08.06.15

Another GOP Mug Shot – Jana Duty Edition

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Uncategorized, Williamson County at 9:02 pm by wcnews

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Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty has been found in contempt of court.

A judge has found Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty in contempt of court for violating a judge’s gag order during a hearing Thursday.

Williamson County Judge Rick Kennon filed the contempt motion against Duty in May after she refused to come to a hearing. Duty was sentenced to 10 days in jail and a $500 fine for the charges against her.

The judge wanted to discuss the claims that she violated a gag order on a murder case. Duty fought to have the gag order removed — essentially voiding the case against her — three times, and each attempt failed.

Duty was fingerprinted and released on bond, pending the completion of the appeals process.

Oh well, I guess a mug shot is what it takes to be a member of the GOP these days.

07.17.15

County GOP Elected Officials Using Courts For Petty Political Battles

Posted in Bad Government Republicans, Criminal Justice, Williamson County at 8:32 am by wcnews

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It would appear from this AAS article that Williamson County GOP political squabbles are now being handled in the courts, Hearing scheduled as DA fires back at Williamson County judge.

An administrative judge ordered Monday that a hearing be held over whether District Judge Rick Kennon should be recused from presiding over a contempt of court hearing against Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty.

The order came after Duty filed a motion Friday asking that Kennon — who four years ago announced he would run against her — be removed from presiding over the contempt of court hearing against her because he is not impartial.

Kennon declined Monday to comment about Duty’s motion because the case is pending in his court.

Billy Ray Stubblefield, the presiding judge of the Third Administrative Judicial Region, said Monday that Kennon had declined to “voluntarily recuse himself,” according to a court document. Stubblefield appointed another district judge to hear the motion over whether Kennon should be recused, the document said.

Kennon filed a motion in May to hold Duty in contempt of court for violating a gag order in the Crispin Harmel capital murder case. Her contempt of court hearing has been set for July 23.

The motion that Duty filed Friday said Kennon was not impartial because he announced previously that he was running for election against her and he had also run in another race against a candidate that she actively campaigned for, the motion said. Most recently he has treated her with hostility during court proceedings in the Harmel case, the motion said. [Emphasis added]

It’s long past time for Williamson County to elect some people who are not members of the GOP. The GOP using our courts to fight their petty political battles has to stop.

06.12.15

Special Prosecutor Appointed In Jana Duty Contempt Case

Posted in Criminal Justice, Williamson County at 11:14 am by wcnews

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Via KXAN, Special prosecutors appointed in contempt case against Williamson Co. DA.

Last month, District Judge Rick Kennon filed a motion to hold Duty in contempt of court, accusing her of violating a gag order in the capital murder case against Crispin Harmel when she spoke to a news reporter about allegations she withheld evidence from Harmel’s defense attorneys. Harmel is awaiting a second trial for the death of Jessika Kalaher in 2009.  The first ended in a mistrial when Duty was accused of withholding video evidence.

In court last week Duty also admitted to contacting KXAN after initially testifying she did not contact any other media following the gag order. Duty contacted KXAN regarding a video posted on a video-hosting web site and anonymously furnished to KXAN, and subsequently posted on kxan.com.  Harmel’s defense team alleged the video depicts Duty showing animosity toward Harmel and his lead defense attorney and mocking Williamson County District Court Judges.  In court, and by phone to KXAN, Duty denied having any involvement in the making of the video, which was made by a friend of her husband’s, but admitted showing the video to her staff during a weekly meeting.

On Duty’s behalf, assistant district attorney Brent Webster attempted to have the contempt charge overturned by the 3rd Court of Appeals, but was denied by the court.

The two special prosecutors appointed by Kennon are Archie Carl Pierce and Randy Howry.  Pierce, a former federal prosecutor, is a shareholder with the Austin-based law firm Wright and Greenhill. Howry, a recent nominee as a candidate for president-elect of the State Bar of Texas, is a partner with the Austin-based law firm Howry, Breen, & Herman.

