Bonham -- Fannin County taxpayers who have been hoping Fannin County Commissioners Court could rein in the spending of Criminal District Attorney Richard Glaser were left shaking their heads Monday morning when Mr. Glaser presented the county with a bill for $25,000 for an expert witness who didn't even appear in court.
The expert witness in question, a psychiatrist from California, was on call for the trial of Thomas Taunton. It took a jury less than an hour to find Taunton guilty of both charges against him, capital murder and murder. Although the psychiatrist wasn't called to testify, the $25,000 bill he submitted was supposedly compensation for flying to Fannin County and interviewing Taunton for 17 hours.
Perhaps one of the reasons this bill worked up the collective ire of commissioners court was because they were originally told to expect a bill of $2,000-$4,000 for the expert witness.
"When you approached the court and wanted to approve employment of an expert witness, it says here -- the minutes say -- that you'll need a challenging expert at an expected cost of $2,000-$4,000," recalled Fannin County Pct. 2 Commissioner Stan Barker.
"I don't remember the $2,000-$4,000," replied Glaser.
"It's in the minutes," stated Barker. "That's what I'm going by. Now we're getting billed for $25,000."
Glaser told how the expert witness had to travel to Bonham and conduct a 17-hour interview with Taunton; the witness was scheduled to fly from California to Bonham in order to testify, although it turned out that his services weren't needed.
"Richard, this is a lot of money," said Barker. "We're responsible for the money of the county -- that's our job."
"And my job is the safety of the county," Glaser replied.
"Well, it is very difficult for the citizens of Fannin County to see where that's taking care of their best interest to spend $25,000 for nothing."
"It's not nothing," countered Glaser. "You have to be prepared for it."
"Mr. Glaser, do you really think that the people here in Fannin County expect to pay a witness $25,000 to come down here and testify?" asked Fannin County Judge Spanky Carter. "Is that really what you think?"
"I believe the people of Fannin County expect to pay for the service they get," responded Glaser.
"Spending $25,000 for an expert witness seems unreasonable and just out of touch to me," Judge Carter said. "I don't know how else to say it."
"You have to use a little bit of constraint when you're working for Fannin County, and I know you don't consider yourself to be an employee of Fannin County, but we're all with Fannin County. We have to take the people into account," advised Barker. "It's their money that we're spending, so we at least have to attempt to be frugal about some things. Yeah, we're going to have to pay it because we've got the bill. It's a done deal."
"Tell me how you wish that I had handled it," Glaser queried the court.
"I'd like to answer that, Mr. Glaser," Carter spoke up, "because I think that's the biggest problem with me. You come down here and you tell us that you're going to spend $2,000-$4,000 and then we enter into an agreement, we enter into a contract, commissioners do, and this court does, and we're on the hook for it. If you had come down here and told us you were going to spend $25,000 on a witness to come testify, I can't speak for commissioners, but I think the result would have been different and they would not have agreed to that. That's my biggest problem. We agreed to something because we thought it was going to be $2,000-$4,000, but we end up signing the contract and now we're on the hook for $25,000."
"I've asked the auditor to develop the figures on both how much was spent on the defense and the prosecution in that case," Glaser told the court, "because its an expensive proposition. It was a capital murder case. We have another capital murder case coming up in October."
"I went up to Judge Blake's office this morning because I was interested in what she agreed for the defense to spend on their expert witness," Barker stated. "She wasn't there so unfortunately I can't find out because the records are sealed, but I have no doubt that it is considerably less than what you've paid. I will find out if she will unseal the records. It's still a case of you telling us one thing and then totally blowing that budget out of the water...as if it's nothing. It offends me."
"It offends me," Glaser agreed, "but, you know, my responsibility is to prosecute these capital murder cases. You don't think that's important?"
"I do think that's important," Barker said, "but then again I think that with a little more of what I would call due diligence it would be possible to prosecute them a lot cheaper than what we're doing."
"Maybe you've had more experience than me," Glaser retorted.
"I'm sure I do, Richard," an exasperated Barker answered.
Fannin County Auditor Scott Dyer suggested that $30,000 be taken out of contingency funds to cover the $25,000 bill from the expert witness, as well as minor fiscal responsibilities.
"That's the only place we've got it right now," remarked Barker. "That's why we're hanging on to our contingency the best we could."
With frustration obvious in their voices, commissioners approved the expenditure.
Tempers flared again during the next agenda item as a debate ensued over the reasons why a less expeditious flow of inmates recently has resulted in a large increase in prisoner housing costs. The shortfall forced commissioners to transfer $109,000 out of contingency to cover increased costs, leaving a balance of $21,409.80 in contingency.
"My plan in the past has been to try to accelerate prosecution to get those prisoners numbers down," Glaser noted. "It's shocking that we have to spend $100,000 over what we budgeted. That's four times what the expert witness cost."
Carter seemed to have doubts about caused inmate numbers to increase in recent months.
"Can you tell us why it happened this year?" Carter asked.
"More crime," Glaser responded.
"I don't know," Carter replied.
Glaser asked what the plan was for the year at hand.
"Well, our plan is for 108 [budgeting for an average of 108 county prisoners per day]," Carter explained. "Last year we budgeted for 102. You told me last year we could either get you two more assistants or we could warehouse these prisoners and I guess you had a crystal ball because our jail population certainly went up this year."