Shaw said that ongoing difficulties with the office of county attorney have led her to the decision to suspend all pending court cases until after January 1.
Depending on the outcome of the Nov. 6 general election, a new county attorney will be sworn in. Democratic Candidate Herb Hancock is facing Republican Candidate Betty Yarter on Election Day. Whichever candidate wins, will be sworn in as county attorney Jan. 1, as incumbent County Attorney Robert Busselman did not seek re-election to office.
“I just think this will protect the integrity and dignity of the court,” County Judge Barbara Shaw said. “I have a lot of concerns.”
Shaw said she was doing what she felt was the best option, considering the current circumstances and uncertainty regarding the office of county attorney at this time.
Commissioners Court eliminated funding for paying an assistant county attorney in their Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget, which became effective Oct. 1.
Busselman, however, asked Betty Yarter to act as assistant county attorney during County Court on Oct. 2, and when asked to appear in court himself, declined the request from Judge Shaw.
Uncertain as to whether or not Yarter was qualified or authorized to act as prosecutor for the county, Shaw reset the cases that were on the agenda for court that day.
“My juvenile court is running, my probate court is running, and once Jan. 1 comes along and I can get a workable court schedule, you will be seeing a lot of court,” Shaw said, adding that very few cases have been filed by the county attorney’s office in the last several months.
County Attorney Robert Busselman, said that the county judge did not even notify him or his office that she had decided to cancel county court for the remainder of the year. Busselman said he found out only after receiving an email that had been forwarded from the county clerk’s office.
The decision to cancel court for several months, is going to lead to problems, Busselman explained.
“Those that are in jail, may very well have to be PR (personal recognizance) bonded out.”
Busselman said jury trials are also on the docket which will have to wait for a much later date than expected.
Busselman cited cases involving illegal aliens as an example of issues that might arise.
“If there is a crime committed in Karnes County, INS won’t take them, until they are through here,” Busselman said. Extending the time that alleged offenders are kept in custody, will cost the county additional expenses, he added.
In regards to what happened in the courtroom Oct. 2, Busselman said that he was working on a bankruptcy case and making telephone calls when Judge Shaw asked him to take part in court.
Busselman said that for Yarter to act as assistant attorney in court that day was “business as usual” as she had done so many times before due mainly to health issues that he has been going through.
“I am the only one who has the authority to appoint an assistant county attorney,” Busselman said. “The court doesn’t and nobody else does.”
“And then when they cut my budget to zero for an assistant county attorney, I can’t operate,” Busselman said.
There is no question about whether or not Yarter is authorized to act as assistant county attorney as prosecutor in pending criminal cases, Busselman emphasized.
According to Busselman, the issue of whether or not Yarter was legally authorized to act as prosecutor, was not really what was behind the problems between his office and the office of county judge.
The fact that Commissioners Court removed the funds for an assistant county attorney from the budget, was simply an effort by the county judge to control his office, Busselman said.
“This thing is way out of line, and totally unnecessary,” Busselman said, describing the conflict that has emerged between the two elected officials.
Everything that has happened in recent months can be traced back to a difference of opinion about who should represent the county attorney’s office in court, Busselman said.
Busselman wanted to appoint Yarter and county attorney pro tem, to serve for the remainder of his term, but Shaw wanted to hire outside legal counsel to take over the duties of the county attorney’s office. According to Busselman, to do so would have been excessively expensive and unnecessary.
Betty Yarter said the conflict emerged when Busselman refused to do as Shaw asked.
“What’s in play here is solely the same thing that was in play at the start of the contempt (allegations),” Yarter said. “The fact that Bob wouldn’t fire me when she told him to.”
Yarter characterized the actions of the county judge as retaliation.
Busselman said he agrees with Yarter’s assessment of what is at the root of the situation.
“It is retaliation,” Busselman said. “Pure and simple.”