After lunch, the judge told the 200 folks on the jury panel, that if they want to ask for an excuse for serving on the jury, he and the counsel would meet with each of them individually, and the judge and attorneys would vote if they could be excused.
59 people lined up to talk to the judge.
That took most all afternoon – from my perspective the procedure had as much drama as watching paint dry.
After the excuses, there were 147 members left in the panel. Each defendant had 7 strikes against a potential juror, and the State had 28 strikes. The whole process was finished a little after 6 PM.
The judge sworn in 10 men and 2 women as the jury. (I wonder if a male jury is less forgiving to female defendants, then a jury made up of mostly female jurors. I don’t know.)
The trial will begin again at 9:30 AM at the Ceremonial Courtroom. First up will be the State’s opening arguments.
The District Clerk’s Trial – Day 3
By: Lex In Limine (LIL)
Attorney at Law
After some preliminary matters, the parties presented their Opening Arguments.
John M. Helms, Jr.
The Prosecution, lead by John Helms, Jr. , prosecutor pro tem, began. With a clear voice and methodical manner, he told the jury of four women and six men that this was a case that involved the abuse of taxpayer dollars and the interference with free and fair elections. Of the 63 employees at the District Clerk’s office, all but one are female. He referred to the office as a “Good Ole’ Girl Network.”
The Defendants, Hannah Kunkle, Patricia Crigger, Rebecca Litrell, and Sherry Bell were the four highest “ranking” employees of the office at the time of the alleged offense. The Clerk’s office set up a rewards and benefits system for the employees and this system was kept “secret” from the Collin County Commissioners’ Court. Helms was quick to emphasize that the Defendants were not being prosecuted for the “secret” reward and benefit system.Helms stated that the crime alleged to be committed by the Defendants is the misuse of labor to promote the campaign of Patricia Crigger. The reward system was “off book” paid leave time that was referred to as “Blue Book” time. Again, Helms repeated that there is no crime in having the secret Blue Book time, but, instead, the use of said time for campaign work is what offends.
Helms produced a poster with snap shots of the Defendants and explained their respective job titles. He described the defendants as “joined at the hip” and a close knit group. The proximity of their respective work spaces added to their camaraderie. Helms said the evidence will show that the absences of the workforce when using “Blue Book” time adversely affected the efficiency of the office.
Helms then described the “anxiousness” felt by the many employees when they learned of Kunkle’s retirement. Kunkle had been in office for many years and they were concerned they would lose their jobs with a new regime. A lunch meeting was held at Fudruckers in January 2010 – two meetings to permit proper coverage of the office. The meetings, allegedly headed by the Defendants, are where Litrell stated that those who worked for Crigger’s campaign would be rewarded with Blue Book time.
Helms stated that in April after the runoff election between Alma Hayes and Patricia Crigger (Crigger won the election handily), the Press (which is The Collin County Observer) made a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for the time records of the District Clerk Employees during the period of the campaign. Records were provided – but none of the Blue Book time was supplied.
The Human Resources Department noticed irregularities in time keeping. This was attributed to supervisors overriding the computer records and entering time arrival and departures in whole/exact numbers. If an employee swiped their card in the reader, the time would probably not be at the exact hour, for example.
The HR department audited the time records. The supervisors then collected the access cards of the employees and “swiped” various employees in or out of work to make it appear they were in the office, when they were, in fact, exercising paid leave pursuant to the Blue Book.
In June 2010, the Texas Rangers raided the District Clerk’s office and confiscated records and computer hard drives. Helms stated that despite the FOIA press request, the HR audit, and a raid by the Texas Rangers, the Defendants never conducted any type or form of internal investigation.
Helms concluded by stating that the Defendants had a “feeling of entitlement” and “undermined the integrity of an election.” Crigger had second thoughts about using the Blue Book time but did nothing to stop it and she benefitted from it.
Defendant Patricia Crigger’s attorney, Robert Hintondelivered the second Opening Argument. Hinton specializes in representing legal professionals and elected officials. An experienced litigator with a folksy and easy manner, Hinton addressed the jury and agreed with much of the characterization of the prosecution. He agreed that the Defendants were “Good Ole’ Girls” – they are just good people. He described Kunkle’s office as the best District Clerk’s Office in the State. (Many an attorney, LIL included, can attest to this – regardless of the guilt or innocence of the Defendants, there is no clerk’s office that matches this one.)
He describes his client, Patricia Crigger, as a “God fearing woman” who worked at the office for 24 years in a career that she began as a secretary. The Blue Book system has been in existence since the “beginning of time” and is necessary because the county cannot offer cash or monetary rewards or incentives because of budgetary constraints.
