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Brown wants trial moved to Travis County

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BELTON — Bell County Justice of the Peace Claudia Brown doesn’t think she can get a fair trial in Bell County, according to an affidavit she signed Monday.

Five other people signed affidavits in support of Brown, saying they believed she would not get a fair trial, either. The affidavits were all part of an answer to a citation against Brown that was written and filed by Brown’s attorney, Thomas Baker, who wants a change of venue to Travis County.

Affidavits by Phyllis Nairn, Alfred Q. Nairn, Rhonda Kay Brown, Barbara Ann Garrett and John L. Driver were included in her answer to support the change of venue.

The answer was filed Monday by Baker after it was issued to Brown on March 22, Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols said.

In his response, Baker said that local media posted news about Brown that was “negative and hostile to (the) defendant almost since she assumed public office.”

He also made other claims.

Baker claimed that the petition itself, filed on Feb. 15 by Killeen lawyer Brett Pritchard, wasn’t specific in its claims that Brown was incompetent or committed official misconduct, and said the petition is based on second- or third-hand hearsay. He also objected to derogatory remarks reportedly made about Brown’s mental health by Pritchard.

Finally, Baker said the court doesn’t have the authority in this case because it doesn’t have subject matter jurisdiction.

Subject matter jurisdiction is the power of a court to hear particular types of cases, according to The Free Dictionary by Farlex.

A defendant who believes that a court doesn’t have subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case may bring up the issue before the trial court or in an appeal from the judgment, the legal dictionary said. If a problem with the subject matter jurisdiction is found, the judgment will usually be rendered void, which means it would have no legal force or binding effect.

Baker demanded proof of each allegation listed in the petition, and asked the court to rule in Brown’s favor and award her court costs, attorney’s fees and “such other and further relief as defendant may be entitled to in law or in equity,” the filed answer said.

A call was placed to Brown after 5 p.m. Friday at Brown’s request was routed through her office staff, but Brown didn’t answer the call by press time.

Brown became known worldwide after she set a record-setting $4 billion bond for an accused Killeen murderer in February. She then moved to the opposite end of the spectrum by setting very low bonds on serious felony offenses, telling a Telegram reporter she did it on purpose in an effort to allow accused inmates not yet found guilty or innocent to get out of jail faster.

Nichols, who will prosecute Brown if the case goes to trial, said Friday, “If the case does proceed to trial, I am confident that a Bell County jury can be fair and impartial to both sides.”

Nichols said that since it is very early in the process, the parties in the case could come to an agreement or go to trial.

He hasn’t handled any civil lawsuits since his election or any requests for change of venue, Nichols said.

“This is the first one done from ‘this side’ of things,” Nichols said. “Attorneys have asked for a change of venue in a couple of criminal cases.”

Nichols said he doesn’t know what date will be set for the hearing on Baker’s requests to the court.

Pritchard talked Friday about Baker’s request for a change of venue.

“Of course Claudia Brown wants a change of venue,” Pritchard said. “She doesn’t want to have to face the voters of Bell County.”

He also said that Brown doesn’t want to answer for her actions and explained why he believes she wants to move the case to Travis County.

“She wants to move the case to a county that is more politically favorable for her and her liberal positions,” Pritchard said.

Baker said in his request to change the venue that Brown is African-American and is the only Democrat to hold office in a county that is largely Republican.

The visiting Kerr County judge who determined there was substantial reason to send Brown to trial, District Judge Stephen Ables, couldn’t comment Friday on anything concerning the case because it is active, his office staff told a Telegram reporter Friday morning.

Ables would also be the presiding judge if Brown goes to trial.

Bell County continues to monitor Brown’s bond-setting activities since she was allowed to stay in her position pending the trial’s outcome, District Attorney Henry Garza said.

On March 14, Brown set a $5,000 bond for Andrew Ballantine, 27, of Killeen, who was arrested on a charge of possession of a controlled substance more than 1 gram but less than 4 grams, a third-degree felony.

Ballantine paid his bond the next day and was released from the Bell County Jail, Chief Deputy Chuck Cox said Tuesday.

Garza filed a motion on March 27 to set aside Brown’s low bond and replace it. The motion will be heard April 3 in Judge Fancy Jezek’s court, Garza said.

This is the fifth low bond Garza’s office has asked to be set aside and changed since Brown took office.