Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lawyer: Charges will be tough against judge in beating video

By Tracy Sabo, Ashley Hayes and Moni Basu, CNN

Dallas (CNN) -- A Texas judge whose daughter posted a graphic video of him beating her repeatedly has unleashed torrents of public anger but he may not ever face criminal prosecution.

Hillary Adams, now 23, uploaded a video of her father whipping her with a belt, cursing at her and berating her. She said Thursday that violence was a regular occurrence in her family home.

"It did happen regularly, for a period of time, and I could tell, because of the pattern, that things were escalating again," she said on NBC's "Today."

Her father, William Adams, a court-at-law judge in Aransas County, Texas, faces a police investigation and a judicial conduct probe.

Aransas County District Attorney Patrick Flanigan said authorities are looking at numerous factors, including the child's age and the statute of limitations.

The law is complex on which charges could be brought, he said, and which statutes may apply -- all speculation until the video is confirmed to be authentic.

"We're in a fact-finding situation now to determine what is true," he said. His office will look at how the law has changed in the past couple of years, as there could have been different laws in effect at the time.

However, a criminal defense lawyer said it was not likely that Adams could be prosecuted.

In an offense involving injury to a child, Texas law defines a child as being 14 years or less, said Houston lawyer Chris Tritico. Hillary Adams was 16 in the video.

He said the judge might have been charged with aggravated assault except in Texas, the statute of limitations is three years. The video was filmed in 2004.

"This young lady sat on this videotape for six years," Tritico said. "That's where the problem is."

But outrage over the beating erupted Thursday and in the court of public opinion, William Adams, who handles family-related and juvenile court issues, had already been convicted.

The state Commission of Judicial Conduct was inundated with calls, e-mails and faxes, it said in an online statement announcing the start of a probe into the matter.

"We want to get to the bottom of it ... regardless of who the person is," Flanigan said.

Aransas County Attorney Richard Bianchi said his office was also overwhelmed with calls and e-mails, including some from overseas, since the video went viral on the Internet.

"Just a sad day. It's unfortunate for all the people in that video. It doesn't bode well for the image of our community or our judiciary or our legal community in Aransas County," Bianchi said.

Adams was temporarily relieved of his duties for the next two weeks, and a visiting judge will take over his caseload while the matter is being investigated, according to the office of Aransas County Administrative Judge Burt Mills.

Meanwhile, Hillary Adams appeared on "Today" with her mother, Hallie Adams. Although she participated in the videotaped beating, Hillary Adams said she has since left the marriage because of the abuse and has apologized.

"We're very close now," she said when asked if she was angry at her mother. "When I showed her the video, she started crying, hasn't stopped apologizing, and I forgive her because she knows everything that happened."

Asked how she could condone or participate in the incident, Hillary Adams acknowledged, "It's chilling," but said. "My answer to you and to the world is something that I've been hiding for a very long time. It's a family secret, and that's addiction" on her husband's part.

She did not elaborate, but said, "I lived in an environment of dysfunction and it steadily got worse." She said she left her husband when Hillary was 6 months old and "he shamed me into going back.

"I was completely brainwashed and controlled," Hallie Adams said. "I did every single thing he did."

Hillary Adams said on "Today" that she left her video camera on her dresser recording and covered its light with a scarf in order to capture the video.

The video is punctuated by cracks of the man's belt and the girl's screams and cries.

She waited seven years to release it because at the time it was shot, she was still a minor and living under her father's roof. She didn't know what might happen to herself, her mother or her younger sister, she said.

The 2004 beating occurred when her father was punishing her for using the Internet "to acquire music and games that were unavailable for legal purchase at the time," Hillary Adams wrote on the Internet posting. She said she released the video after being harassed by her father.

"It was the straw that broke the camel's back," she said Thursday. "It wasn't any huge happening or anything." She said she told her father she had the video, "and he didn't seem to think anything of it, and basically dared me to post it."

The video posting said, "Judge William Adams is not fit to be anywhere near the law system if he can't even exercise fit judgment as a parent himself. Do not allow this man to ever be re-elected again. His 'judgment' is a giant farce. Signed, Hillary Adams, his daughter."

Receiving an outpouring of support after posting the video has been like a form of therapy, she told KRIS, which is based in Corpus Christi, Texas.

"People are believing us now, instead of calling us liars like they have in the past," she said.

In an interview with KZTV outside his Rockport, Texas, home Wednesday, Adams confirmed to a reporter that he was the man beating his daughter with a belt and a board on the video.

"She's mad because I've ordered her to bring the car back, in a nutshell, but yeah, that's me. I lost my temper," Adams told the station. "Her mother was there, she wasn't hurt ... it was a long time ago ... I really don't want to get into this right now because as you can see my life's been made very difficult over this child."

Adams continued: "In my mind I have not done anything wrong other than discipline my child when she was caught stealing. I did lose my temper, I've apologized. It looks worse than it is."

A phone number listed for William Adams appeared to be out of service Thursday, with calls not connecting.

Hillary Adams told KRIS that her father was "making light of the situation."

"I just can't believe he would say something like he doesn't think it's a big deal."

At one point in the 7 1/2-minute video, the man says to his near-hysterical daughter, "What happened to you, Hillary? Once you were an obedient, nice little girl. Now you lie, cheat and steal."

He yells at her, "You want to put some more computer games on? You want some more?"

"Are you happy?" he asks her. "Disobeying your parents? You don't deserve to f---ing be in this house."

He also berates the girl's mother for allowing a "f---ing computer" in the house.

The older woman also strikes the girl with a belt once, and near the end of the video instructs the girl not to "touch one other thing on the computer besides your schoolwork until you are given notice otherwise."

Hillary Adams "has had ataxic cerebral palsy from birth that led her to a passion for technology, which was strictly forbidden by her father's backwards views," according to the YouTube posting.

Adams told KRIS that the conduct is "not as bad as it looks on tape." The judge said he had contacted judicial review officials in Austin and "more will come out" in the investigation, KRIS reported.

Asked what he might mean, Hallie Adams said on "Today," "I think that the story that's going to come out ... in his mind is that he's projected his problem onto me. For the entire four years since I've left the marriage, I've been abused and harassed through texts, e-mail." She said she told William Adams in June that she would not speak to him again, and "he has threatened to file for modification and take my younger daughter away from me."

Asked whether she wants her father to lose his job, Hillary Adams said on "Today," "I think wishing anybody to lose their job is not a really good thing to do," but "his being fit for the job, that's something I really can't say that he is."

She said she believes her father has been punished enough by the video being made public, "and I just think he really needs help and rehabilitation. We need to get him counseling or something."

She said she regretted that it was her own father "but at the same time so many people are telling me I did the right thing."

One court employee called Adams a good judge and told CNN affliate KTRK that there were always two sides to every story.

Whether Adams will face consequences for beating his daughter remains to be seen. But he will have to face the public three years from now, when he is up for re-election.

This article is based on reporting by Tracy Sabo in Dallas and Dave Alsup, Ashley Hayes and Moni Basu in Atlanta. CNN's Carma Hassan and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.


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