Over the years, time clocks gave way to computers and swipe cards. Blue Book time was kept manually at first then it was kept on the computer. When the HR department asked the Clerk’s to discontinue manually overriding the time records, they adopted the system of swiping the ID cards of the employees. Every time the HR department asked the clerks to change the way they kept time, they complied. What occurred is not illegal. As an elected official, Hannah Kunkle could do what she wanted with her budget.
The employees at the Clerk’s office feared for their jobs because a Crigger opponent allegedly promised to ‘clean house” if elected. The employees had a garage sale to pay for Crigger’s filing fee (to seek election). Hinton stated that Crigger was the most qualified person in Collin County for the job.
The Fudruckers luncheons did occur and Kunkle promised Blue Book time to those who worked on Crigger’s campaign. But this, according to Hinton, was against the will of Crigger. After the election, Crigger told the supervisors to alert the employees to use their Blue Book time because this practice of Blue Book time would be discontinued in January 2011 when Crigger took office.
Hinton then describes what he learned about one of the Prosecution’s witnesses, Kristy Duty. Duty was a relatively high ranking employee at the Clerk’s office who was assigned to the 296th District Court, presided by Judge John Roach, Jr.. Allegedly, Roach, who was seeking re election at the time, asked that the clerks of his court display his signs, alongside those of Crigger at campaign sites. Crigger did not permit the display of Roach’s campaign signs by the clerks and this “infuriated Roach.” Then Duty made her complaint to Roach.
Hinton concluded by stating “mistakes were made,” and Crigger never agreed to this practice.
Defendant Rebecca Littrell’s attorney, Deric Walpole, gave the third opening argument. (Yes attorneys and non attorneys alike – this is a LOOONG trial and there are many players – usually there are only two sides to a dispute).
Walpole is an experienced criminal attorney who recently defended Warren Jeffs at the YFZ child sexual assault trial, and is a self described victim of the former district attorney. He is an aggressive litigator and wastes no time with pretences. He began by stating that the prosecution of this case is “politically motivated.” He described what occurred as akin to someone waiting in the bushes, watching a fire start, and refusing to call for help until the house burned down. He said that the law is not a sword, it is a shield.
Walpole stated that Duty complained to Judge Roach and surmised the following scenario: “I’m going to Dad, Dad goes to the Texas Rangers, and you are getting arrested.” (Note – the past District Attorney, John Roach, Sr. is Judge John Roach, Jr.’s father)
Littrell has worked for the District Clerk’s office for 24 years and this is all she knows. He told the jurors that the original indictments against these Defendants were for keeping the Blue Book Hours – and nothing more. At this point the Prosecution objected to this but he was quickly overruled by the judge. Walpole continued, that since the District Attorney’s office, then lead by DA John Roach, Sr., had their own “Blue Book” system, the indictment was dropped and Littrell was re indicted with other charges.
He describes Duty as a disgruntled employee who is a cousin by marriage to Littrell. Duty and Littrell did not “get along.” The impetus for this investigation and subsequent trial is Kristy Duty’s chagrin over having to use paid leave for a snow day. Allegedly, Duty had previously arranged to have paid leave on that day. As it turns out, it snowed that day and all the employees were able to take leave pursuant to a snow day. Duty did not want to use her paid leave for that day and requested that HR change her timesheet to reflect this change. HR refused and Duty complained to Littrell. Littrell told her that she can use her accrued Blue Book Time instead. For whatever reason, this offended Duty. So, she then complained to Judge Roach.
Walpole stated that the Defendants are not in a position of power and have no influence over anybody. He stated that the legal standard for conviction in this case requires that the Littrell “intentionally or knowingly” misused government property. And she did not know. And she did nothing wrong. He said that the clerks used Blue Book time to work on the campaigns of County Commissioner Joe Jaynes and County Clerk, Stacy Kemp.
Walpole concluded stating “don’t throw their careers in the trash because someone didn’t hold up a freakin’ sign.”
Defemdant, Sherry Bell, represented by Yoon Kimdelivered the 4th Opening Argument. Yoon, a young attorney and former prosecutor, spoke briefly about his clinet. He describes her as a 64 year old with a high school education who worked for the clerk’s office for 22 years. She was advised that she could help the campaign and she did not realize that she was doing anything wrong. There was no intent for a conspiracy.
THE JURY WAS EXCUSED AT THE REQUEST OF JOHN HARDIN
John Hardin then made a motion to sever Hannah Kunkle’s trial from the other Defendants. This motion was denied. Helms, for the Prosecution, requested that any testimony regarding the prior indictments and attempts to indict the Defendants be excluded. This was denied by the court also. Helms protested that he did not want it to appear that he was a party to the prior indictments. Hardin then stated, and this is not an exact quote, “when you step into someone’s shoes, you step into the mud too.”