The contempt hearing was set for July 6 but Pierce has filed a motion to reschedule the hearing for July 13, citing a scheduling conflict.

A previous AAS article stated this as the possible punishment:

If Duty is found guilty of contempt, she could face a $500 fine and/or six months in jail.

Not sure how likely jail time is but beyond the criminal punishment, there may be political implications. Does this mean that Duty, who is up for reelection in 2016, will get a serious primary challenge? Or is this badge of courage for a GOP prosecutor in Williamson County?

06.11.15

Georgetown Will Be Powered 100 Percent By Renewable Energy Within The Next Couple Years

Posted in Energy, Good Stuff, Williamson County at 11:22 am by wcnews

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This is extremely good news.  For several years now I’ve been asking people to think how their life and life in general would change if energy was, in essence, free.  No electricity, natural gas, gas for cars, etc..  How much money would that free up, and more important, how much time.  Maybe people wouldn’t have to work so much.

Anyway, here’s the article from Think Progress about Georgetown, Texas going 100% renewable, This Big Texas City Will Soon Be Powered Entirely By Wind And Sun.

There’s a fast-growing city in Texas that also has one of the most progressive energy programs in the country — and it’s not Austin.

Located about 30 miles north of the Texas capital in a deeply conservative county, the city of Georgetown will be powered 100 percent by renewable energy within the next couple years. Georgetown’s residents and elected officials made the decision to invest in two large renewable energy projects, one solar and one wind, not because they reduced greenhouse gas emissions or sent a message about the viability of renewable energy — but because it just made sense, according to Mayor Dale Ross.

“This was a business decision and it was a no-brainer,” Ross told ThinkProgress from his office along one of the city’s main thoroughfares. “This is a long-term source of power that creates cost certainty, brings economic development, uses less water, and helps the environment.”

[…]

Ross said that a lot of “folks don’t really care what kind of electrons are flowing down the transmission lines,” they just don’t want to pay more for power. Once he explains the new setup to residents, even the most skeptical and politically conservative, they tend to come around.

“The main criticism I’ve heard about green energy is the worry that the tax credits might go away,” said Ross. “Well that doesn’t impact us because they are contractually obligated to deliver energy at that price for 25 years.”

Ross, who is a Certified Public Accountant by trade, took this idea one step further.

“And if you are really looking into that — in the tax code which industry gets the most deductions and credits of any industry out there? That would be fossil fuels. Renewable energy credits are minuscule compared to fossil fuels,” said Ross, who was elected as a Republican mayor earlier this year. [Emphasis added]

The logic of renewable energy is unassailable. The main factors working against it have been the fossil fuel industry’s power, along with the lack of infrastructure and technology. With infrastructure and technology out of the way there’s only one thing left standing in the way.

In February, Georgetown’s City Council approved the final agreement with California-based SunEdison to provide up to 150 megawatts of solar power to the city between 2017 and 2041. It is the largest SunEdison solar agreement in Texas to date. While Texan leaders such as former-governor Rick Perry have made California out to be an entrepreneurial desert, where it’s “next to impossible” to build a business, the California solar industry is far outpacing Texas in solar development. In 2014, California led the country in solar installations adding 4,316 megawatts of solar electric capacity to the grid.

For the most part, Texas lawmakers seem more focused on banning local fracking bans rather than incentivizing solar power when it comes to creating a business-friendly energy environment.

Georgetown was able to eschew any industry pressure in making its energy decisions, which Foster said were “easy” once it was determined that they met three main criteria: they were the lowest-cost source of power, they eliminated the risk of long-term price fluctuation, and they helped the city increase its renewable energy portfolio. Originally Georgetown had a target of getting 30 percent of its power from renewables by 2030.

