The wheels of justice continue to slowly turn in the case against suspended Precinct 4 County Commissioner Terry Ross.
Although he pleaded guilty Sept. 23 to a criminal charge, the civil suit regarding his removal from office is still unresolved. Ross is seeking a jury trial, but Wise County Attorney James Stainton wants District Judge Roger Towery to issue a summary judgment in the case and remove Ross from office.
Last Thursday Stainton filed a motion for summary judgment in the 271st District Court, and Towery will issue a ruling within 21 days.
Stainton said if a jury trial is held, the only question that goes to the jury is “Do you find that the allegations of this misconduct are true?”
“The acts alleged are already found to be true,” said Stainton. “There’s no spin to this. It’s just what the facts are. If you want to ask what the acts of misconduct are, they’re there … in the plea transcript and guilty plea …
“Why do we need a jury if (Ross) already agreed that (he’s) engaged in the acts?” he asked.
Two months ago Ross pleaded guilty to abuse of official capacity, and two felony charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement, which gave him $500 restitution and 180 days in jail, probated for one year.
In an amended petition for removal filed in October, Stainton says Ross’ guilty plea and misuse of government property “constitutes official misconduct,” which can result in removal from office according to Local Government Code 87.013.
The code says “conviction of a county officer by a petit jury for any felony or misdemeanor involving official misconduct operates as an immediate removal from office …”
Although Ross was not convicted by a jury, Stainton argues in the motion that his guilty plea is enough to warrant the removal.
The motion for summary judgment says: “The evidence is undisputed that [Ross] pleaded guilty and was convicted of abuse of official capacity on Sept. 23, 2013. As part of the plea, he admitted to taking and using Wise County property unlawfully in his capacity as Wise County commissioner as alleged in the indictment. [Ross] also waived his Constitutional right to have a jury determine his guilt or innonence.”
Stainton says that since Ross waived his right to a trial through his guilty plea in the criminal case, a jury trial shouldn’t be required for the civil case.
“Ultimately, it is the conviction that operates to remove an elected official from office,” he says in the motion. “The limited cases on this issue indicate that when an official chooses to waive his Constitutional right to a jury, he necessarily chooses to waive his right to a jury in the civil statutory right as well.”
Stainton references a 1978 case in El Paso County where then-Sheriff Michael Sullivan Jr. pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor official misconduct and waived his right to jury. As part of the case, several felony counts were dismissed and the court entered an order stating that the sheriff would not be removed from office.
The motion says the El Paso Court of Appeals held that the plea “did indeed result in immediate removal and that since the sheriff ‘chose to waive that valuable right, he may not now complain that the findings of official misconduct were made by the judge hearing the case rather than a jury.’
“The court concluded that the conviction for misdemeanor official misconduct results in automatic removal and that by pleading guilty the sheriff necessarily chose to accept the loss of office under the removal provisions.”
Along with the motion, Stainton filed copies of the judgment against Ross and the three indictments against him to illustrate the fact that he admitted to wrongdoing.
The original petition for removal was filed by citizen Lane Akin in June 2012 when Ross was under indictment by a grand jury for tampering with government records and abuse of official capacity. In the months following the original petition, Ross was also indicted for theft of $500 to $1,500.
“It’s been a big, painful thing for our county as a whole, and it needs some finality,” said Stainton. “And if we have to have a jury trial, then we’ll have a jury trial, but you can see in my motion that I think it’s not necessary.
“If the guy involved has already, by his own words, determined the facts, why are we burdening the county any more?”
Ross’ attorney, David Fielding with Fielding Parker and Hallmon in Fort Worth, refused to comment.
According to his secretary, “he does not normally talk to reporters.”
Jerry Loftin represented Ross in the criminal proceedings.