AND THE JURY IS BACK
Hardin addressed each individual juror by name and reminded them that this is the second week of Advent. He described former Constable and husband, Jerry Kunkle’s various illnesses and hospitalizations, including a debilitating heart attack in Colorado, and stated that Kunkle retired to attend to the needs of her husband and family.Defendant, Hannah Kunkle, represented by John Hardindelivered the 5th and FINAL Opening Argument. Hardin is a prominent, long time, and well known Collin County attorney. He has a folksy and casual manner with the jurors. His style is a conversational one which causes him to segue to various points of information – and the summary here reflects that style.
Hardin relates that After Kunkle announced her retirement, Kristy Duty and another Clerk’s office employee organized a garage sale to raise money to pay for Crigger’s filing fee. This prosecution “star witness” seemed to want Crigger to win and engaged in the same activities of which the Defendants are accused. Kristy created a flyer for the occasion. Hannah saw the flyer and promptly advised Kristy that “no one is to campaign in the office.”
He stated he did not know what happened at the Fudrucker’s meeting. He said that Judge Roach, an honorable man, was subpoenaed, and will testify at the trial. He mentioned to the jury that there is an article in the March edition of the Dallas Observer that describes the Collin County “Kangaroo Court.” He suggested the jury review the article and then he told them not to do their own research. (Not sure why the prosecution did not object to this one – LIL)
Hardin then segued to the actual election. He said that a Laura Roberge was campaigning at the Election office displaying signs for Crigger and Judge Roach. Sherry Bell called Roberge and told her to stop displaying Roach’s sign. Roberge called Roach and Roach allegedly went to the Election office.
Hardin then describes the raid by the Texas Rangers. The office was shut down during business hours. The Rangers confiscated records, computers, and even hand searched the purses of the employees. This raid was an absolute shock to all in the District Clerk’s office.
Hardin relates that the Defendants, with the exception of Kunkle, were indicted two times before and the indictments were dropped. Greg Davis, then the First Assistant to DA Roach, made a Brady Filing requesting recusal from the case because the DA’s office uses a system called “High Five” to permit exemplary employees to take leave from the office while time records falsely indicated they were actually working. This lead to the appointment of a prosecutor pro tem – John Helms, Jr.. Hardin relates that Helms and his team interviewed various employees. Pursuant to these interviews, Littrell asked Kunkle to write a letter vouching for her and the other defendants. Kunkle did so, and among the various documents that were presented to the subsequent Grand Jury, Kunkle’s letter was among them. This, asserts Hardin, is the reason that Kunkle was indicted in May 2011.
Hardin then describes his repeated requests for a continuance and his difficulty in obtaining discovery from the Prosecution. He stated that Kunkle, upon her announcement to retire, spent many days at the end of her term caring for her husband and was not involved in the minutiae of the office . He conclude by stating that Kunkle specifically forbid any campaigning in the office.
Lex In Limine
Attorney at Law
December 1st, 2011
By: Magna Carta
Attorney at Law
On Day Three of the District Clerk trial, John Helms Jr. for the Prosecution called Ms. Kristy Duty who worked for the District Clerk’s office and remains a county employee in another division.
Kristy Littrell Duty
Duty described the Blue Book system as being a system for recording extra hours that employees worked, redeemable as PTO (Paid Time Off). Initially, when a person redeemed PTO time from the Blue Book, their supervisor would manually enter aPeopleSoft record showing that employee had actually been at work. (PeopleSoft is the software system they use in the HR department and payroll department.) Eventually, HR came to audit the DC office because of the excessive number of manual PeopleSoft entries. (Normally, entries are automatically created when a person scans his or her badge.) Once the HR audit was completed, employees and supervisors adopted the practice of employees leaving their badges with their supervisor when redeeming Blue Book time so the supervisor could “swipe” the employee in and out. This created the PeopleSoft record needed to get the employee paid without requiring a manual entry. Duty described the Blue Book system as being secret in the sense that it was not to be disclosed outside of the District Clerk’s office.
Rebecca Littrell’s attorney, Deric Walpole, cross examined Duty. During Walpole’s cross, Duty admitted that the DC employees described the Blue Book system to her during her initial job interview with the DC’s office, his point being that if it was so secret, why were they telling a mere prospective employee? Her response was that because her cousin (Littrell) was involved in the hiring process and everyone knew she was going to get the job. [Implicating the “Good Ole’ Boy (Girl?)” network arrogance that is so endemic in Collin County.]