[…]

“Part of what really shocks most people is that we did this in the middle of a shale gas boom, with energy coming from gas plants being really cheap,” said Foster. “But none of the suppliers at that price were willing to do long-term contracts — they don’t believe it will stay cheap for so long.”

Like the downfall of many industries it will be the arrogance of the fossil fuel industry that brings it down.  Georgetown deserves credit for stepping up and moving forward embracing progress.

But moving forward to a time when energy costs become extremely low or, in essence, free will take even more progress. And in that manner keep an eye on the Tesla Powerwall and Solar Roadways as well.

05.29.15

Trouble For Williamson County Elected Officials

Posted in Criminal Justice, Williamson County at 8:10 am by wcnews

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GOP County Court At Law Judge Tim Wright pleads guilty to 2 counts in weapons case.

Tim Wright, the Williamson County court-at-law judge charged with peddling firearms to a felon, pleaded guilty to two of nine counts stemming from his side business selling and exhibiting guns, some of which made their way into Mexico.

In a federal court in Austin on Thursday, Wright admitted to dealing in firearms without a license, selling more than 60 weapons from June 1, 2014, to Dec. 15, 2014. He also confessed to making false statements to law enforcement agents.

Outside the courthouse, he resigned from his position and said he was ready to take full responsibility for his actions.

“No one is above the law, especially not judges,” he said. “I sincerely apologize to my family, friends and the people of Williamson County for any discredit or embarrassment I may have created as a result of my actions.”

The court records say Wright lied to federal agents about when he began selling firearms as a licensed dealer and created false paperwork to back up his claims. Wright also allowed a person previously named only as “J.C.” to be involved in several transactions, though the judge knew the man was a felon, the records state.

[…]

As a result of his guilty plea, Wright faces up to 60 months in federal prison. Sentencing is expected to occur this year in front of U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks.

And Jana Duty’s actions still have a murder case in limbo, Defense attorneys want Williamson Co. DA removed from murder trial.

While Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty is being held in contempt of court, the defense attorneys for Crispin Harmel filed a second motion for her removal from the murder case on Tuesday.

Harmel is awaiting a second trial for the death of Jessika Kalaher in 2009.

Harmel’s attorneys filed the motion to recuse Duty from the case because they believe she is violating state rules of professional conduct, including her appearance in a video posted on a public video hosting site. Harmel’s attorneys claim the video depicts Duty showing animosity towards Harmel and his lead defense attorney, Ryan Deck. The video was publicly displayed on the hosting site when KXAN watched it late last week.  The hosting website showed the video had been on the site for nine months.  But it was removed from the site last week.  KXAN received a copy of the video by mail from an unknown sender.

Deck and his defense team also allege in the motion Duty violated state rules by mocking three Williamson County District Judges and a former District Attorney’s Office investigator in the video.

Here’s what Grits For Breakfast had to say about this recently.

Somewhere in Palau, John Bradley is smiling
Williamson County politics is sort of a cesspool and DA Jana Duty has been feuding with the local establishment for a decade. So it’s hard to tell from the coverage whether a judge’s threat to hold her in contempt for violating a gag order has subtexts beyond the immediate issues in the case. Regardless, somewhere in Palau, John Bradley is smiling.

05.06.15

Time For Williamson County Democrats To Go “All-In” On One Race

Posted in Election 2016, Williamson County at 12:55 pm by wcnews

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GOP Precinct 1 County Commissioner Lisa Birkman has announce she will not run for reselection in 2016.   Via the local Chamber of Commerce news, Birkman announces decision not to seek re-election to WilCo Commissioners Court.

Williamson County Commissioner Lisa Birkman announced April 28 she would not seek a fourth term as Precinct 1 commissioner in 2016.

Birkman, who was first elected in 2004, said she has achieved the goals she established when she was elected with the help of the community. Precinct 1 includes portions of Round Rock and Northwest Austin.

