Updated

Davis case dismissed, 3 cleared of charges

By CRAIG KAPITAN

Eagle Staff Writer

San Antonio-based Judge David Peeples asked a crowded Brazos County courtroom to maintain decorum Thursday morning as he announced that he won’t assign a special council to investigate District Attorney Bill Turner and two other county officials.

“I conclude that the issues raised do not merit further investigation,” the judge said of accusations raised last month by local District Judge Rick Davis. “This Court of Inquiry is closed.”

Peeples said he would issue a written ruling on his findings next week.

Both Davis and Turner argued their positions before the judge in the 40-minute hearing, which was attended by a who’s who list of those involved in local politics and the law community.

The hearing was the culmination of a monthlong courthouse controversy — regarded by some as one of the largest to consume local politics in years — that was ignited by Davis’ request for an investigation.

Under state law, any district judge can request a Court of Inquiry and seek the appointment of an outside judge if he feels criminal wrongdoing on the part of local officials has occurred.

Peeples was assigned the task June 17 and decided he would hold the preliminary hearing to discuss whether an investigation was warranted.

Davis had filed the Court of Inquiry request days earlier, accusing Tax Assessor-Collector Buddy Winn and Justice of the Peace Ray Truelove of conducting “time card scams.” He also accused Turner of breaking the law by not prosecuting the two and of dragging his feet in an investigation of missing money in his office.

Turner and the two officials have said no laws were ever broken. But even if they were, Turner said, it is up to the discretion of the prosecutor — not a district judge — to decide whether justice would be done by filing criminal charges.

“I respect the court’s ruling,” Davis said as he left the courtroom Thursday. “I’m not going to publicly disagree with the judge.”

Turner said it is too early to say whether his office should take recourse, but added, “It’s troublesome when you have a judge that appears to be unrestrained by the law.”

“I’m just sorry that Judge Truelove and Buddy Winn had to be dragged into this,” he said.

During the hearing, Davis argued that there appeared to be no one investigating Turner’s responsibility as a guardian of a victim’s restitution fund operated by the District Attorney’s Office.

Turner revealed in June that roughly $200,000 had been found missing from the account, which he believed had been pilfered over a 19-year period. Turner asked the Texas Rangers in February to investigate the case.

The district attorney was not suspected of being the thief, but Davis argued that as the fund’s guardian, Turner should be held criminally responsible.

Turner responded by submitting as evidence a letter dated March 21 in which he asked the prosecutor’s assistance division of the Attorney General’s Office to take over in filing charges once the time came.

The letter showed, Turner said, that he has not tried to influence the direction of the investigation and that outside agencies already have authority to look into the matter — making a potential Court of Inquiry investigation redundant.

The only reason he hasn’t yet recused himself as prosecutor in the case of the missing funds is because charges have not yet been filed, Turner said.

Davis’ accusations would mean that the outside agencies already investigating the incident would be involved in a cover-up as well, Turner argued.

“Are you making that charge against the Texas Rangers and the Attorney General?” Peeples asked Davis.

Davis admitted that such an accusation would be a “heavy charge to make.” Perhaps the agencies were ignorant of the law rather than intentionally ignoring it, he suggested.

Upon seeing the letter from Turner’s office, Davis said he would “take Mr. Turner at his word” and drop his accusations regarding the account.

Peeples agreed that this issue need not be further argued.

“Before you filed the Court of Inquiry, did you go to Mr. Turner and consult with him?” Davis was asked by Peeples, who described Thursday’s proceedings as extraordinary and very rare. “It occurs to me that some of this could have been avoided.”

Peeples interrupted Davis at several points during the hearing, informing the local judge that he was straying off course in his arguments.

Turner, Winn and Truelove have contended throughout the controversy that Davis’ request was nothing more than a political maneuver aimed at getting back at the district attorney.

Davis was publicly reprimanded last year and handed the highest sanction possible by the Stare Commission on Judicial Conduct after Turner filed a complaint that the judge had verbally abused a prosecutor.

In subsequent letters to Turner, Davis compared the assistant district attorney to a Auschwitz camp guard and told Turner that by questioning his authority the district attorney had violated his relationship with God, “as if you have defecated on Mt. Sinai.” In addition, the letters contained veiled threats, the commission found.

Davis has repeatedly denied that the reprimand influenced his decision to request the Court of Inquiry. He repeated the assertion again in court Thursday.

From here on out the issue is finished for him, he said as he left the courtroom.

“It’s been an unusual month,” Justice of the Peace Truelove later added while applauding Peeples’ decision. “I’m glad it’s over.”

• Craig Kapitan’s e-mail address is ckapitan@theeagle.com.

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