Court Costs Over $19,700 For Prosecuting Misdemeanors
Nov. 1, 2011 at 11 p.m.
It has cost Upshur County taxpayers more than $19,700 to prosecute a Class A misdemeanor so far.
District Judge Lauren Parish thought that amount was too excessive to defend a capital murder trial a few years ago.
Special prosecutor Rick Hagan and his assistant prosecutor Lew Dunn have yet to file their final bills with the county for trying the case of Upshur County Judge Dean Fowler, but have charged a collective $19,727 to date. A judge earlier in October issued a directed verdict of not guilty clearing Fowler of an official oppression charge and also quashing a charge of abuse of official capacity.
For the county's taxpayers, the bills are likely just beginning as Hagan and Dunn still have to try cases against Sheriff Anthony Betterton and Commissioner Lloyd Crabtree, who also are charged with official oppression. Crabtree also faces an abuse of official capacity charge. The charges stem from a county resident being removed from a commissioners court meeting when he repeatedly wore duct tape over his mouth to protest that public comment had been removed from agendas.
Just a few years ago, however, District Judge Lauren Parish would have thought $19,727 was too much to defend a capital murder case.
In 2004, a jury found William Glenn Bulington Jr. guilty of capital murder. According to court records, on the week of Dec. 13-14, 2003, Bulington shot and killed Keith Crutcher and L.V. Johnson. Bulington loaded the bodies in the back of a pickup truck, then backed the truck up to a pond that was behind his house. He took the bodies out of the truck, loaded them onto a boat, tied ropes around their necks that were attached to cinder blocks and dumped the bodies in the water. The bodies were found in 2004.
Matthew Patton was Bulington's court-appointed attorney and was aided by Robert Bennett, who was not court appointed.
When the trial concluded, Patton turned in a bill for $26,463 for his and Bennett's services, according to the bill. The bill included 38 hours in court and 222 out of court for Patton, 30 hours in court for Bennett, as well as investigation and other expenses. Parish cut the bill, only approving $16,901, according to the payment she approved.
"The following attorneys fees are either not approved by the court or adjusted to reflect a more reasonable amount by the court," Parish wrote in her explanation of fees and expenses allowed.
She cut 23 hours of attorney time for input into a data program on the case, find that "such is not reasonable or necessary to the client's defense." She cut four hours of time when jail records showed attorneys did not visit Bulington in the jail. She cut seven hours of time in which Patton and Bennett met to discuss trial strategy, noting that Bennett was not a court-appointed attorney and that the sessions were "not reasonable or necessary to the client's defense."
She also cut hours of time preparing for the case from 80 hours to 58 hours, saying 58 hours was "reasonable and ample to prepare for the defense of the case."
Parish also eliminated or reduced various expenses, such as buying clothing for Bulington to wear to court from Beall's and spending at Kinkos.
Marion County District Attorney Bill Gleason said Class A and Class B misdemeanors typically cost $220 to $440 in his court. A capital murder trial would cost about the same amount as any other felony case unless death penalty is sought, he said. Gleason said adding the death penalty aspect typically raises the court cost to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Otherwise, "court costs are pretty static," he said.
Gleason noted that certain circumstances, such as hiring a special prosecutor, could cause costs to increase.
In Fowler's case, Hagan was hired after Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd recused himself in February.
In February Gleason had said that when a district attorney recuses himself, the usual procedure is to request a state attorney from another county because such an appointment would not require paying the hourly fee that a private attorney would charge. Byrd, however, requested that a state attorney not be brought in to try Fowler's case, leaving the county taxpayers with a bill that is $19,727 and growing.