Citizen Requests Investigation

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Georgetown Resident Files Complaint with Travis County District Attorney

Complaint Names District Attorney, City Attorney, and Council Member

On July 13, eight citizens told the Georgetown City Council they wanted an investigation into numerous matters reported by The Austin Bulldog and the Williamson County Sun.

As reported by The Austin Bulldog July 18, the matters of concern include a $13,600 payment made to Council Member  that was facilitated by City Attorney Mark Sokolow; Sokolow’s hiring as the city attorney involving a violation of the Open Meetings Act and working under a contract that was never legally executed; Sokolow’s violation of the Georgetown City Charter by hiring of an assistant city attorney without getting city council approval; and the city’s ongoing resistance to releasing public records requested by the media.

At that meeting, Georgetown Council Member Patty Eason’s motion for such an investigation was not even discussed by the council, because no other council member would second the motion.

John Bradley
John Bradley

John Bradley, the Williamson County district attorney, looked into a request for an investigation—filed by The Austin Bulldog May 11—concerning the payment made to Council Member Berryman. Bradley dismissed the matter without prosecution, as reported by the Williamson County Sun July 18.

But, like the famous baseball player and manager Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

And one Georgetown citizen just can’t let it go.

Ross Hunter
Ross Hunter

Ross Hunter has requested an investigation by the Travis County district attorney’s office into the actions of Williamson County District Attorney Bradley, Georgetown Council Member Pat Berryman, and Georgetown City Attorney Mark Sokolow “for their failure to act in accordance with the law, failure to investigate, and failure to correct, violations of the Georgetown city charter and State law, and their failure to act in accordance with their fiduciary responsibility to the city and citizens of Georgetown and the state of Texas, with regard to:

“the payment of $13,600 from city revenues ordered by the city attorney to be paid to council member Pat Berryman as a reimbursement, yet waiving the requirement to produce receipts, such waiver of requirement being in contradiction of standing legal advice given to the City by the Texas Municipal League, and such waiver being made without the production if (sic) any legal theory for such contradiction, the entire action being performed with the direction of the Georgetown city council sitting in formal session.”

Bradley, Berryman, and Sokolow did not immediately respond to telephone messages and e-mails requesting comments about Hunter’s request for an investigation.

Why file this complaint?

“I am just an ordinary citizen,” Hunter said. “My hope is that an organization with power will compel our elected officials to give us the straight story on what they’re doing,” said Hunter, who was one of the citizens who addressed the council on July 13 and called for an investigation.

“Citizens are concerned enough about the lack of transparency in our city government that they are going to the council meeting to try to get their representatives to talk to them.

“Not only are the people we elected not responding to us, but now it seems they care more about finding the whistleblowers who first alerted us to their shady dealings.”

What does Hunter hope to achieve?

“I want City Attorney Sokolow to explain his legal reasoning for Berryman’s payment, which he’s never done in public.”

Pat Berryman
Pat Berryman

Hunter noted that Council Member Berryman had been instructed by the city manager in a letter that said she needed to provide receipts to be reimbursed for her actual expenses. She never did so, and instead waited 17 months, until Sokolow was hired as a new in-house city attorney, and got him to facilitate the payment. (For a complete account, see The Austin Bulldog report of May 4.)

“My point with Sokolow is, if all we have to do is change attorneys to get a different opinion so Berryman can get the money, then if we get a different attorney will she have to give it back?”

Why bring District Attorney Bradley into the complaint?

“I want District Attorney Bradley to explain his legal reasoning for discounting the attorney general opinions presented with the complaint.”

Procedures to handle the request

Chris Walling, a criminal investigator with the Public Integrity Unit, in an e-mail to Hunter sent today, acknowledged receipt of the complaint and said “it has been sent for review.” Walling’s e-mail states:

“Once the case has been reviewed we will decide if it is something we have venue over or if a crime has been committed. If the case does get sent back to me for investigation then I will notify you that we have opened a case.”

Gregg Cox, who heads the Special Prosecution Division, explained to The Austin Bulldog how such requests are handled. He said complaints are reviewed by the investigator, in this case Walling, and sent to one of the division’s assistant district attorneys. That attorney will examine the complaint and make a recommendation about whether to open an investigation. How long it takes the attorney to make a recommendation depends on his case load.

Internal guidelines within the Special Prosecution Division, also known as the Public Integrity Unit, call for every complaint to reach Cox’s desk within 30 days, he said, along with an assistant district attorney’s recommendation. Cox said he makes the final decision about whether a case will be opened.

Briefed on the general nature of the complaint, Cox said, on the surface it appears that District Attorney Bradley acted within his “prosecutorial discretion” in not pressing charges against Council Member Berryman.

Cox said his office is limited in what it can investigate and prosecute in another county, generally matters involving criminal activity involving state government, insurance fraud, motor fuels tax fraud and workers’ compensation fraud.

Asked to comment on Bradley’s statement, quoted in the July 18 Sun, “…this (Berryman’s payment) is a civil matter that should be handled by the city,” Cox said a civil suit could be filed seeking Council Member Berryman to return any funds she was not entitled to.

A civil lawsuit, Cox said, “Can air the facts out” and not run the risk of trying to prosecute someone under a statute that is overly broad or vague, the risk being that a failed prosecution might result in getting the law ruled unconstitutional and thrown out.

“I have seen cases filed by citizens,” Cox said.

This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The Austin Bulldog has many other investigative projects waiting to be funded. You can bring these investigations to life by making a tax-deductible contribution.

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