BURNET — Republican District Attorney Sam Oatman won’t contest a judge’s decision to have his office step aside in the prosecution of a former GOP official who once sought candidates to run against Oatman.
The next step will be finding a prosecutor for the case. Oatman’s staff has sent a formal request to the Texas Attorney General’s Office to take over the prosecution of Johnnie B. Rogers, 63, who is accused of injuring a newspaper editor in a fight during the Republican Party primary May 29.
If the state doesn’t take the case, a special prosecutor will have to be appointed by the court.
A visiting state district judge during a brief hearing granted the motion Nov. 5 to have Oatman’s office removed from the case.
Rogers, 63, who is a former Burnet County and state Republican leader, is charged with injury to the elderly after police said he punched Burnet reporter James Walker, 66, several times outside the Burnet County Republican Headquarters.
Defense attorney Richard Davis filed the motion Oct. 3 requesting the court remove Oatman from the case, claiming the district attorney made statements that "revealed a bias and conflict of interest which impedes his legal duty to see that justice is done rather than serving primarily as an advocate."
In a sworn statement, Rogers said in the past he had sought GOP candidates to challenge Oatman, who has been the district attorney for nearly three decades. Oatman last year decided not to seek another term.
Oatman told The Tribune in October that at the time he wasn’t planning to step aside, but was reviewing the motion.
This is not the first GOP official to be removed from the case. Republican 33rd State District Judge Guilford "Gil" Jones recused himself Oct. 4.
In his place, Administrative Judge Billie Ray Stubblefield of Georgetown appointed Judge Robert C. Richardson of the 379th state District Court to handle the proceedings and possible trial.
During the hearing Nov. 5, Assistant District Attorney Gary Bunyard told the court the 33rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office would not oppose Davis’ motion.
"We do not agree with the merits of the motion, but for purposes of safety and making sure it is handled appropriately, we do not oppose the action," he said.
Richardson, however, said he had spoken briefly with the Attorney General’s Office and officials there were reluctant to take over because Assistant State Attorney General Stephen Todd made unsuccessful run for district attorney after Oatman announced he wasn’t seeking another term.
Because there is no Democratic challenger, Republican Wiley "Sonny" McAfee — who included Rogers as an adviser through the primary — is the district attorney-elect.
The District Attorney’s Office hasn’t received an official response to its request, Bunyard said.
Richardson said if the Attorney General’s Office doesn’t take the case, then he would likely have to appoint a special prosecutor.
Rogers’ case is scheduled for trial Dec. 10.