After more than an hour of discussion – none of it in the courtroom – a Tuesday pre-trial hearing related to the theft case against suspended County Commissioner Terry Ross was postponed.
Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Robert Gill, who is prosecuting the case, said afterward that it was postponed to “engage in additional discovery and disclosure.”
Instead of hashing out in court a long list of motions filed by defense attorney Jerry Loftin, the two lawyers agreed to meet privately to negotiate those issues.
Gill said there were several matters on which they would likely agree, and Loftin indicated this was standard procedure.
The hearing was scheduled to start at 9, but there was no obvious action taken until 10:15. Gill and Loftin talked at the bench with District Judge Roger Towery a couple of different times and also met privately.
In the meantime, Ross, many of his family members, Texas Ranger James Hicks and Investigator Danny McCormick, with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office, were left to wait.
The trial date, previously delayed three times, still stands at Sept. 23. Ross will face charges of tampering with governmental records, theft of $500 to $1,500 by a public servant, and abuse of official capacity greater than $20 and less than $500.
Loftin said he would be filing civil suits related to the case and hinted they were considering a federal suit involving the Texas Rangers.
Ross was indicted in May 2012 for tampering with government records and abuse of official capacity for allegedly building a playhouse on public property, using county employees on county time, and using supplies purchased with county money.
The playhouse was seized from Ross’ home Feb. 7, 2012, as part of an investigation that started in late 2011.
Towery suspended Ross without pay in August 2012 until the outcome of his criminal trial, which was then scheduled to start Oct. 30.
On Oct. 22, 2012, Ross was charged with theft of $500 to $1,500 by a public servant for allegedly building three grubbing plows, two for personal use. The plows were built with material belonging to the county, on county time by county employees, according to the arrest warrant affidavit filed in County Court-at-Law No. 1.
After that charge was filed, the trial was moved from Oct. 30 to Feb. 19. It was pushed back to the April 23 date before being moved once again, this time to fall 2013.
If Ross is convicted, he would face two to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000 for tampering with governmental records, a second-degree felony. The theft charge is a state jail felony with a punishment of 180 days to two years in jail as well as a fine not to exceed $10,000.
Abuse of official capacity is a Class B misdemeanor with a punishment of up to 180 days in county jail and a fine up to $2,000.
If Ross is found not guilty, he will resume office, and the county will be required to award him almost $92,000 in back pay for the entire time he was suspended.