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Judge: Ellis County office can prosecute case

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

District Judge Glenn Braun turned aside a request Friday to disqualify the Ellis County Attorney's office from handling a criminal case against a Hays woman.

Defense attorney Alex Herman, representing Connie Douglas, made the request, citing Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees's long involvement as a member of the board of the Ellis County Historial Society.

Assistant Ellis County Attorney Brenda Basgall, however, is prosecuting the case rather than Drees.

Douglas faces a single count of felony theft by deception, charged with using the historical society's PayPal account to make unauthorized purchases valued at $2,934. The charge was filed April 30 in Ellis County District Court.

Drees objected, saying his involvement isn't enough to disqualify him, because the board doesn't have authority to hire and fire employees other than the director.

Fellow board member Wilbert D. "Willy" Pfeifer, currently vice president of the board, agreed the board's role is limited to hiring an executive director and the archivist.

Pfeifer has served in different capacities on the board since 1971 when he was on the board at the time the historical society was formed.

"I don't know how anyone cannot have a significant personal interest when they're involved that long," Herman said of Drees.

Herman said that conflict would extend to the rest of the prosecutors in the county attorney's office.

"If Mr. Drees has a conflict, then his entire office has a conflict," he said.

In his closing argument, Drees disputed the idea his involvement might mean a conflict rising to the level of appointing a special prosecutor. Besides, he said, there's been no evidence other than his time on the board.

"There is nothing to indicate that I can't serve as the prosecutor in this case," he said, "or my staff can't serve as prosecutor in this case."

Braun agreed.

"There's no evidence Mr. Drees is approaching this case any differently," Braun said.