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Pre-trial hearing Nov. 8 in commissioner’s animal cruelty case

Cattle seized from Burnet County commissioner

Cattle belonging to Burnet County Precinct 3 Commissioner Billy Wall gather at a trough as they are rounded up by sheriff’s deputies and two paid wranglers. The county seized 79 herd of cattle from Wall’s ranch on Sept. 8. Courtesy photo

A pre-trial hearing in the animal cruelty civil case against Burnet County Precinct 3 Commissioner Billy Wall is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Burnet County Court of Law with Judge Linda Bayless presiding. 

The county seized 79 head of cattle from Wall’s property on Sept. 8 after investigating complaints the animals were malnourished. The herd is currently under the county’s care at the fairgrounds in Burnet.

During pre-trial hearings, the defense, prosecution, and judge meet to determine what evidence can and cannot be presented, hear a range of motions from opposing attorneys, and enter plea agreements. The judge can also determine if there is fair cause for a trial. A pre-trial hearing does not determine guilt. 

Attorney Eddie Shell is Wall’s defense counsel. Outside attorneys from Williamson County will handle the prosecution. Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo recused himself from the case because he is representing Wall and the entire Commissioners Court in a lawsuit before the Third Court of Appeals. That suit seeks to stop the use of the county’s voting machines and revert to paper ballots for all future elections. It was dismissed at the district court level on Aug. 30.

Assistant Williamson County Attorney Carson Walker prosecuted the case at two hearings in two justice of the peace courts, the second of which ended in a settlement. 

The first hearing was in Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Lisa Whitehead’s court. Mason County Justice of the Peace Treg Hudson presided after Whitehead recused herself. He approved a motion to move the case to Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Jane Marie Hurst’s court as Wall lives in that precinct. 

At that hearing on Sept. 30, Wall signed an agreement to forfeit his cattle to the county, which could then sell them at market. The money would go to reimburse the county for the cost of seizing the herd and its care and feeding, estimated at $32,853.94. Any remaining money from the sale would go to Wall.

Shortly after the agreement, Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd told DailyTrib.com that he plans to file criminal charges against Wall once the civil case has played out. Wall and Shell then decided to take the case to Burnet County Court at Law. 

“If he had not made that statement to the press, we would have stuck to the agreement,” Shell told DailyTrib.com, saying the delay will only add to the expense of taking care of the cattle. 

“(Wall) agreed to sign an agreement to limit that expense,” he continued. “County officials have made this a huge fight. This thing could have been over. Burnet County would not have spent all this money.”

Boyd defended his decision to round up the cattle and put them under the county’s care. He said the Sheriff’s Office approached Wall several times about the herd’s condition before the seizure. 

“I’m not going to go into details because of the criminal case, but we visited him a couple of times,” Boyd said. 

The decision was made not to sell the cattle immediately after seizure, he said, because the large animal veterinarian taking care of them determined they were not in any condition to go to market.

“They are doing much better,” Boyd said. 

With the deal to sell the cattle now off the table, the county will continue to care for them at the fair barn. 

suzanne@thepicayune.com