NEWS HEADLINES

Top Stories of 2013 #3: Ross pleads guilty, runs for re-election

By Messenger Staff | Published Saturday, December 28, 2013

Suspended County Commissioner Terry Ross pleaded guilty to abuse of official capacity in September, and just two months later decided he’d give it another go and run for re-election.

Suspended

SUSPENDED – Commissioner Terry Ross turns and grins at his wife, Kelli, after District Judge Roger Towery announced Ross’ temporary suspension. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The suspended Precinct 4 boss remains defiant after a run-in with the law that started two years ago.

In February 2012, Texas Rangers seized a child’s playhouse from the Ross home as the result of an investigation that started in late 2011. The commissioner faced charges related to its construction with materials and labor paid for by the county, and since then, the case has bumped along through the court system.

Ross was suspended by District Judge Roger Towery in August 2012 after a citizen filed a petition for his removal citing incompetency and official misconduct. The petition came on the heels of indictments for abuse of official capacity greater than $20 and less than $500, a Class B misdemeanor, and tampering with governmental records, a felony.

In October 2012, Ross was indicted on a second felony, theft of $500 to $1,500 by a public servant.

Done Deal

DONE DEAL – Terry Ross listens intently to one of his lawyers after signing a plea agreement and pleading guilty Sept. 23 to abuse of official capacity, a misdemeanor. As part of the agreement, two felony charges against Ross were dismissed. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

As 2013 opened, a Feb. 19 trial date loomed, but it was seven months later before Ross actually went to court. The February date, rescheduled from October 2012, was pushed to April. The April date was bumped to Sept. 23 when District Attorney Greg Lowery had to recuse his office at the last minute after being reminded that he represented Ross in a criminal matter 16 years earlier.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Gill out of Tarrant County was appointed as prosecutor, and along the way Ross parted ways with lawyer Barry Green and took up with Jerry Loftin of Fort Worth.

On the morning of Sept. 23, almost 100 potential jurors and more than 20 possible witnesses filled the first and second floors of the Wise County Courthouse in Decatur. They waited in the hallways and various courthouse offices for more than an hour before being released when Ross signed a plea agreement just before 10 a.m.

He admitted guilt on the misdemeanor charge of abuse of official capacity greater than $20 and less than $500, and the other two charges, both felonies, were dismissed.

The plea agreement required $500 restitution and 180 days in jail, probated for one year. If Ross had been convicted by a jury of either felony, he would have been automatically removed from office and disqualified from running again.

Instead, the outcome of a civil suit will determine if he remains in office or is removed.

County Attorney James Stainton has filed a motion for summary judgment, requesting that Towery remove Ross from office without a trial. Just last week, Towery scheduled a hearing on that motion for March 19, 2014. Assuming it is not delayed, he will either issue a ruling removing Ross from office, or decide that a jury trial is necessary.

While his latest attorney, David Fielding of Fort Worth, familiarizes himself with the case, Ross has a campaign to run. He faces Gaylord Kennedy and David Stewart in the March 4 Republican primary.

Towery’s ruling on the summary judgment has no impact on the results of the election and if he is removed, it’s only for the duration of his current term. If Ross is not removed from office, the county will owe him back pay, which totals $125,453.12 as of Dec. 31.

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