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Trinity Standard - Local News

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Hot check cases land in county attorney's lap
Trinity Standard -

GROVETON — After having over 1,000 hot check cases from Trinity dropped on him earlier this year, Trinity County Attorney Joe W. Bell was given permission Monday to hire extra help for his office. During their meeting in Groveton, Trinity County Commissioners allocated over $3,800 to his office to fund a part time clerk though the end of the current budget year. Bell told commissioners that in January and February, the two Trinity-based justices of the peace unexpectedly dropped more than 1,000 hot check cases on his office. "I told them I would help them with their hot check cases and the next thing I know boxes and boxes containing their hot check files started showing up at my office," Bell said. The county attorney said Pct. 2 JP Bernie Beard and Pct. 3 JP Bobby Nicholds had been told by a JP from another county that they had no jurisdiction on any hot check cases involving $20 or more. "I have tried to assure them that they do have jurisdiction but apparently they have taken the word of an out-of-county JP over mine," Bell said. Bell noted that the workload of his office has increased dramatically since 2008 and that county attorney's staff consists of himself and one secretary. The number of Class A and B misdemeanor cases processed by Bell's office grew from 66 in 2008 to 209 in 2012. Through May of this year, there have been 125 misdemeanor cases filed. In addition, Bell also is charged with handling protective orders; all juvenile cases; and cases filed by Child Protective Services and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Bell also serves as the prosecutor in the monthly truancy court, his office has to input all data on misdemeanor and juvenile cases into the state's computer record system, and he prepares and reviews all legal documents for all county departments. "There is no way I can go through all of these cases and evaluate them without more help," he told the commissioners. He told commissioners some of the files appear to date back as far as five years and he is concerned the statute of limitations may have expired or be about to expire on some of the older cases. If it has expired, the county will have no choice but to dismiss them. "I won't know for sure until I can go through them all," he said. Bell noted his main priority will be to try and recover restitution for the victims but by handling the cases, his office will be able to impose an additional fee on those who wrote the bad checks. "That will produce some revenue for the county, but again, until I can go through all of these cases there is no way I will know how much that might be," he said. When asked if the other JPs also were "dumping their cases" in Bell's lap, County Auditor Sheila Johnson said she understood that Pct. 1 JP Randy Barrett of Groveton also was turning over his cases but Bell said he has not yet seen anything from that office. Bell and Johnson both noted that Pct. 4 JP Sam "Rod" Blair of Apple Springs has continued to handle all hot check cases as he has in the past. "It would appear that we have some people who are not doing their jobs," Pct. 3 Commissioner Neal Smith said. When it came time to look at where to find money for Bell's extra help, the commissioners first looked at the JP budgets as a possible source but agreed to hold off and take the money from the county's reserve fund. Commissioners asked Bell and County Judge Doug Page to meet with the JPs to try and work out the problem.


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