Justice of the Peace Betty Brock Bell was convicted on Wednesday of using her dead mother's name to obtain handicapped parking placards.
During a visit to the Harris County Tax Office last year, Bell signed her late mother's name on an application seeking to renew some handicapped parking placards. Bell told the part-time clerk who processed her paperwork that the parking placards were for her mother, even though her mother had been dead for nine months, testimony revealed.
After the transaction, the clerk remembered hearing from someone that Bell's mother was deceased and notified her supervisor of the incident.
That eventually led to Bell's indictment by a Harris County grand jury.
She was later charged with aggravated perjury after she was accused of lying to the grand jury investigating the handicapped-parking application.
In closing arguments Wednesday, Bell's attorneys claimed her prosecution had an underlying motive but did not elaborate. They also said the state's witnesses did not have "clean hands."
"Hasn't she already been punished? She hasn't been on the bench since this happened," Russell told the jury.
Goode countered that no one is above the law and claimed county tax office employees were placed in an awkward situation when Bell lied to them.
[Bell] claimed the undercover sting was designed to catch a Harris County Tax Office employee in an act of wrongdoing.
Bell's claims to the Harris County grand jury earlier this year resulted in her being charged with aggravated perjury.
Bell had appeared before the grand jury earlier this year to give her explanation of how and why she sought to renew her deceased mother's handicapped parking placards. However, she could not provide any tape recordings or evidence to support her claims of conducting an undercover sting, prosecutor Donna Goode said Thursday.
Bell also refused to sign a form that would have allowed her computer to be searched for any evidence of the undercover sting, Goode said.
Bell is probably the most controversial jurist in Harris County, going back over a decade. She certainly has her supporters - I have in my inbox a PDF of a letter from the Houston Lawyers Association that pleads for her "long public service record" to be taken into account before sentencing. Can't say how much weight their words will carry, though.
The first story references an admonishment Bell got in 1994 from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. I think this will take you to a ruling from the 8th Court of Appeals that stemmed from that case, but the site isn't responding to me now so I can't say for sure.
I don't know much about Judge Bell other than what I've read about her, and most of that isn't very flattering. The crime she's now convicted of sounds awfully tawdry to me. I can't say I'll feel sorry for her if she's removed from the bench. I know there's already people preparing to run for her seat. They may have awhile to wait:
A judge is automatically removed from office when convicted of a felony. Once Bell's judgment of conviction becomes final, her office will be vacated, said Seana Willing, executive director of the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. However, that could take weeks or months, she said.
If Bell chooses to appeal her conviction, that judgment will not take effect until she exhausts her appeals, Willing said. However, Bell won't be paid her judge's salary while she appeals her case.
Otherwise, Bell's conviction will take effect after the allotted time to appeal has lapsed, Willing said.