Duty admitted that she had been the beneficiary of the Blue Book system. When she was pregnant and on bed rest, she had to work one weekend to show Crigger and others how to change some accounting codes in the AS/400 system. She received 40 Blue Book hours for the weekend, which she redeemed. Defense attorneys pointed this out more than once. And each time she distinguished her use of the Blue Book as being related to work she did for the county vs. working on someone’s election campaign.Initially, Duty testified that her only involvement in the Crigger campaign was that she and Melissa Smith held a garage sale to help raise funds to pay Crigger’s filing fee. Later, under cross examination by Walpole, she remembered that she held a Saturday evening meet and greet, close to the Valentine’s Day.
Duty described a meeting at Fuddruckers and recounted that Littrell encouraged the staff to campaign for Crigger and they would “get their time back.”
Hannah Kunkle’s attorney, John Harden, cross examined Duty. She admitted that Kunkle never said anything about anyone getting reimbursed for campaign time. Littrell sent a reminder email (using the county computers) regarding the Fuddrucker lunch. Walpole pointed out during his cross that if the Blue Book system was so secret, why did they talk about it openly and freely during lunch hour at a popular restaurant?
Duty testified that when Human Resources notified the District Clerk’s office that they would be conducting an audit, Littrell sent an email to the supervisors instructing them to delete their Blue Book spreadsheets prior to the audit. According to the Blue Book calendar, some employees would take several days off in a row to work on Crigger’s campaign. Sometimes so many people would be out of the office working on the campaign that there were not enough people for the office to function properly. Duty alleged that phones were not being answered, people couldn’t take lunch breaks, parties couldn’t get their file marked copies, etc. [I never understood what this meant, having lots of experience in getting things file marked. There has never been a delay, in my experience – MC]
On cross, Walpole asked her WHO complained about the service. She said “lots of people.” He said “name one.” She named two people and punctuated it with a sarcastic “how’s that?” Walpole asked Duty to name a single customer who complained. Duty finally admitted she never actually heard any customer complaints–just heard people complaining about people complaining.
NON SEQUITUR: Duty never held a campaign sign for Judge Roach.
Duty testified that in February 2010, it snowed. Employees were told that they could take half a day off and record it inPeopleSoft as 4 hours of “Office Closed” time. If they wanted to take off the entire day, they needed to record an additional 4 hours of PTO time. She took the entire day off, but somehow her time was recorded in PeopleSoft? as 8 hours of PTO time. Initially Duty testified that she complained about this to Littrell who told her to call Human Resources. She called the payroll department and was told that if Littrell or Kunkle would send an email, payroll would correct the time entry. Littrell, according to Duty’s testimony, told her that Kunkle and Crigger wanted all of her PTO would go on the Blue Book, rather than a PeopleSoft correction. This upset Duty. LATER, during Hardin’s cross, Duty admitted that Kunkle had never been involved in her timesheet and Kunkle’s name never appeared on any of the emails comprising this transaction.
The next day, still upset about her PTO time AND all the campaign time she saw being logged into the Blue Book, she complained to Judge Roach. About two weeks later, Roach told Duty and a Lara Roberge, who made a separate complaint, that he took the issue to his father, John Roach, Sr., the District Attorney at the time, who, in turn, referred the issue to the Texas Rangers. Judge Roach told them that they should know that as supervisors in the department, they could face jail time for being part of the system they were complaining about.
[Yes, this blew up over 4 hours of PTO time for a person probably making $15/hour. $60 would have kept all this under wraps.]
Duty testified that she was contacted by Texas Ranger A.P. Davidson. She described the Blue Book system to him and thereafter kept him informed of what was occurring in the DC office. She quit her job in the DC office in November 2010 because she did not want to work under the Crigger/Littrell regime.
Duty described the falling out she had with Littrell. Twelve years ago, she and Littrell “got into it.” They were very close (cousins by marriage) when she first moved to Collin County. Littrell and Husband Adam asked her to babysit their child. She agreed. Later, she decided to spend time with her sister so she backed out. Littrell was hurt by this. She thinks this is where the relationship started to sour between her and Littrell. [There is a pungent waft of “pettiness” (this being a polite word) on all sides throughout this story. Little hurts and annoyances leading to big bangs.]
Kunkle discovered a Crigger campaign flyer in the office and was very upset about campaigning on county time. Kunkle said “they shouldn’t do this.” Hardin made her tell this story several times. Hardin was genteel but insistent and forced Duty to admit she had no personal knowledge of Kunkle’s involvement in anything.
