• September 19, 2020

County resuming criminal, civil trials - Odessa American: Ector County

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County resuming criminal, civil trials

County vote on raising property taxes is Tuesday

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Posted: Monday, September 14, 2020 2:47 pm

During a special 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday, Ector County commissioners will consider designating Barn G in the county coliseum complex as the setting in which long-delayed jury trials will be held.

District Attorney Bobby Bland said Monday that finally conducting trials after a six-month delay during the COVID-19 pandemic will first necessitate a thorough review of the arrangements.

“My office has been open with a full staff since May and we have been indicting cases and putting them into the system,” Bland said. “We’ve been doing the best we can to move cases through with plea bargains and other means, but not being able to try them slows things down. We’re still doing hearings and things like that.

“The Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals have laid out certain requirements that we have to meet, so it must be done in accordance with those guidelines. It will require a lot more logistical steps to make sure everybody is safe.”

Bland said masks will be worn and social distancing observed, but the six-foot distancing standard could be problematic when large pools of prospective jurors are called. He said grand juries have continued to be held because spacing wasn’t a problem with the 10- to 13-member panels.

“When we do have a trial like this, it has to be fair to both parties and allow the proper result so it will withstand any appeal,” Bland said.

Barn G is on the north side of the coliseum grounds and is spacious with 24,000 square feet of floor space, a coliseum official said.

County Attorney Dusty Gallivan said Judge James Rush of the 244th Judicial District plans to convene the first trial in Barn G with a civil case.

District court trials are conducted with 12 jurors while the trials prosecuted by Gallivan and his staff have six-member juries except for felony cases with juvenile defendants under age 17, which have 12.

“It will be up to the court at law judges, but I don’t expect to move forward on any misdemeanor trials until after the Christmas holidays,” Gallivan said. “I don’t know how many defendants are waiting to plead or go to trial because we haven’t had any docket calls. We have been having arraignments, pre-trials, probation revocations and guilty pleas.”

The county’s other district judges are Denn Whalen in the 70th District, John Smith in the 161st. W. Stacy Trotter in the 358th and Sara Kate Billingsley in the 446th. Court at law judges are Christopher M. Clark and Brooke Hendricks-Green.

In other business today in the commissioner’s courtroom in the county administration building at 1010 E. Eighth St., the commissioners will stage a final review of the county’s fiscal 2020-21 budget before its scheduled approval at their regular Sept. 22 meeting.

Judge Debi Hays said the court “will be available to consider tabled items, policy matters and long-range planning” after the resumption of trials is discussed.

An ad valorem, or property, tax rate of 36.9 cents per $100 in valuation was set Aug. 25 with commissioners saying the new rate would raise the same amount of revenues as the current 36.5-cent levy. Most homeowners will see a property tax increase as appraisals for most in Ector County have gone up.

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