The defense attorney for a Smith County official accused of elder abuse is pushing the criminal trial forward, saying his client is “not guilty — of anything.”
Michael Heiskell, a Fort Worth attorney representing JoAnn Hampton, said in an interview Monday he has rejected all plea deals that the prosecution has offered his client in the case.
Hampton, who represents Precinct 4 on the Smith County Commissioners Court, is accused of causing bodily injury to a woman in her 70s during an alleged dispute at the Spring Creek Baptist Church.
Hampton is accused of pushing the woman during an argument over whose turn it was to dress the communion table. The woman said she was pushed to the point of aggravating a wrist she recently had surgery on, according to a police affidavit, but Hampton denied pushing her.
A grand jury decided there was enough evidence to charge Hampton with two different crimes. The more serious crime, pushing the woman intentionally and knowingly, carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The less serious crime, pushing the woman recklessly, carries up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
If convicted, Hampton would become ineligible to sit on the Smith County Commissioners Court because the Texas Constitution prohibits convicted felons from serving in elected office unless their charges have been pardoned or expunged.
“All plea offers that I’ve made have been rejected,” Chris Martin, the Van Zandt County district attorney said in an interview Monday evening. “Another one was extended this morning. … I’m just going to go forward with trying (the case).”
Martin has been prosecuting the case because Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham recused himself. That office’s budget is under the purview of the Smith County Commissioners Court.
The case is being tried in the 241st District Court in the Smith County Courthouse. That court has brought in Dwight Phifer, a retired judge from the 2nd District Court in Cherokee County, to preside over the case.
Heiskell and Martin spent all day Monday asking a group of 90 potential jurors about their beliefs on law enforcement, elected officials and other topics to determine if they should sit on the jury.
Heiskell asked potential jurors if they would believe a law enforcement official’s testimony more than an ordinary person’s testimony. Several of the potential jurors said they inherently believe law enforcement officials more than others.
Heiskell also asked the potential jurors whether they would be less inclined to believe a person over the age of 65 than a younger person. The question prompted one potential juror to say she would be less likely to trust a defense attorney who sought to discredit a person over age 65.
In contrast, Martin asked jurors if they believed that elected officials should be held to the same legal standards as ordinary people. All of the potential jurors agreed, except for about a dozen who said elected officials should be held to a higher standard.
“Should they be held to a higher standard,” Martin asked, “meaning, should we expect them as elected officials to set the example, to lead by example, to set the laws, and to regulate accordingly?”
Hampton did not speak during the jury selection and sat in silence. Her husband, Kevin Hampton, attended the selection process. At various times of the day, he also sat outside the courtroom with her in somber support.
Martin has subpoenaed eight different witnesses, including Kevin Hampton, to testify when the trial begins at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.
Heiskell said he may call witnesses, too, depending on how the prosecution does.
“We’re just waiting for our day in court,” Heiskell said.
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