Friday, January 12, 2007

Prosecutor sidesteps applying Texas law for removal.

Paper: Houston Chronicle Date: Tue 01/24/2006

When special prosecutor Kent Birdsong won a guilty plea against Texas Panhandle district attorney Clay Ballman for drunken driving last summer, he promised not to pursue Ballman's removal from office.
However, because a Hutchinson County woman has petitioned to oust Ballman because of the DWI conviction last July, Birdsong is faced with a choice between potentially violating his word or the spirit of state law. "I need to let the court know that 's what I told the defense counsel," Birdsong, the county attorney in Oldham County, said Monday. "I'm trying to avoid the appearance of impropriety."
Birdsong initially was appointed to handle the criminal case against Ballman, who was arrested May 12 after a minor hit-and-run collision with the 17-year-old daughter of Borger resident Betty Holland. Ballman's conviction resulted in a $2,000 fine and a four-day jail sentence.
That wasn't enough for Holland, who insists that Ballman lose his job. Employing seldom-used Section 87 of the Texas Local Government Code - which prohibits intoxication by elected county officials - she sued for Ballman's removal.
Holland told the Houston Chronicle last week that she was unable to find a lawyer to represent her and feared the case could die next month because of a motion to dismiss filed by Ballman's attorney, Mike Sheffield.
However, Birdsong said Monday the next move is his, and there's no chance a procedural deadline will kill the lawsuit. "When I handled the criminal matter, I told the defense lawyer I would not pursue removal," Birdsong said. "A removal suit has been filed by a citizen, and I don't know that I can get off (the case)."
In a news release last week, Sheffield trumpeted Birdsong's initial promise, made before Holland sued. Sheffield also noted that Holland does not claim Ballman is incompetent or unfit for office, merely that he was intoxicated.
"He did what we attempt to instill in our children: After making a mistake, have the integrity to face the situation and admit it," Sheffield said in a statement. "Mr. Ballman did just that and was punished."
Holland, who says two Houston attorneys have offered their services, said she intends to keep seeking Ballman's ouster.
"It ain't over," she said.

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