Wichita County Judge asks State Judge to Dismiss Inquiry into his Conduct
Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom is under inquiry for allegedly failing to conduct “judicial functions” for at least 40 percent of his work time but receiving an 18 percent annual compensation.
New developments have surfaced in a state inquiry into Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom’s conduct.
The Wichita County District Attorney’s Office will not be assisting with the investigation. What’s more, Gossom made a bid to stop the inquiry, and 78th District Judge Barney Fudge responded.
Fudge, who requested the investigation, contends Gossom signed off on salary stipends for judicial duties he did not perform. Gossom vigorously denies the allegations.
The senior judge presiding over the court of inquiry has not set a date or location yet for a hearing on Gossom’s conduct, state court spokesman Osler McCarthy said Friday.
In one development, the DA’s Office will not assist with the inquiry because DA John Gillespie and his office also perform county attorney duties, court documents showed.
In an Aug. 1 letter, Gillespie pointed out to the state judge a conflict between assisting with the inquiry while at the same time regularly providing legal advice to Gossom and the Wichita County Commissioners Court in a separate role.
“I suspected it was an unavoidable conflict and wanted to bring it to the judge’s attention as I always seek to maintain the highest ethical standards,” Gillespie said in an emailed statement. “Maintaining those standards includes avoiding perceptual conflicts like this,” Gillespie said.
As in many mid-sized and larger counties, the local DA’s Office is combined, he said.
The DA function handles felonies, and the county attorney function handles Child Protective Services cases, misdemeanors, and legal advice and representation to Gossom and the Commissioners Court in an attorney-client relationship, Gillespie said in the emailed statement.
In an Aug. 1 letter, Gillespie asked the judge to appoint an attorney pro tem, a sort of special prosecutor, to assist with the inquiry as state law allows.
Gillespie also referred to knowing Gossom many years and considering him a friend in the letter.
Texas Senior Judge David Peeples, appointed to preside over the court of inquiry, agreed with Gillespie and noted there were conflicts, according to court documents.
Judge Peeples issued an order Thursday statutorily disqualifying the DA and his office from assisting with the inquiry.
As for Gossom’s motion to dismiss filed July 31, Peeples will rule on it later, according to the order.
Peeples is the presiding judge of the Fourth Administrative Judicial Region.
After another judge recused himself, Peeples was appointed by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht to oversee the inquiry on Gossom.
The county judge contends Fudge’s statement making accusations against him was not filed with correct procedure, and it was filed “in secret” as a sealed document, according to the motion.
In addition, Fudge’s allegations do not contain enough facts to establish probable cause, and they do not allege a specific criminal violation, according to the motion from Gossom’s attorney, James P. Allison of Austin.
Plus, state law on judicial stipends is “vague and ambiguous,” and it won’t support criminal enforcement, the motion stated.
Gossom’s motion also pointed out the Texas Comptroller’s Office reported that 230 of 254 county judges in the state are receiving the judicial salary supplement.
Fudge has accused Gossom of signing affidavits to receive salary supplements — 18 percent of a district judge’s annual pay — while not performing the judicial functions to qualify for the stipends.
State law specifies a county judge is to receive the supplemental pay only if at least 40 percent of his functions are judicial, according to Fudge’s June 18 statement.
Fudge fired back in response to Gossom’s motion.
The document Fudge filed to spur the court of inquiry clearly noted that Gossom broke the law because he “executed false affidavits to wrongfully obtain the stipend,” Fudge wrote in an Aug. 5 response.
In addition, the two Wichita County courts at law took over judicial functions Gossom would otherwise perform, Fudge wrote.
Gossom does not handle several types of cases, confining his judicial activities to presiding over juvenile detention hearings on the first, third and fifth Wednesday of each month — if any are scheduled, Fudge wrote.
Sometimes, Gossom signs mental health commitment letters if county court at law judges aren’t available, Fudge wrote.
