Suspended Precinct 4 Commissioner Terry Ross is seeking a jury trial instead of a summary judgment in the civil suit regarding his removal from office.
Ross’ attorney, David Fielding, on Monday filed a response to the motion for summary judgment, which Wise County Attorney James Stainton had filed in the 271st District Court.
Fielding says in the response that the motion raises the following question: Can a county commissioner be removed from office for “official misconduct” without a jury trial when he was not convicted of “official misconduct,” but instead has pleaded guilty to a lesser offense?
Ross pleaded guilty Sept. 23 to abuse of official capacity, a misdemeanor, which was tied to the construction of a playhouse for his grandchildren in the Precinct 4 barn. 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’s motion contends the guilty plea is enough to warrant the removal.
In the response filed by Fielding, Ross says when negotiating with the prosecutor last fall, he was “informed there was no evidence of the commission of any felony, and that if he accepted a plea bargain to the misdemeanor charge, he would be allowed to continue to hold public office.
“In fact, he engaged in negotiations with the prosecutor that, if successful, would have resulted in his reinstatement with full back pay at the time of his conviction,” it says.
Fielding says in his response that a respondent, in this case Ross, “should not be deprived of his day in court if there is the slightest doubt to any of the issues” … in the motion for summary judgment.
Ross, who has been suspended from office since August 2012, is seeking re-election in the March 4 primary. His opponents are Gaylord Kennedy and David Stewart. The winner of the Republican primary will face Democratic challenger Kristina Kemp in the November general election.
On March 19, District Judge Roger Towery is scheduled to hold a hearing for the motion for summary judgment. If Ross is removed from office, whether by Towery or jury trial, it will be for the duration of his current term only. It does not affect a new term if he’s elected or prohibit him from running again.