Special prosecutor seeks pay for cases of former officials
Dallas attorney Joe Shearin addressed Wood County commissioners during the public forum segment of Friday’s meeting. Shearin was brought in by 402nd District Court Judge Jeff Fletcher to prosecute former Wood County Sheriff Jim Brown and former Chief Deputy Miles Tucker.
Shearin claimed Wood County has not paid him for work in prosecuting Brown and Tucker. The Brown and Tucker cases date to November 2015 over an oil lease on Brown’s land.
An oilman in conflict with Brown, John Winston Forrester, and his father, John Phillip Forrester, were shot by Jerry Boone, a neighbor of Brown. The Forresters survived the shooting and Boone was arrested and convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
In 2017 Brown and Tucker were indicted by a Wood County grand jury in connection with the lease dispute. Brown was charged with abuse of official capacity, a state jail felony. Tucker faced felony charges of aggravated perjury, abuse of official capacity, tampering with evidence, as well as misdemeanor charges of official oppression.
Shearin has not been paid since July 2018.
Between May 2017 and August 2018, Shearin submitted charges of $265,769 which included $131,681 in charges by Specialized Investigations, Inc. of Dallas which billed at $150 per hour. Shearin submitted he was owed $275 per hour. Although payments to special prosecutors are based on fee schedules, judges are permitted to approve higher payments in special circumstances.
The public forum is open to anyone who wants to speak at a commissioners meeting with their concerns. The commissioners and judge are not able to comment on statements made at that time. Concerns can be discussed if an item is placed on the official agenda.
Shearin wants to be paid. “In October 2016, I was hired by the then elected District Attorney Jim Wheeler as a special prosecutor that evolved into an appointment as attorney pro-tem regarding the investigation for the offenses against John Winston Forrester and John Phillip Forrester. In March 15 of this year, April 17 and then Aug. 2 of this year I sent emails with attachments to both Robert Davis out of Tyler, as well as directly to you Judge Hebron and the commissioners. I just want to make sure y’all did get those things.”
Judge Hebron did respond to Shearin saying, “Anything that we receive we forward that on to our council. Yes, we did receive.”
Shearin continued, “The first item regards my filing and I’ve got a file marked July 17 of this year. My request for payment of expenses, I submitted to Judge Clayton who is the presiding judge in the matter I have already mentioned and I did that on the form Wood County requires. Judge Clayton signed an order on trial court written findings on court appointed attorneys request for expenses, not fees, not my attorney’s fees, but for my expenses,” Shearin explained. “That was signed that the court finds pursuant to Article 26.05 in the Texas Court Code of Criminal Procedure that the amount shall be paid to the attorney, that’s me, for reasonable and necessary expenses and the court approves payment in such amount. Article 25.05 deals with compensation of court appointed counsel, which includes attorneys pro tem, and payment of bills and expenses.”
Shearin said the payments included investigation services. “A counsel in a non-capital case appointed to represent a defendant, but it does apply to attorneys pro tem, shall be reimbursed for reasonable and necessary expenses including expenses for investigation. All payments made under this article should be paid from the general fund of the county in which the prosecution was instituted. A counsel may incur expenses without prior approval from the court although I did have it from Judge (Jeff) Fletcher as well as Judge Clayton.
“Judge Clayton ordered, he has deemed that the amount I had submitted shall be paid to me for reasonable and necessary expenses and the court approves payment in such amount. It is my understanding that the payment for my expenses, you held that up besides my attorneys fees, now you have held my expenses and you are in violation of the law. Clear and simple, you are in violation of the law.”
Shearin was informed by Judge Hebron his time was up.
Shearin continued seeking his second concern. “I’ve got motions to dismiss from both Jim Brown’s attorney and Miles Tucker. What do you want me to do? How should I respond to those motions to dismiss? Tell me what I should do for the good people of Wood County. Could I get an answer on how I should respond to the motions to dismiss?
Judge Hebron moved on to the next item.
The county has requested an opinion from the Texas Attorney General concerning the validity of Shearin’s fees, expected by December.