Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Three constitutional officers replaced in 1 day

Tax man resigns, pleads guilty to felony

Waco - Tuesday, September 18, 2012, will go down in history in McLennan County, Texas.

Old timers at the Courthouse say they have never seen - or even heard of - anything like it.

Shortly after the lunch hour, Tax Assessor-Collector A.F. “Buddy” Skeen and his attorneys told a district judge he wished to plead guilty to misplacement of a fiduciary property, a state jail felony.

It is the first offense for which Mr. Skeen is facing prosecution. Grand jurors have indicted him for 7 other, similar related offenses.

He also told a venire of 66 prospective jurors gathered in 54th District Court that he is taking full responsibiity for the array of fraudulent offenses, which include giving false information, forgery, and theft by a public official.

Tax Collector Buddy Skeen in District Court
Then he resigned.

Within minutes, McLennan County officials were forced to close the county tax offices because his bond became null and void at the moment of his criminal conviction and resignation. None of Mr. Skeen's employees are properly bonded to operate the tax office, take payments, and bank public funds.

No convicted felon is qualified to perform those duties under a fiduciary bond sufficient to indemnify the corporate entity organized as McLennan County – and the public – should funds go missing and property be lost due to misprision or malfeasance by a constitutional officer of the State of Texas.

It had been an eventful morning in both the criminal district court where prosecutors and defense attorneys worked to empanel a jury in Mr. Skeen's case, and in the Constitutional, or Commissioners Court.

Scott Felton
The Court appointed retired banker and veteran Hallsberg School District Board member Scott Felton as interim County Judge to serve out the remaining two years left in long-term Judge Jim Lewis' term. Mr. Felton was recently elected ram rod of the Waco Business Council. 

The Court also appointed former 20-year veteran County Treasurer Bill Helton to take over in his old office to fill the unexpired term of Danny Volcik, who defeated Mr. Helton in the general election of 2010.

When Mr. Skeen's resignation became known, Judge Lewis called an emergency meeting of the Court for the purpose of appointing Randy Riggs to replace him immediately. Mr. Riggs is a C.P.A. who defeated Mr. Skeen by an overwhelming margin in the Republican primary election of 2012. He has served as a member of the Waco City Council for multiple terms.

He took the oath of office at five minutes before 5 p.m. and walked away on a cloud, nearly breathless, radiant in his joy. “I thought I would have to wait until January 1 to take office,” he said. He sounded as if he could hardly believe what had happened.

Retiring County Judge Jim Lewis
At precisely the same time, about 5 minutes until quitting time, Judge Matt Johnson empaneled 12 jurors to assess the punishment Mr. Skeen will receive for his transgression.

At the root of these highly unusual events are the offenses for which grand jurors indicted Mr. Skeen.

These are not the grand studies in big time con of a Bernie Madoff, nor are they the viciously wicked schemes of a Titanic Thompson, in which a mark gets skewered by his own greed, his own desire to get something for nothing.

This is the kind of something extra lagniappe a Democrat hands his loyal friends and neighbors in the spirit of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's age-old maxim: “If you can't do something for your friends and family, what can you do?”

Misapplication of a fiduciary trust in his case involves a trade-in value he received from an area Chevrolet dealer on a county-owned vehicle. He saved himself some money on the sales tax on a new vehicle he intended to drive back and forth to work.

Or something like that.

We will never know because when Judge Matt Johnson accepted his plea of guilty, this act removed the burden of proof. The only thing left to settle are the details of his sentence and punishment.

Motion to disqualify judge in Skeen trial fails

Judge Johnson spent a brief time off his bench during the morning while Visiting Judge Ed Magre listened to the defense attorneys complain about his treatment of them in a pre-trial status conference. They claimed Judge Johnson said if they kept fooling around with their demands for an additional 10 days to prepare their case, something that is granted by the rules of criminal procedure, he would not entertain any further offers to plead Mr. Skeen guilty, but would instead stack his sentences to run consecutively instead of concurrently, and make them go through 8 separate criminal proceedings, back to back, instead of one or two.

They wanted Judge Johnson replaced, disqualified. If they couldn't get Mr. Skeen's trial moved to another community where he could get a fair trial, they said, they wanted Judge Matt Johnson off the case.

Their chief complaint was that the judge got mad at them; his face turned red. After an hour of their complaints, all of which the prosecutors agreed really, really happened, Judge Magre said, “Don't you think the Judge was voicing some irritation with the DA's office?”

You could have heard a pin drop.

“It seems apparent to me the Judge did show some irritation, but I don't see where it rises to the level of denying the defendant his rights.”

Then he denied their motion; Judge Johnson would sit in judgment of Buddy Skeen, after all.

Chief Defense Counsel Jeff Kearney spent the afternoon asking questions about whether jurors could impose a sentence of “as much as 2 years probation.”

Several times, Judge Johnson showed some further irritation. He cut the man off. Then he asked the juror, “Can you render a fair and impartial sentence based on the evidence and testimony presented?”

When told yes, he directed the defense attorney to move on to his next question. In another interchange, he told the venireman under examaination, “They will be making a recommendation. I'm the one who will sentence the defendant, be it 2 years or 3 years or 5 years of probation.”

A day in court
And we still hadn't heard a word of evidence and testimony about what, exactly, Mr. Skeen did against the peace and dignity of the People of the State of Texas.

In the end, the attorneys picked a jury of 7 women and 5 men who will sit down at 9 a.m. Wednesday and hear the kind of evidence and testimony that is allowed during the punishment phase of criminal trials, such details as criminal history, mitigating cicumstances, and the like.

I wouldn't miss it for the world.

- The Legendary

1 comment:

  1. I understand the commissioners took a vote in executive session for the offices. And how do they pass over the only two qualified people who have the actual experience to be county judge to appoint a banker that was connected to Margarent Mills? Don't we have enough dirty officials already but to add a new one.