• September 19, 2020

Ector County trials resume - Odessa American: Ector County

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Ector County trials resume

Dumping enforcement bolstered, taxes raised

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Posted: Tuesday, September 15, 2020 1:55 pm

The Ector County courts are back in business.

County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to move county and district court trials to Building G on the north side of the county coliseum at 42nd Street and North Grant Avenue, saying expenses will be drawn from the $2.6 million the county got in May under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Shut down since March by the COVID-19 pandemic, the county’s five district courts and two courts at law may begin trying cases with 12- and six-member juries after the necessary safety precautions are taken with masks, face shields and six-foot social distancing in the 24,000-square-foot building, officials said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Eddy Shelton said 244th District Court Judge James Rush was taking the lead to help arrange the influx of large pools of prospective jurors and schedule the prosecutions of felony defendants.

County Attorney Dusty Gallivan said Monday that he wouldn’t bring any misdemeanor cases to court until the New Year.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers noted that Judge Rush’s plan must be approved by 318th District Court Judge Dean Rucker of Midland, who is the presiding judge of the Seventh Administrative Judicial Region of Texas.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons took part in the special 10 a.m. meeting remotely.

Gallivan said his office had continued having pre-trial motions, guilty pleas, arraignments and probation revocations while District Attorney Bobby Bland said he’d kept convening grand juries, issuing indictments, holding hearings and taking guilty pleas during the cessation of trials.

In other business Tuesday, the court discussed adding two trash collectors to the environmental enforcement department to use a new truck and remove garbage left by illegal dumpers in Precincts 1 and 4, the western and southeastern sides of the county; however, the commissioners voted unanimously to leave the collectors in Highways and Streets Director Evans Kessey’s public works department.

They said Environmental Enforcement Director Rickey George will seek work orders from Kessey to have the men remove trash strewn by unapprehended dumpers, which George said account for 70 percent of the problem.

“I think they’ll always have work to do,” Shelton said.

“I can see them working eight hours a day every day,” added Judge Debi Hays.

Hays said criminals serving probated sentences might be required to help, although only the county employees have commercial drivers’ licenses and may drive the truck.

“I wish we could catch more than we do, but unfortunately, like with most crime, more get away than are caught,” George said.

Hays reported that Health Department Director Brandy Garcia is getting a new device to test for COVID and other ailments and she needs a laboratory technician to operate it.

Childers’ motion passed to hire a technician to start working part-time in January after he said, “I don’t want to tie up a nurse doing lab tests.”

Hays said Garcia’s department “has definitely played an important role in keeping COVID under control and keeping the death rate down in our community.”

The second half of the meeting was held to consider long-range planning, tabled items and policy matters preparatory to the court’s scheduled Sept. 22 final approval of the county’s 2020-21 budget.

The new ad valorem tax rate of 36.9 cents per $100 in valuation, an increase from the current fiscal year’s 36.5, was enacted Aug. 25 with property appraisals in most of the county having jumped and with homeowners bracing for bigger tax bills.

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