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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:While in prison, Joshua Lee Burkett wrote threatening letters to various judges throughout the state, including Lauren Parish, judge of the 115th Judicial District Court. Based on his letter to Parish, Burkett was indicted in that court for the offense of making a terroristic threat against her. Parish, appropriately recognizing that she was disqualified from presiding over Burkett’s case, recused herself from further participation. Judge Ben Z. Grant was appointed to handle the proceedings. Before Burkett’s trial began, a jury pool was formed from which the jury was selected for Burkett’s trial. Parish administered the oath to that pool and excused potential jurors claiming disqualification, exemption, or hardship. After a recess, Grant presided over the voir dire and the remainder of Burkett’s trial. Burkett pled guilty before a jury and was sentenced to eighty-five years’ imprisonment. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. Burkett contends the state did not introduce any evidence to support his plea of guilty, in violation of Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 1.15. Burkett retained his right to trial by jury and voluntarily entered his plea of guilty in the presence of the jury. Therefore, he may not complain about the sufficiency of the evidence on appeal. Under Article 30.01, a judge, who is the injured party in a case, is disqualified from presiding over that case. Any discretionary act performed by a disqualified judge is void. On the other hand, a disqualified judge may perform purely ministerial tasks. An act which one must perform is ministerial, while an act which one may perform is discretionary. Parish excused certain jurors who claimed an exemption, disqualification, or hardship. A trial court’s decision on whether a juror should be excused from service is discretionary. The state contends Parish’s acts were ministerial because neither party objected to any of the excused jurors. The parties do not, however, have the power to excuse jurors even if by consent. The power to excuse jurors lies solely within the discretion of the trial court. A judge shall recuse in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned. Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 18b(2)(a). In a case such as this, where a judge is the victim of the crime for which the defendant is on trial, a reasonable member of the public would have doubts about that judge’s impartiality. The act of deciding who may serve on a jury is intimately associated with, and capable of a potent influence on, the trial of a case. The deprivations of a defendant’s right to a trial before an impartial judge is a structural defect in the trial mechanism itself, and, therefore, is not subject to harmless error analysis. Therefore, even if an appellate court is convinced that a disqualified judge’s involvement in a case was harmless, that involvement still requires reversal. OPINION:Morriss, C.J.; Morriss, C.J., Ross and Carter, J.J.

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