Attorney at Law
December 3rd, 2011
By Lex In Limine
Attorney at Law
Lorrie Robertson takes the stand. She is a supervisor at the District Clerk’s office. She was one of the Defendants who was originally arrested and indicted.
Through the direct examination of John Helms, Jr. for the prosecution, Robertson explained the various calendars and spreadsheets and how they were used to record Blue Book time. She testified that the Blue Book time was kept on the computer until Rebecca Littrell told her to remove it – sometime before the Runoff between Patricia Crigger and Alma Hayes in April 2010. She did so.
Robertson admitted that much of the Blue Book time was for leave not associated with the campaign. She testified that Littrell told her to encourage the staff that she supervised to work on the Crigger campaign. And she did, in fact encourage this.
At the time of the raid by the Texas Rangers, Robertson had another employees badge in her possession. That employee was not at the office but was exercising this Blue Book time. Robertson, as the supervisor of this employee had swiped the badge to make it appear that the employee was at work, when she was, in fact, not.
Yoon Kim, attorney for Sherry Bell, then cross examined Robertson. Robertson admitted that she was originally indicted. In July 2010, she entered into a plea agreement with then assistant District Attorney, (and instigator of most of these types of cases) Chris Milner.
NON SEQUITOR – Milner has a history of prosecuting defense attorneys for typos in their pleadings – alleging some type of government document tampering. Most of these cases have been dismissed and Milner has been mentioned in other publications regarding this over reaching and abusive tactic. He attempted to prosecute the current District Attorney, Greg Willis, for some crime – don’t know the exact charge – but basically Milner did not like how Wills ran his court (when he was a judge). The Grand Jury refused to indict Willis and took the unusual step of preparing a written statement explaining that Willis committed NO CRIME.
After Robertson entered into her plea of guilty to engaging in organized criminal activity, she kept her job and she wasn’t fined. (why don’t the other ladies get the same deal?) Later the indictments against the other defendants were dropped and re-indicted. She was afraid that her ex-husband would attempt to seek custody of her young children if she was prosecuted. So, she agreed to assist the prosecution.
She remained in the office during all of the alleged campaign activities. She reluctantly admitted that the business of the Disrict Clerk’s office never suffered during the campaign. She admitted that Kristy Duty, a prosecution witness and former employee of the Clerk’s office, was “in and out” of the office a lot because she was working with IT. She testified that not all Blue Book time was actually redeemed.
She was a former roommate with Crigger opponent, Alma Hayes, and this caused discomfort in the office. Robertson asserts that Hannah Kunkle excoriated her for supporting Hayes. Bur Crigger advised Robertson that it was not appropriate for Kunkle to do that and she could support whoever she wanted.
Deric Walpole, attorney for Sherry Littrell, cross examined Robertson. Robertson testified that if a judge or anyone else had advised the office what they were doing was illegal, Kunkle would have stopped it immediately.
NON SEQUITOR – Deric – you are a top notch attorney – so please take those sunglasses off your neck!
During the Robert Hinton, attorney for Patricia Crigger, cross examination, Robertson denied ever hearing Crigger proclaim that the Blue Book system would cease upon her taking office. But she found the Blue Book system to be a good program which contributed to the success of the office.
Robertson testified that the day she was arrested was the most embarrassing day of her life. She was humiliated. No one from the District Clerk’s office told her what to do. She hired attorney George Milner (no relation to Chris Milner)
John Hardin, attorney for Hannah Kunkle, cross examined the witness next. Hardin reminded Robertson that they had known each other since she was a child, she played with his dog, etc. etc. ( a lot of folksy introductions going on here – so BORING) Hardin promised the witness that no matter what happened, they would remain friends.
Robertson, through tears, testified that Kunkle was a very special and awesome lady. At the Fuddrucker’s meeting, she only remembers Littrell speaking and alleges that Littrell , when encouraging the staff to work on the Crigger campaign, said “we will figure out a way to get your time back.”
She met with prosecutor pro tem, John Helms, Jr.. Through attorneys, he asked to speak with Robertson. When asked, through Hardin, whether she took her attorney with her to this meeting, she said no “because he is very expensive.” This statement drew laughs from the gallery and the hoards of attorney in the courtroom. Judge Nelms asked the court reporter to make a transcription of that statement and laughed. (Attorneys are, indeed expensive – and they deserve every penny, I say!)
She met Helms for dinner and discussed car racing, oh and, also the District Clerk’s office.
I had to leave at this point and Bill will be covering the rest of the day. I will continue to cover the trial if you find that my posts are helpful to your understanding of this case.
Attorney at Law