My hope is that Democrats in Williamson County put all their efforts over the next 16 months into winning this race.  An open seat, in the most Democratic friendly precinct in the county.  It’ll likely be 12 years before they get a shot like this again.

Getting someone on the Commissioner’s Court in Williamson County that’s not a part of the GOP establishment in this county would make a tremendous difference for accountability and transparency.

04.13.15

Williamson County Judge Tim Wright Indicted, Suspended

Posted in Criminal Justice, Williamson County at 10:35 am by wcnews

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Via KXAN, Judge Timothy Wright to be arraigned this Wednesday.

Wright faces nine federal charges. Prosecutors say he sold guns illegally, sold them to criminals and tried to help smuggle guns between June 2014 and February of this year.

According to ATF Special Agent in Charge Robert Elder, “This firearms trafficking investigation, which involves multiple firearms destined for Mexico, is another example of ATF’s relentless pursuit of individuals who attempt to utilize any means available to illegally appropriate and divert firearms for criminal purposes.”

Wright, 70, is also accused of falsifying information when he purchased firearms from gun stores in Georgetown and Copperas Cove. In the indictment, it says Wright filled out paperwork indicating he was the buyer of the firearms, but he was actually buying the firearms on behalf of another person. The document goes on to say Wright lied to ATF agents about when sales took place and to whom. It does not indicate if any of the weapons were used in commission of another crime. He does own a Federal Firearm License which allows him to sell guns as a dealer, and Senter said Wright did not know he was selling guns illegally or that they were bound for Mexico.

Meanwhile, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has suspended Wright. A Williamson County spokesperson said the county and its commissioners do not have the authority to remove the judge from the bench or keep him from hearing cases.

Wright’s attorney told KXAN that his client is innocent of any charges. Dallas-based criminal defense attorney Jeff Senter says Wright retained him after the raid.

“The judge is obviously innocent of any charges to be brought against him. We look forward to learning the facts about the case,” Senter told KXAN Investigator Robert Maxwell.

In other news Williamson County DA Jana Duty wants her day in court.

03.26.15

Williamson County News – New Elections Administrator, Prosecutorial Misconduct, and Debt

Posted in Criminal Justice, Elections, Williamson County at 12:32 pm by wcnews

Williamson County has chosen a new Elections Administrator.  Welcome Chris Davis from Cameron County, New elections administrator hired.

With early voting set to start two weeks after his first day on the job, Williamson County’s new elections administrator will hit the ground running.

The county’s five-member Election Commission on Feb. 26 chose Chris Davis to fill the position. Since January 2013 Davis has been elections administrator for Cameron County, which includes Brownsville and South Padre Island.

“Chris has a lot of qualities that we thought were a good match for the position,” said Deborah Hunt, Williamson County’s tax assessor/collector and one of five Election Commission members. “His enthusiasm and sincere desire to work in an area where voter turnout was higher was a strong pull for him.

“Chris speaks fluent Spanish, which we thought was an advantage. He is technically astute and seems to thrive on challenge. I think coming here, with our vote centers and electronic tablets for all the polling places, was a draw as well.”

Joining Hunt in approving the hire were her fellow commission members: County Judge Dan Gattis, County Clerk Nancy Rister, Republican Party Chairman Bill Fairbrother and Democratic Party Chair Karen Carter.

“I’m humbled by the opportunity to serve Williamson County in this capacity and will do my best to make the county, its voters and its entities proud,” Davis said in a press release.

Davis is scheduled to start work in Williamson County on April 13 and will be paid an annual salary of $84,000, county spokesperson Connie Watson said.

Because of Williamson County’s history it always grabs attention when accusations of “prosecutorial misconduct” come up, Williamson Co. DA’s Office accused of withholding evidence in murder case.

Hidden and difficult-to-access timestamps on a key piece of evidence led to a mistrial in a capital murder case last May. Now, it has led to allegations of prosecutorial misconduct against Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty.

