Courthouse bully

Legal assistant Jim Carrao works the dark corners of the justice system. He serves papers, does background checks, files annoying cases--and knows just enough law to be dangerous.

Evidently, Carrao wasn't particularly concerned about being implicated in the incident. Shortly after the fire, he had the audacity to sue the homeowner in small-claims court, demanding that she repay his $475 security deposit.

But as the investigators dug deeper, the evidence began to point to Carrao. After discovering his true identity, they learned that "Carr" had taken out a personal-property policy worth $50,000 from a local insurance agency just 60 hours before the house burned.

Although his arson indictment didn't get any media attention in Dallas, Carrao, ironically was featured in a prominent Dallas Morning News story that named him "Dallas' human smoke detector" only days before the case went to trial.

While Carrao was free on bond, the News followed him around Dallas as he inspected various businesses and cited them for violating the city's new anti-smoking ordinance. As part of his crusade, Carrao also filed complaints against individuals whom he spied smoking in non-smoking areas. When they refused to give their names, he would follow them to their cars, record their license-plate numbers, and track them down using his investigative skills.

On February 25, 1987, a Comal County jury found Carrao guilty of arson, a second-degree felony, and later sentenced him to 10 years in prison. On December 18, 1989, Carrao was paroled, and he soon headed back to Dallas--his understanding of the law sharper, and judging from court cases he would soon file, his taste for revenge stronger than ever.

It had been more than a decade since Carrao's divorce from his second wife, Susan, was final, but in August 1990, he filed a bizarre civil suit, claiming their "common-law" marriage was still intact. He demanded that she appear in court so a judge could "declare" that the two of them were still one.

Not surprisingly, Susan was stunned by Carrao's attempt to re-enter her life and asked the court to sanction him for filing a "frivolous lawsuit" meant to "solely harass, annoy, and emotionally upset" her. Susan, who had since remarried and divorced, also told the court that in 1986 Carrao had intervened in that divorce case and had sent her discovery designed to harass her because he had "vowed revenge" on her.

Now she grew afraid for her safety and that of her children, claiming that if the court allowed Carrao to obtain information about her personal life, his pattern of harassment would begin again.

In an affidavit she filed in the case, Susan included a list of vandalism by Carrao that she had reported to the courts 10 years earlier. "I am scared to death of him and what he is capable of doing," she said. But the court ignored her request for sanctions and allowed Carrao to use the discovery process to pry into Susan's life for two years, until the case was ultimately dismissed.

As part of the discovery, Carrao asked for and got answers to questions about her medical history and personal acquaintances. Susan was also forced to admit or deny Carrao's contentions that, after their 1979 divorce, she had slept with him, wrote him love letters, and continued to exchange gifts with him.

The case is hauntingly similar to a case Carrao brought against a Denton County woman whom he met in 1992 after responding to a personal ad she placed in the Dallas Observer. At the time the woman was separated from her husband, but within a year decided to reconcile with him. Again, Carrao did not respond well to the news.

Before the woman dismissed her divorce case, Carrao intervened in a supposed attempt to regain a lengthy list of personal items he claimed were in her possession. That list included a dozen pair of underwear, several combs, a bottle of Plax, a Natalie Cole CD, and three tubes of K-Y Jelly.

As part of his claim, Carrao sent the woman exhaustive requests for admissions to redundant and invasive questions about a sexual relationship Carrao, the "the intervenor," claimed they had. He requested that she admit or deny that: "Intervenor gave you cunnilingus"; "you gave intervenor fellatio"; "you had rear-entry sexual intercourse"; "you purchased K-Y Jelly," and "on one or more occasions, intervenor climaxed inside of you."

Despite a ruling that the woman's gynecological records were not admissible in the case, Carrao obtained them and confronted her with them during a deposition. Denying she had a sexual relationship with Carrao, she counter-sued and asked the court for protection.

"The discovery which has been sought to date has little or nothing to do with whether [the woman] still has items of Carrao's personal property," her attorney argued. "Indeed, the record strongly suggests that Carrao's motivation in filing and pursuing this lawsuit is to seek revenge...This Court should not countenance this kind of conduct." Although the court did, for more than two years.

Meanwhile, the woman went to the Denton police department after Carrao allegedly threatened to kill her during a December 17, 1992 telephone call. According to police records, Carrao allegedly told her, "Let me enter you from behind, rear-entry; if you don't I'm going to kill you." Although the Denton County DA's office charged Carrao with a misdemeanor count of harassment, it dropped the case because the woman declined to cooperate with authorities.

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