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Judge resigns following investigation

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Judge Craig Fletcher's resignation letter. Judge Craig Fletcher's resignation letter.

Cherokee County commissioners accepted the resignation of County Court at Law Judge Craig Fletcher Monday, setting into motion a divisive and politically charged discussion about his replacement.

Spokespeople for the Texas Rangers and the Texas Attorney General's office confirmed a recently-concluded investigation into Fletcher's dealings. The Texas Rangers had no further comment. The Attorney General's office released this statement:

"[We] can only say that no charges were brought, no grand jury setting scheduled. No further comment from this office."

Fletcher did not appear in front of commissioners Monday. Instead, County Judge Chris Davis read from his colleague's resignation letter which said:

"It has been both an honor and privilege to serve the good people of Cherokee County as their duly elected Court at Law Judge. I have made a decision, after much prayer and discussion with family, to not seek re-election. Furthermore, I am at this time tendering my official resignation as Cherokee County Court at Law Judge, effective at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, December 9, 2013.

"I am providing you with this notice so you may take appropriate steps to appoint a successor to my position for my unexpired term, and so that anyone interested in filing for this position has adequate time to do so before the filing deadline."

As it turned out, Fletcher's resignation was the easy part. The vote to accept it spurred a closed-door session during which commissioners held impromptu interviews with three candidates to fill Fletcher's seat on the bench. Later they returned for another vote based on a motion to name current County Attorney Kelley Peacock as the interim County Court at Law Judge.

"I don't oppose," Precinct 3 Commissioner Katherine Pinotti said. "I'm just not going to vote at all."

Pinotti was one of two commissioners refusing to vote.

"I don't think we should have even considered anybody that was currently going to run for that office," she said. "She's a very good county attorney but she's only been in public office maybe eleven months. She has no judicial experience whatsoever."

Peacock had already begun running for the judge's seat--which she now fills. But Judge Davis said the County Court at Law docket is too full to wait for additional candidates.

"We just had to get it done,' Davis said. "It was not going to help anything by putting this decision off."

Dan Childs, who previously served as County Court at Law Judge, is also running for the position.

He said his case schedule is such that he could have stepped in without having to sort through conflicts of interest that could come from the County Attorney hearing her own cases.

"[Peacock] can't even hear all those cases [she's] been involved in," Childs said. "[She] will have to recuse [herself] from the bench and the county will have to find another way of having those cases heard."

Peacock said she'll be getting an outside ethical opinion on some cases, but she expects the court to keep moving.

"As much as possible when this kind of thing happens, we're going to keep things running smoothly as best we can," Peacock said.

Peacock will serve as County Court at Law Judge until January of 2015. A November 2014 election will determine her successor.

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