Fort Bend County judge recuses himself from case following claims of bias in child sex abuse trial
A judge in Fort Bend County who faced scrutiny over his behavior during a trial involving delayed reports of sexual abuse has opted to recuse himself from a similar case — rather than letting a regional jurist decide for him.
Prosecutors and jurors lodged accusations that Judge Robert Rolnick rolled his eyes during victim testimony and expressed anger at a guilty verdict following a sexual assault trial in August in the 458th District Court. The concerning behavior suggested that Rolnick acts adversarial toward accusers who wait years to report sexual abuse, according to court documents, prompting the district attorney’s office to ask him to step down from another case headed for trial.
Rolnick initially denied their request and referred the matter to the 11th Administrative Judicial Region of Texas.
The judge last Tuesday changed his mind and recused himself from a pending case involving defendant Jeffrey Awalt, whose accuser waited three years to report the abuse, court records show. The trial was expected to start this month but was pushed back until December because of Rolnick’s decision to recuse himself.
Rolnick previously stood by his handling of the prior trial involving defendant Gerson Rodriguez and the guilty verdict that jurors handed him on an aggravated sexual assault of a child charge. He denied that he is biased against cases involving delayed outcries in court and suggested that the victim “decided to come up with this allegation.”
Rodriguez is expected in October to be sentenced.
The head juror in Rodriguez’s trial issued an affidavit in connection to the recusal attempt that said Rolnick “appeared displeased” as the verdict was read.
“I observed Judge Rolnick to audibly sigh multiple times and he displayed visible signs of his reluctance to take the defendant into custody after our verdict,” the juror wrote, adding that Rolnick went to the jury room later and again expressed disappointment.
The judge went on to tell the jurors that the victim in Rodriguez’s case was sexually active at the time of the abuse but not with the defendant. The information upset the jurors who then questioned their verdict. Rolnick moved on to what the jurors perceived as him doubting the veracity of delayed reports of abuse and the victim in the case.
The administrative court that would have addressed the recusal attempt in Rolnick’s court removed a Harris County judge from a similar case involving a delayed outcry.
A recusal motion accused Judge Jason Luong in the 185th District Court of similar skepticism over a victim’s credibility and referenced comments that he made that children often lie, which can then lead to innocent defendants going to prison.
Both judges, Luong and Rolnick, are outgoing Democrats who lost primary elections in their respective jurisdictions. At the time of Luong’s recusal, he was facing a primary runoff against a Harris County prosecutor.
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