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Burnet County commissioner appeals agreement in animal cruelty case

Cattle seized from Billy Wall

Cattle seized from the ranch of Burnet County Precinct 3 Commissioner Billy Wall are being held at the county fairgrounds in Burnet and cared for by a large animal veterinarian. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Precinct 3 Commissioner Billy Wall appealed a justice of the peace court agreement he made with Burnet County over animal cruelty charges to the Burnet County Court at Law. 

The appeal was signed at about 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11, in Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Jane Marie Hurst’s office, where the original agreement was signed just 10 days earlier. 

“We decided to appeal because, a few minutes after we signed the agreement, the sheriff made an announcement he was contemplating filing criminal charges and he was not going to sell the cattle as the agreement required,” said Eddie Shell, Wall’s attorney. “If he had not made that statement to the press, we would have stuck to the agreement.” 

Wall agreed to forfeit 79 head of cattle to Burnet County, which would then sell them and use the money to pay for the expense of their care and the cost of rounding them up and moving them. The original agreement set that amount at $32,853.94.

Sheriff Calvin Boyd seized the cattle on Sept. 8 after investigating complaints that the herd was malnourished. Two professional cowboys and sheriff’s deputies from Williamson and Travis counties were brought in to herd the cows and take them to the Burnet County Fairgrounds in Burnet, where they remain under the care of a large animal veterinarian. 

Boyd told he stands by his decision to eventually file criminal charges and did not violate the agreement reached in the justice of the peace courtroom. 

“We were obligated to wait at least 10 days before selling them to give (Wall and Shell) time to appeal if they wanted,” Boyd said. “Also, we have to wait for the vet to tell us they are strong enough to sell. We can’t transport them to market. They’re not well enough, as per the vet.” 

The case now going before County Court at Law Judge Linda Bayless is a civil matter. 

“It doesn’t change anything about what my plans are with the criminal part of this case,” Boyd said. 

Also, as before, Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo plans to recuse himself from serving as prosecutor as he is representing Wall, the county judge, and the other three commissioners in a legal case concerning the county’s voting machines being considered by the Third Court of Appeals. 

“The prosecutors who handled it in JP court will most likely continue, but they can, of course, opt out,” Arredondo said. “Someone will come in to take it over.”

Assistant Williamson County Attorney Carson Walker acted as prosecutor in the two hearings before Burnet County justice of the peace courts in precincts 3 and 2. The case was first assigned to Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Lisa Whitehead, who recused herself and brought in Justice of the Peace Treg Hudson from Mason County to preside.

Hudson approved a motion to move the case to the Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Court, where Jane Marie Hurst presided over the settlement to sell the cattle and reimburse the county. Wall would get any amount over the cost, according to the agreement.

Shell called the case a “fiasco” that could have been avoided if the county had just approached Wall to talk about the issue before “showing up on his property like a SWAT team.” 

“They approached it like a drug bust,” he said. “It was handled very theatrically by the county.” 

Boyd said Wall had been approached several times but didn’t do anything to alleviate the problem. 

“I’m not going to go into details because of the criminal case,” the sheriff said. “But we visited with him a couple of times about those animals.” 

Shell said the way things have been handled is causing animosity. 

“There’s a bunch of hard feelings around the case, so we’ll go to court,” he said. “We offered to settle where it wouldn’t cost them hardly anything, and they chose not to take that path.” 

Next steps include a hearing before Judge Bayless in the County Court at Law, which, depending on the outcome, could be appealed to district court. 

“Ultimately, this will be decided by a judge or a jury,” Shell said. 

According to the Notice of Appeal and Appeal Bond — Cruelly-treated Animal Case Cause No. 322-001PS in the Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Court, the appeal is being backed by a surety bond by Diane Jay, Manena Rueffer, and Wall for a total of $96,193.94.