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County Attorney report on Constables

County Attorney Vince Ryan has completed a report his office began in December to examine some of the practices in the Constables’ offices. At that time, the FBI was investigating and was on the verge of arresting now-former Constable Jack Abercia, while Constables Victor Trevino and May Walker were being investigated by the District Attorney over allegations that they had county employees perform political fundraising on county time; Walker has since been no-billed by a grand jury. County Judge Ed Emmett is not satisfied with Ryan’s report.

The five-page report, released to the Houston Chronicle through an open records request, does not mention a constable by name and does not refer to a single example of practices or activities, good or bad, by any of the constables.

Much of the report was a recitation of state laws that apply to the constables’ offices, along with suggestions on how to comply with those laws.

Emmett said he is hoping to see more of the substance of the report, noting there has been “a lot going on” with the constables’ offices.

“That’s not casting aspersions on any particular constable or anything of the sort, but just to come out with a simple five-page report that says ‘If you have any questions call me’ … I’d like to see more,” Emmett said. “What I see is just a reluctance to make a firm judgment about almost anything. There have been so many examples of them not being able to come to judgments based on whether or not an activity is ethical.”

[...]

Ryan defended the report, saying providing specific details would cause more confusion than clarification. He also acknowledged the report had been edited five or six times “to make it educational without being accusatorial.”

I don’t know. On the one hand, I agree with Judge Emmett that given all that has been going on with the Constables lately – and it must be noted, this is not a new phenomenon – we could use some specifics about what they can and cannot do and what they should and should not do. Common sense apparently isn’t enough, and state law is vague in places. On the other hand, I’m sure Ryan didn’t want to do anything that might interfere or affect the ongoing criminal cases. As Steve Radack points out, an opinion by a County Attorney carries some legal weight and possibly could be used in someone’s criminal defense. (And yeah, that’s now twice in the last couple of weeks I’ve agreed with Steve Radack. Once more and I may turn into a toad or something.)

Houston Politics has a copy of the report, which it notes “doesn’t mention the events that led to Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino being under criminal investigation by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, nor the actions of former Precinct 1 Constable Jack Abercia, who resigned in January under federal indictment”. Despite what I said above, it sure seems like these topics could have been addressed in a way that wouldn’t cause any heartburn to prosecutors – much of it is part of the public record now. I suppose the ideal situation would be that we’d have Constables who exercised good judgment, erred on the side of caution, and sought out legal guidance if a point of law were unclear to them. If that were the case, we wouldn’t need reports like this.

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