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2013-02-21

Bandera County to join 198th Judicial District?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Kerr County Commissioners recently approved a resolution that could affect Bandera County.
In a potential judicial district realignment - and with Kerr County's Seal of Approval - this county would no longer be a part of the 216th Judicial District.
While bets seem to be hedged about whether the redistricting would be approved by the Texas Legislature, the first step was taken during the Monday, Feb. 11, meeting of Kerr County Commissioners.
At that time, they unanimously approved the resolution: "To consider, discuss, take appropriate action regarding the possible judicial redistricting to be presented to the 2013 Texas Legislature, resolution in support thereof to achieve more timely and effective disposition of cases in Kerr County."
In an interview, Bandera County Judge Richard Evans said he had learned about the resolution from an email he received Thursday, Feb. 14. However, a transcript of the meeting available on the Kerr County Commissioners website indicates he had been consulted previously about the proposal. According to Kerr County Judge Pat Tinley, Evans is "on board" with the possible redistricting. "I've talked with Judge Evans, and they're definitely on board with this resolution," Tinley said.
In an interview, Evans said, "I support (the transfer to the 198th District) based on the numbers. But that's just my opinion. The (Bandera) commissioners haven't acted on it as yet."
According to Evans, Bandera County's criminal and civil cases necessitate more district court time than just the one week allocated per month. He also indicated the cost of the redistricting would not pose a substantial increase to the county, but would not speculate on the final cost to local taxpayers.
However, pointing out, "A bill has not yet been filed in Austin," Evans characterized the Kerr County resolution as "premature." He had no further information about when and how the bill creating the new district would be filed in Austin.
A district reshuffling has long been predicted for this part of the Hill Country. The last rumor had Kendall County forming a separate district, but as one court watcher remarked, "They couldn't get their act together." Or, as Tinley commented, "Kendall County, of course, would like to have their own court, but this is going to give them some relief. They've got some issues down there, but this would - this would help them also."
Currently, Judge Keith Williams presides over the 216th Judicial District, which includes Bandera, Gillespie and Kendall counties, as well as a portion of Kerr County.
The 198th Judicial District is comprised of Edwards, Kimble, McCulloch, Mason and Menard counties in addition to a portion of Kerr County. Scott Monroe of Kerrville serves as district attorney and Melvin "Rex" Emerson is district judge. As Tinley explained, "Instead of having those five northern and western counties as part of the 198th where they are now...we'd bring in Bandera."
Describing the possible redistricting as a "win-win" situation, he continued, "... but there's some other benefits we derive by doing this. The 198th would be able to pick up some slack in some other areas that would be economically advantageous to Kerr County. Actually, when you consider all the other implications, I think we gain some from a budgetary standpoint."
However, even Tinsley admitted the "five northern and western counties" might feel a monetary pinch because of the Kerr County resolution. He noted, "The only down side is, it's going to be a fiscal note for those five northern and western counties of the creation of that court, but that's a state problem at this point."
Presumably, if all goes according to plan, Edwards, Kimble, McCulloch, Mason and Menard counties would form a new 440th Judicial District.
Several years ago, the 198th District was rife with wrongdoing. Retired DA Ron Sutton pleaded guilty to a pair of felonies involving the use of forfeiture funds for staff bonuses and funding trips to legal conferences in Hawaii. Under a plea bargain, Sutton received two years of deferred adjudication and was required to remit $20,000 for "misapplying fiduciary property."
Additionally, former District Judge E. Karl Prohl pleaded guilty to felony thefts for crimes that had occurred between 2004 and 2007. Under his plea bargain, Prohl agreed to two years of probation, a fine of $2,500 and 200 of community service. He also repaid $17,300 in "overpayment" received for travel expenses and surrendered his law license.
Additionally, the brouhaha led to the unprecedented establishment of a three-person panel to oversee the expenditure of forfeiture funds by then District Attorney Amos Barton. State Representative Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville proposed the establishment of the panel. As set up, the special panel or Kerr County Commissioners would scrutinize expenditures from the forfeiture fund.
Barton chose not to run for reelection.