County makes payment to outside prosecutor

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Wood County has paid Dallas attorney Joe Shearin part of the fees he claims the county owes him for expenses incurred when he was serving as attorney pro tem. The expenses date back to when Shearin was working on the cases of former Wood County Sheriff Jim Brown and his former Chief Deputy, Miles Tucker.

Wood County accounts payable for October list a check of $63,728.68 made to Shearin. That payment was approved by Wood County Commissioners.

In an email response to a query from the Wood County Monitor, Shearin said the check was for expenses.

“The check for expenses (investigator, trial support services, etc. for work done since July 1, 2018) was cut and sent to me Oct. 22 in the amount just over $63,000. The unpaid invoice for my legal services is for $58,300,” Shearin said. ”I was very conservative in my billing, especially since this past January, and I did not bill for any of my considerable time spent responding to the AG opinion request, nor for my time corresponding/communicating with Robert Davis and/or commissioners court.” Davis is the attorney representing Wood County.

Commissioners and Wood County Judge Lucy Hebron aren’t talking about the payment. “County commissioners advised that outside legal counsel will be coming out with a press release on that financial matter in the coming weeks,” Hebron said.

An attorney general’s opinion was given on the matter. The opinion stated, “Upon the recusal of the district attorney, the court may appoint a pro tem. For an attorney pro tem appointed prior to Sept. 1, 2019, the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure required a county to compensate the pro tem with a fee schedule stating reasonable fixed rates or minimum and maximum hourly rates. Given that the Legislature required limits on fees and prohibited payment outside of those limitations, a provision in a fee schedule permitting an award of fees outside of those parameters is invalid.”

Shearin’s rebuttal to the opinion was frank and to the point. “To me, the AG’s opinion was useless, a waste of time. The question is not whether Wood County owes me money for the work I have done as attorney pro tem, nor whether Wood County has an obligation to pay me for my work I have done as attorney pro tem, nor the amount Wood County contractually, morally and ethically owes me for work I have done as attorney pro tem,” Shearin stated. “The question seems to be what amount the commissioners will eventually pay me for the work I have done as attorney pro tem and upon what will they base that amount?”

Shearin said the Wood County fee schedule was updated. “Judge Hebron and Judge Fletcher eventually updated the existing Wood County fee schedule (twice) apparently trying to remedy the defects and come into compliance with Article 26.05 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure as dictated by the Court of Criminal Appeals. However, it is my opinion that latest Wood County fee schedule remains non-compliant,” Shearin noted. “The commissioners court certainly has the power and authority to pay what was originally agreed upon and ratified multiple times.”

As far as the cases against Brown and Tucker, their attorneys have filed for dismissal. They were indicted in October 2017 by a Wood County Grand Jury. Claiming to be the victim of “selective and vindictive prosecution” stemming from “political and/or personal animus,” Brown filed a motion in late January, 2019, to quash and dismiss indictments against him.

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