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Jury selection starts in Oakley trial

Blanco County Annex

Jury selection in the case of the State of Texas v. James Oakley began in a district courtroom in Johnson City on Aug. 29. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

A jury of six Blanco County residents, and one alternate, should be seated by the end of Tuesday, Aug. 29, in the case of the State of Texas v. James Oakley. The trial is taking place in the 33rd Judicial District Courtroom in Johnson City. Oakley is suspended from his duties as Burnet County judge pending the outcome of the trial. 

He is charged with abuse of official capacity, a Class B misdemeanor, the remaining charge out of four from a grand jury indictment handed down on March 7. District Attorney Wiley “Sonny” McAfee has appealed the judge’s decision to the Third Court of Appeals in Austin.

In an earlier hearing this summer, visiting Judge Dib Waldrip granted three motions to quash the other charges against Oakley, including a felony charge of tampering with evidence for reportedly moving a bumper at the Spicewood scene of an April 2021 accident in which he was involved. 

McAfee decided to move the trial to Blanco County, where the alleged offense happened.

Oakley is charged with using a Burnet County-issued vehicle to drive to Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors meetings. He is the District 5 director. 

By lunchtime Tuesday, the 160 people called to serve as jurors had been whittled down to about 72, all undergoing voi dire, when Judge Waldrip called a break. 

“My stomach is beginning to think I’ve cut my throat,” Waldrip told McAfee as the hands on the clock moved closer to noon and the DA was still asking potential jurors questions. 

Waldrip brought a down-home humor to the courtroom, which was otherwise filled with a curious and somewhat nervous jury pool. He is the 433rd judicial district judge in Comal County and the 3rd administrative judicial region judge. Waldrip was appointed to hear the case after 33rd District Judge J. Allan Garrett and 424th District Judge Evan Stubbs recused themselves. 

Waldrip explained the voi dire process as “jury pickin’,” emphasizing the missing “g.”

“It’s exactly the opposite of jury pickin’,” he continued. “It’s actually jury elimination.”

He reinforced to potential jurors that there were no wrong answers. 

Questions from McAfee and Oakley attorney John Carsey to the jury pool included if they knew Oakley or any of the people involved in the case. Answers made it obvious that seating a jury from a pool of Burnet County residents would have been much harder. No one in the room, aside from three PEC employees and one avid newspaper reader, knew Oakley or anything about the case. 

As Carsey asked his questions, yet another issue presented itself. Almost everyone in the room was a member of the electric cooperative. 

“Do any of you feel like his service for the PEC would affect your decision on this case?” Carsey asked. 

The room was quiet. They did not.

As for the length of the trial, Judge Waldrip put the jury pool at ease.

“You will not have to bring your toothbrushes or sleeping bags to court with you,” he said. “This should only last a few days.”

Check back with daily for updates as the trial moves forward.