Barnhart suspended with pay by state after being indicted for perjury
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct suspended Willacy County Judge Eliseo "Cheyo" Barnhart with pay on Monday morning, after they learned of his indictment on Sept. 13th for aggravated perjury. Barnhart reportedly made conflicting statements to a prior grand jury and the Texas Rangers in a 1-1/2 year old sexual molestation case.
Former RISD school board president Gloria Reyes-Garcia was reindicted by the same grand jury in an alleged $35,000 extortion plot against Barnhart. Her niece, Andrea Sias-Espinosa, and her niece's husband were also reindicted in the incident that reportedly took place on Feb. 24, 2006.
At issue are allegations by Sias-Espinosa that Barnhart fondled her without her consent, and exposed his genitals to her in their office after work hours on Feb. 3, 2006.
Barnhart was a justice of the peace and a Raymondville ISD teacher in April of 2006; when Sias-Espinosa filed criminal charges and a $250,000 civil damages lawsuit against him.
Earlier this month, the grand jury sealed five indictments, that were unsealed by Presiding District Judge Banales late Monday afternoon.
Last summer, Guerra decided to recuse himself from the Sias Espinosa/Barnhart case, which resulted in 197th District Judge Migdalia Lopez's appointment of former Willacy D.A. Gustavo "Gus" Garza to investigate the allegations by Sias-Espinosa.
Last fall in a surprise move, Garza secured felony extortion indictments against Sias- Espinosa, her husband, and Reyes-Garcia from a second grand jury in the case.
However in May of this year, charges against the trio were dropped by Judge Banales due to a technicality, and Guerra by default became the prosecutor again. Garza had not taken a second state required bribery oath.
Electronic copies of all of the indictments are available to on-line readers on the Chronicle/News web site. However, the indictments have limited information to ascertain the seriousness of the charges. http://raymondvilleinn.com/indictments.pdf
For example, Reyes-Garcia and Sias-Espinosa's indictment for attempted theft does not state a dollar amount. The conspiracy indictment for the trio does not state how they went about conspiring against Barnhart. Lastly, Barnhart's perjury indictment does not specifically cite his statement to the Texas Rangers.
It is also unclear as to who the prosecutor is in the case against the trio, as Guerra has a previously documented personal relationship with Reyes- Garcia, and an inherent conflict of interest with Barnhart.
It is unknown who will take over Judge Barnhart's county court case load, and his administrative duties while he is under paid suspension.
Judge Banales has set $5,000 personal recognizance bonds for all four of the indicted parties, and has scheduled an initial hearing for this coming Friday at 10 a.m. in the courthouse.