UPDATE: Animal cruelty case involving commissioner changes precincts
UPDATE, 2 P.M. SEPT. 16: The animal cruelty case involving a herd of about 80 cattle belonging to Burnet County Precinct 3 Commissioner Billy Wall was moved from the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace court to Precinct 3 during a hearing Friday, Sept. 16.
The decision was reluctantly made by Mason County Justice of the Peace Treg Hudson, who stepped in to preside over the case after Burnet County Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Lisa Whitehead recused herself.
The case is being prosecuted by the Williamson County attorney’s office because Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo is defending Wall in a lawsuit that involves the entire Commissioners Court. The law states an attorney cannot both prosecute and defend the same person.
Judge Hudson initially denied the request for a venue change by email the evening before. He pointed out in court Friday that the motion for the change was filed after hours and without complete paperwork. He said he wanted the case to proceed in Precinct 2.
Both the prosecution and defense counsel Eddie Shell agreed on moving the hearing and pressed the judge to rule accordingly.
Shell argued that the law states the case must be heard in the precinct where the defendant lives. The judge argued that the cattle are in Precinct 2.
“Because of the nature of this case, you are gong to have a problem, no matter where you go,” the judge said. “You are going to have the same problem in a different precinct.”
After an exchange of different state codes that each said took precedence over the case, Judge Hudson signed the motion granting the move. He then closed the hearing.
According to state code, animal cruelty cases should be heard in court within 10 days of the animals being confiscated, unless an extension is agreed on by both parties, as in this case.
When asked about when the next hearing might be set, Shell said he would talk to the prosecuting attorneys and try to work out what would happen next.
“You can quote me on this,” he said. “Google dying cattle in Texas and see what pops up. Cattle are dying everywhere. I’ve got 50 head, and it’s a struggle.”
About 80 head of cattle were seized from a Bertram ranch belonging to Burnet County Precinct 3 Commissioner Billy Wall on Sept. 8 and taken to the county fairgrounds for care. Wall has been subpoenaed to appear at a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, in the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Courtroom at the Burnet County Courthouse. Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Lisa Whitehead recused herself from the proceedings, which will be heard by a justice of the peace from Mason County.
The hearing will determine whether to return the animals to Wall or turn them over to the county. Results of the hearing also will determine whether any charges will be filed against Wall by the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office.
Williamson County officials are handling the case rather than Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo because Arredondo is already acting as the attorney for another case involving Wall and the Commissioners Court. In that case, which calls for the county to use paper ballots for all future elections and to retain all voting records since November 2021, Arredondo is acting as defense for the commissioners, the county judge, and Election Director Doug Ferguson. An attorney is not legally allowed to defend and prosecute the same person.
Public complaints about the condition of Wall’s livestock led Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd to investigate and ultimately seize the herd.
“It’s not an easy deal,” Boyd said. “You never want to seize someone’s property.”
Livestock experts were brought in to determine the health of the animals. They were not happy with what they saw.
“We got information from people who know a lot more about cattle than we do,” Boyd said. “They advised us that they were very malnourished.”
Boyd enlisted help from the sheriff’s offices in Travis and Williamson counties and also hired a few professional cowboys. He said several of the animals died while being rounded up.
“It’s a challenge when you seize somebody’s cattle,” Boyd continued.
The cattle are being held at the Burnet County fairgrounds, where they are being fed and are under the medical care of large animal veterinarian Dr. Dan McBride.
“It’s expensive,” Boyd said. “And the county is responsible for all that.”
If a judge decides to turn the herd over to the county, the ultimate goal will be to sell the cattle in an attempt to recoup expenses. Wall also could be made to pay restitution.
“We haven’t charged anything yet,” Boyd said. “We’re still on the civil end of things.”
A call to Commissioner Wall went to voicemail and a message indicated his voicemail box was full and not accepting any messages.