There are two sides to every story, and on Thursday, District Judge Carlos Cortez's version of what happened at his Uptown condo on the night of December 28 won out, when a Dallas County grand jury declined to indict him on charges that he choked his girlfriend and held her over his 20th-floor balcony.
Cortez, understandably relieved, held a news conference to proclaim his innocence and express relief "that this hasn't affected my abilities to perform my duties as a judge."
There's a big difference, though, between escaping prosecution and being vindicated, and, since grand jury deliberations are secret, there's really no way to know which is the case here.
Maybe jurors decided his girlfriend, 26-year-old Maggie Strother, made the whole thing up. Alternatively, they could have believed Strother but decided that there wasn't enough evidence to support criminal charges.
From a legal standpoint, it doesn't really matter; a no-bill is a no-bill. Politically, it matters quite a lot, and Cortez must tread a delicate line, convincing voters in the March 4 Democratic primary that he's innocent without coming across as a douche glorying in his accuser's defeat.
He seemed to strike the right balance during a lengthy interview on Fox 4 last night. He maintains his innocence but doesn't gloat and says that the whole thing has been a sobering experience that he's learned a lot from.
Cortez and his attorneys do, however, take the occasion to show a couple of videos that, while not definitive proof of his innocence, at least cast serious doubt on Strother's credibility. The interview is worth watching.
In the first, surveillance footage taken on the night of the alleged attack shows Cortez apparently escorting Strother out of Le Tour Condominiums. There's no sound, but Cortez says he is asking her to leave because she'd been drinking and taking prescription drugs and had tried to throw herself from his balcony.
Cortez appears fairly calm in the video, and Strother has no marks on her neck despite the fact that, according to Cortez' attorneys, the scene took place an hour after he supposedly choked her.
Another video Cortez shot with his cell phone in November as he and Strother drove home from the Rihanna concert, which he says they had to leave early because she had passed out. In the clip, she appears to be extremely intoxicated and is sort of attacking Cortez as he drives. She opens her door while the car is still moving and throws herself onto the pavement, then asks why Cortez pushed her.
Again, not enough to definitively prove Cortez's version of events, and not enough to take Cortez's arrest off the table as a campaign issue. Strother's attorney issued a statement Thursday saying his client stands by her story.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.