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Attorney seeks to disqualify prosecutors

9/18/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

An evidentiary hearing will be scheduled in the coming days in response to a request to disqualify the Ellis County Attorney's office from handling a criminal case pending against Connie Douglas.

Douglas, former bookkeeper at the Ellis County Historical Society, faces a single count of felony theft by deception, charged with using the society's PayPal account to make unauthorized purchases valued at $2,934, according to the criminal complaint filed April 30 in Ellis County District Court.

A preliminary hearing for Douglas was scheduled for earlier this month but was delayed.

Alex Herman, the attorney representing Douglas, has filed a motion asking District Judge Ed Bouker to disqualify the county attorney's office because Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees is a member of the board of directors of the historical society.

Drees countered there was no reason for his office to disqualify itself, citing several court cases.

"I took the extra precaution of calling the disciplinary's office," Drees said of contacting the agency responsible for prosecuting wrongdoing on the part of lawyers.

Drees said that office saw no conflict.

He also said directors have no authority over employees.

Even though Bouker repeatedly asked both Herman and Drees how they wanted to move ahead with the request to disqualify, in the end he said an evidentiary hearing would be conducted.

"If I'm supposed to be madly writing citations down, I can do that," he said.

"I'm prepared to argue today, if that's what the court wants," Herman said.

No date has been set for the hearing, although it will be nearly a month before it's scheduled.

While Bouker isn't requiring legal briefs, he wants both attorneys to set out their positions a week before the hearing.

"I don't think Mr. Drees needs a special prosecutor to decide if he needs a special prosecutor," Bouker said of Herman's suggestion the county attorney's office might need to hire someone to represent them for the hearing.

At the evidentiary hearing, it's possible assistant prosecutors might be called as witnesses to detail what's taken place behind the scenes.

Herman's request to disqualify the county attorney's office suggests Drees scuttled a possible plea agreement between Douglas and the prosecutor handling the case. Drees hasn't been handling the case, turning it over instead to Brenda Basgall in his office.