Ron Morrison is right (don’t read that here very often), and Lisa Birkman is wrong,
Williamson County Calls for More Public Feedback Before Debt Vote.

“Nobody likes to build buildings, but we just don’t have a choice,” Williamson County Commissioner Ron Morrison said. “We’re busting at the seams in every area.”

County leaders are considering another $70 million in debt to cover the county’s Capital Improvements Project. The project would add training facilities for the sheriff’s office and EMS as well as office space for county services.

Commissioner Lisa Birkman believes there’s some fat that can be cut from what she calls a “wish list.”

“Some of them seem to have things that would be nice to have, but we don’t necessarily have to have right away,” Birkman said. “I’d like to see us put it to the voters.”

[…]

“We’re only going to see higher interest rates, and I’d like to capitalize on that,” Morrison said. “And $10 million in the grand scheme of things over the next 10 or 50 years is not going to make that much of a difference.”

Morrison calls concerns about county debt “legitimate.”

“I don’t like going any more in debt, but we’re one of the fastest growing counties in the nation,” Morrison said. “I don’t know what else to do.”

Still, Morrison believes deeper debt is the county’s best option until revenue catches up with growth.

We don’t need to put this on a ballot.

01.22.15

California Rolling Stop

Posted in Around The State, Leander, Transportation, Williamson County at 1:19 pm by wcnews

Just like water finds its own level, when traffic gets bad drivers look for other options.  Technology is allowing drivers to find new routes to get around, New traffic apps may be pushing cars into residential areas, (via Atrios).

Many commuters say that Waze has made driving a more pleasant and serendipitous experience. But residents along once-quiet streets that parallel Los Angeles County’s freeways have begun to complain that commuters dodging sluggish morning traffic are zipping through their neighborhoods, veering around corners and rolling through stop signs. And some of the worst of the traffic, they say, is being diverted to streets that are too small to be commuting conduits.

This reminded me of this item which I saw on the local news earlier in the week, Leander police crack down on reckless driving in subdivision.

Hang out by stop signs in the County Glen subdivision and you can see the problem.

“Some of them just do a Californian stop and roll through it,” Bo Biggs said, “and some of them barely hesitate and once they see there’s nobody around they gas it going through.” [Emphasis added]

The County Glen subdivision sits between U.S. Highway 183 and Bagdad Road, two very busy roads. So police are patrolling more and handing out tickets to drivers who don’t stop.

“They think it’s significant because it’s off the main route, but they use it as a cut through,” Biggs added.

Running stop signs isn’t the only concern. Neighbors say some people are driving much faster than the posted 30 mph.

“Oh yes, very fast,” said Libby Simpson, who asked for the stop signs years ago. “It’s unnerving it is…especially in the spring when you pop open your windows and you hear so much going up and down the road. It’s scary.”

It would be interesting to know where these folks stand on raising the necessary billions that are needed to fix our transportation problems in this state. Hopefully they understand the neglect of issues like transportation, by their local and state governments, is why they now have dangerous traffic driving through their once safe neighborhood.

11.20.14

Williamson County Elections Administrator Resigns (AGAIN)

Posted in Elections, Williamson County at 5:23 pm by wcnews

This is getting redundant to say the least, Williamson County election administrator Jason Barnett resigns. Kay Estes has been appointed as his interim replacement as Williamson County Elections Administrator.

The Williamson County Election Commission has named Kay Eastes as the interim elections administrator. Jason Barnett resigned from his position on November 13, 2014. Ms. Eastes will serve until a new elections administrator is selected. The elections administrator is appointed by the Elections Commission which is comprised of the County Judge, County Clerk, County Tax Assessor/Collector and the county chairs of the Republican and Democratic political parties. Anyone interested in applying for the position can go to http://www.wilco.org/default.aspx?tabid=2059 for more information.

There were some issues reporting results to Travis County during the last election.  Williamson County just can’t seem to hang on to an elections administrator for very long.

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