Gossom said he has been under investigation one other time — about three years after becoming county judge.
An employee questioned the outcome of an audit, Gossom has said.
“They didn’t know about the amount of juvenile work I did, which is filed in the district clerk’s office and not in the county clerk’s office,” he said in the previous article.
“Once they reviewed that,” the investigation ended, Gossom has said.
Texas law details a court of inquiry and how it happens: A district judge can request a court of inquiry if he suspects an offense has been committed.
The district judge enters a sworn affidavit with the details of the offense and asks for the inquiry. During the court of inquiry hearing, evidence is presented, and witness are called as needed.
If the presiding judge believes an offense has been committed, a warrant is issued for the arrest of the offender.
Background to the Judicial Complaint
A Wichita County district court judge has asked the Supreme Court of Texas to conduct an inquiry into the conduct of County Judge Woodrow “Woody” Gossom Jr.
Judge W. Bernard Fudge of the 78th District Court made the request of the Court for the inquiry.
“I will not comment while the court of inquiry is conducting its investigation,” Fudge said in a statement Friday.
Supreme Court of Texas Senior Judge David Peeples was asked by Chief Justice Nathan L. Heckt via email Tuesday to oversee the investigation. Hecht wrote in the email that Presiding Judge of the Eighth Administrative Judicial Region David L. Evens had voluntarily recused himself from the case and referred it to Hecht to reassign.
Gossom said Friday that he was aware of the letter requesting the inquiry, but he did not yet know the specifics of the complaint against him.
“I’m sending a letter today requesting some things be considered by the Chief Justice. We’ll get that out, see what he does with that. They have a lot to do down there and I’m not sure I’m real high on their totem pole, but we’ll wait for their responses and see,” Gossom said.
The only other time the county judge has been under investigation, according to him, was about three years after he became judge. That year, an audit was conducted and a county employee questioned the outcome.
“They didn’t know about the amount of juvenile work I did, which is filed in the district clerk’s office and not in the county clerk’s office. Once they reviewed that,” the investigation ended, Gossom said.
According to the sworn statement from Judge Fudge provided by the Texas Supreme Court, Gossom is in violation of Texas Government Code Section 26.006 which states that a county judge is to receive an 18 percent annual compensation only if at least 40 percent of their functions are judicial.
Fudge said the only “judicial” function Gossom completes is presiding over juvenile detention hearings. Fudge claims that Gossom’s judicial functions do not equal 40 percent of his duties as required by the state government code. Fudge’s statement is dated June 18.
“There is really not a good definition of what are the judicial duties of the county judge. Is it whether I’m sitting over here and listening to something? Or is it when I’m working on court software or when I’m working on the budget to finance the court,” Gossom said.
The county judge said the law concerning the duties of county judges was written broadly because there is misunderstanding about what county judges do.
“The statute does not define judicial functions nor provide requirements conducive to quantifiable measurement and verification,” Gossom read from recent state legislative. “So, it’s duties and not time, and I think that’s a common misunderstanding.”
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Articles 52.01 through 52.09 outline when and how a court of inquiry is conducted.
“When a judge of any district court of this state, acting in his capacity as magistrate, has probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed against the laws of this state, he may request that the presiding judge of the administrative judicial district appoint a district judge to commence a Court of Inquiry,” the article states.
The requesting judge enters a sworn affidavit of the details of the offense.
At the hearing of the court of inquiry, evidence is presented and witnesses called as needed.
If the presiding judge of the inquiry believes an offense was committed then a warrant is issued for the arrest of the offender.
“People look at it and say that’s 40 percent of your time. My average work week is 60 hours. I guess I could sit over here for the 40 percent time and wait to see who is brought in, but it’d be a waste. So, I do those things as needed when called on within my jurisdiction. The only thing I don’t have that some other judges have is civil jurisdiction and that was changed by statute. I think it’s really going to be a non-issue when it’s all over,” Gossom said Friday.