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2012-07-05

Civil litigation narrows, James dropped from suit?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Bandera attorney Stephen Schaefer has agreed to dismiss civil litigation filed earlier against Linda James on behalf of his clients, Jane and Joan Doe. However, no one apparently bothered to inform the 216th Judicial District Court about the decision.

On Thursday, June 21, Schaefer faxed a letter of non-suit to James' attorney Michael Shaunessey. In an interview, Shaunessey said he had learned about Schaefer's intention to drop James from the lawsuit during a conversation held earlier that week.

Schaefer's decision rendered unnecessary a hearing scheduled for Monday, June 25. Nevertheless, the hearing remained on the district court docket for 9 am that morning.

In an interview, Williams' court coordinator, Becky Henderson, said she had contacted Schaefer after learning about the mix-up. "I know the non-suit exists, I just don't have a copy of it yet," she said.

Apparently, Henderson's office failed to receive a copy of the letter that Schaefer had faxed on June 21.

However, both Shaunessey and attorney Tony Hackebeil, who represents one of the minor boys also named in the civil lawsuit, received the necessary documents.

"We've been having trouble with our fax machine," Henderson said.

On Monday, July 2, Schaefer's Notice of Partial Non-Suit regarding James had been included in the court file, but the required order making it official had not been signed by press time.

Filed March 23, the civil action stems from a rape allegedly committed by a then 13-year-old boy against a then 11-year-old girl. The rape, which purportedly happened in March or April 2011, went unreported until September 2011. The incident allegedly involves the son of one of Bandera County Attorney John Payne's private practice clients.

After learning that investigators with the Bandera County Sheriff's Office had requested to interview the boy on a law enforcement matter unrelated to a child custody dispute, Payne informed his unnamed client that he could not represent him in this matter. Payne also advised the man to retain the services of an attorney for his son and not to allow the juvenile to be interviewed by BCSO law enforcement officers without legal representation.

Regarding Payne's advice, Shaunessy said, "Mr. Payne didn't do anything wrong. He gave admonitions that juveniles and their parents would have received before being interviewed by law enforcement authorities."

The civil litigation filed by Schaefer stated that both Payne and James, "while engaged in a cover-up," used the office of the county attorney to "wrongfully, inappropriately and clandestinely" access confidential, privileged information from the Bandera County Sheriff's Office on the crime. The filing also accuses Payne and James of passing the information to the accused juvenile male through his father, who Payne was representing in a child custody dispute in his private practice.

James, who serves as juvenile court coordinator, was named in the lawsuit because she apparently contacted the sheriff's office after being unable to find the alleged rape case in the county computer system. After speaking with investigators, James learned the case was pending and no criminal charges had been filed.

Until Judge Keith Williams signs an order regarding the non-suit, James remains in legal limbo. Earlier, however, Henderson said the matter should be cleared up quickly. "As soon as I receive the proper documents and Judge Williams signs the order, Ms. James will be removed from the litigation," Henderson said.

After the lawsuit was filed against Payne, Kerrville attorney Jerry Phillips was appointed special prosecutor for the case. In an interview, he indicated that the case was still under investigation by deputies with the Bandera County Sheriff's Office.

"I intend to present the case to the grand jury in July or August," he said, reiterating, "It will go to the grand jury, but I don't know what they'll do with it. It's a convoluted case and the grand jury will have to sort it out."

In an interview on April 9, County Judge Richard Evans indicated that the alleged rape case that involved three male suspects and a female victim - all minors - had been turned over to Phillips in April.

According to Shaunessey, now that he has gotten the case against James removed from the civil litigation, he is concentrating on getting the litigation against Payne dismissed. "I hope to have the claims against John resolved by the end of the year," Shaunessey said.