cameron County moved the case to 94th District Judge Jack Hunter's court.
Villarreal, the second judge to handle the case, had not heard testimony in a formal court set ting. The first judge, Carl Lewis of County Court-at-Law No. 5, stepped aside Oct. 13.
It was unclear Thursday why Stuckey had Villarreal removed from the case. He did not respond to a call to his office. Either side in a civil case can have a retired judge struck from the bench with out having to provide a reason. They cannot strike Hunter because he is a sitting judge.
Lewis stepped aside after the Texas Supreme Court over ruled his decision to prohibit Katie's father from visiting her. Lewis said the Supreme Court's involvement created a distraction that would make his invol-vement detrimental to Katie's health.
Katie's case began June 4 when Lewis put her in the custody of state officials. Katie's parents had refused treatment for her Hodgkin's disease and had been accused by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services of medical neglect. Hodgkin's disease is a cancer of the lymph nodes, and Katie is undergoing chemother apy at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Attorney James Pikl, who is representing Katie's parents, Edward and Michele Wernecke, filed a brief with the Supreme Court on Thursday arguing that all of Lewis' rulings should be reversed because the family never received a fair trial and never were found to be medically neglectful.
"We need her home," Edward Wernecke said Thursday. "She needs to be home. She's going through a tremendous amount of stress and pressure from being separated from her parents and brothers. No child should ever have to -go through that, especially having cancer." Edward and Michele Wernecke have scheduled a visit with Katie for next weekend. "I look forward to seeing her," Edward Wernecke said. "I wish it were sooner."
Child Protective Services spokesman Aaron Reed said offi cials still believe Katie is better off in state custody rather than at home.
"We believe and Judge Lewis also believed that it was in Katie's best interest to remain in the department's care and receive the treatments that the medical experts at M.D. Anderson deemed was necessary to save her life," he said. "From our perspective, nothing has changed about what we want for Katie. We want her to get the treatments she needs to get better and go home to her family."
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comment: Why did Stuckey have Judge Joaquin Villarreal removed from the case and have it reassigned in Judge Jack Hunters court ? Was it because Stuckey or CPS could not influence his decisions? I appauld and thank Judge Joaquin Villarreal for being above CPS or Assistant County Attorney Tom Stuckey's influence and his prompt attention to this case. Judges should be impartial and unbiased. Edward