To Challenge, or Not to Challenge? That is the Question
by Susan Fletcher on October 24, 2016 at 8:24 AM
In any legislative body, there will always be diversity, bringing together the collective experience and perspective of its members. There have been several times when one of my colleagues has shed new light on a topic being considered by the court, which can strengthen the body, as well as its decisions.
Last week, I laid out my reasoning for my position, and this week, I want to shed light on some additional, extremely relevant facts that I will be sharing in court on Monday.
1. Collin County already has a legal opinion regarding our position on the separation of powers between a District Court and a Commissioners Court ON FILE with the Texas Supreme Court. While the court case involves another legal matter, the key point is that JUST 5 MONTHS AGO, THIS legislative body filed a detailed Amicus Curiae Brief ("friend of the court" position paper which lays out legal justification and reasoning), prepared by our own outside counsel, stating the following position - summarizations / abbreviations indicated by [*italicized text]:
- Collin County [*disagrees with the previous decision to allow] a District Court to impermissibly overreach into the legislative budgeting functions of the Commissioners Court in instances when the District Court simply disagrees with the financial decision of the Commissioners Court [*specific case referenced]. Although District Courts have limited powers to exercise supervisory authority over actions of a Commissioners Court, in this instance the undisputed facts reflect no illegal, unreasonable or arbitrary conduct to support the exercise of such authority.
- Unwarranted interference by the judiciary into fiscal decisions made by the Commissioners Court threatens the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches of county government. Such interference erodes the powers and statutory duties of the Commissioners Court regarding the control and expenditure of County funds, and if such interference is allowed to stand, could plausibly result in a dramatic shift power to the judicial branch.
- Moreover, such actions remove the taxpayers from having any input or voice in the political process. Rather, the decisions of the District Court, as evidenced in this instance, were made at the District Court’s sole discretion and without any rights afforded to the public to participate. Further, the Court of Appeals decision conflicts with legal precedent, including opinions of this Court.
Furthermore, I believe that Collin County may have a legal obligation to withdraw our brief on file with the Supreme Court, IF the majority of the court has, in fact, changed its position regarding the powers of a District Court in reference to our budgeting authority and oversight.
2. The Commissioners Court will recess on Monday to speak with our legal counsel and review any additional legal opinions regarding these special prosecutor invoices, and then reconvene for any public comments, motions or votes. Upon reconvening, I fully anticipate that a formal motion will be made, calling for an appellate review of these special prosecutor invoices. As many are aware, I have advocated for such a review since the time I first heard about the appointments of private attorneys to serve as special prosecutors. It wasn't until later that we learned of the $300 hourly rate secretly agreed upon, outside of the Texas Fair Defense Act guidelines in Collin County. Additional concerns include the following:
- Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 2.07(c) governing the appointment of an attorney pro tem (pro tempore or temporary) provides, “(c) If the appointed attorney is not an attorney for the state, he is qualified to perform the duties of the office for the period of absence or disqualification of the attorney for the state on filing an oath with the clerk of the court. He shall receive compensation in the same amount and manner as an attorney appointed to represent an indigent person.”
- Therefore, the fee schedule to be used in determining the compensation of special prosecutors may be found in the Collin County Indigent Defense Plan, which indicates the maximum we can authorize, by law, for the payment of pre-trial preparation is $1,000.
- As you are likely aware, the total amount spent thus far is just shy of $400,000 - which includes over $91,000 related to the civil case filed by a Collin County citizen who is seeking temporary relief, asking for an appellate review of these excessive fees. I pointed out last week that this private challenge would not have ever been necessary had the Commissioners Court initially challenged the invoices on our own, asking for an appellate court to review the fees and arrangements.
3. My duty as your County Commissioner is to honor my oath of office, and to faithfully execute the duties of my office and to uphold the law. When I ran for office, I promised to represent you, the taxpayers of Collin County, and to do all that I could to ensure that your tax dollars were used efficiently, and that I would conduct your public business with transparency and accountability. My position has not changed, and I will continue to vote "no" on these excessive fees.
I invite you to attend Commissioners Court on Monday at 1:30 pm, located in the Jack Hatchell Administration Building, 2300 Bloomdale Rd. in McKinney; or you may view it online, live-stream. Regardless of your position on the issue, thank you for taking an interest in your county government. My door remains open, and I look forward to the final resolution of this case. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me either by replying to this e-mail or through my county e-mail address: email@example.com.