Archives Menu|||Home Page|||Go to 1997|||



Amarillo man `guilty' of marijuana count

Return to top
Staff Writer

PECOS, 1995 - Federal court jurors this morning found Phillip E. Laub,
39, of Amarillo guilty of importing and possessing with intent to
distribute 190 pounds of marijuana on Nov. 12, 1994.

Testimony in the two-day trial revealed that Laub crossed the
International Bridge from Mexico into the U.S. Customs port of entry at
Presidio in an extended-cab pickup.

Inspectors found 196 plastic-wrapped bundles of marijuana inside the
wall and underneath the floor of the pickup's extended cab.

Defense attorney Eva Marie Leahy attempted to convince the jury that
Laub was not aware the marijuana was in the pickup.

Edna Lara, a Customs inspector who splits her time between Presidio and
her home town of Marfa, testified that she was on duty at the primary
inspection station when Laub drove across the bridge at 5:48 p.m.

Under direct questioning by government prosecutor Jan Bonner, Lara said
she became suspicious when Laub told her he had been to Mexico to
purchase horses and that he worked for Thomas Watson in Marfa.

"I knew that horses could not be imported," Lara said. "They have been
banned since July 1993."

And, Lara said, she knows nobody in Marfa named Thomas Watson. "I have
lived there all my life, and people in Marfa know each other," she said.

The jury returned its verdict about mid morning, as U.S. District Judge
Briones conducted a hearing on motion to suppress evidence in another
case. That hearing completed the week's docket.
Four El Paso residents were charged Thursday in federal court with
conspiracy to smuggle aliens.

U.S. Magistrate Louis Guirola set bail at $5,000 for Ramiro
Ponce-Delgado, 36, Sara Ponce, 36, and Eva Tovar. He denied bail for
Horacio Montalvo-Ovieda.

Ponce-Delgado allegedly conspired on February 13 with 11 Mexican
nationals to transport them to Kansas for $500 each, then brought them
to El Paso February 15.

On February 19, Sara Ponce and Tovar allegedly transportated the Mexican
citizens near to the Border Patrol checkpoint on U.S. Highway 62/180
east of El Paso, where Montalvo allegedly guided them around the

Sheriff can hire and fire at will

says federal appeals court decision

Return to top
Staff Writer

PECOS, 1995 - Reeves County and Sheriff Arnulfo Gomez have won their
argument that a sheriff or other elected official can hire and fire whom
he chooses, with the dismissal of a suit filed by 17 former sheriff's
department employees.

Senior Judge Lucius Bunton granted the defendants' motion for summary
judgment as to 14 plaintiffs after reviewing the motion, the plaintiffs'
response and an opinion by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That precendent-setting decision will affect elected officials in three

Employees of the former Reeves County Sheriff's Office have no claim
against the present sheriff, who declined to hire them for his
administration, the appeals court ruled.

Gomez said today he is pleased that the long court battle is over.

The employees of Sheriff Raul Florez sued the county and Gomez for
"wrongful termination" because he notified them when he took office Jan.
1, 1993 that they would not be hired.

They claimed Gomez fired them because they supported Florez in the 1992
Democratic Primary. His action violated their First Amendment rights to
support whom they choose in an election, and the county's refusal to
consider their appeal to county commissioners violated their rights to
due process.

Bob Bass, attorney for Gomez and the county, filed the motion for
summary judgment stating the sheriff can hire whom he pleases and is not
obligated to retain employees of the former sheriff.

"The whole case was based upon Gomez's act," Bass said. "They had sued
the county because of Andy's acts, and Andy in his individual capacity.
What we took up (to the appeals court) is only Andy's liability, and the
court said there was no constitutional or due process violation. They
were not entitled to a hearing."

He said the question is whether the sheriff is bound by the county's
policy manual.

"Our position was that the sheriff has a right to hire and fire who he
chooses; the right to expect a reasonably supportive staff.

"An election had been held to determine who the sheriff was, and the
election gave Andy the right to staff the office with people he chose;
not people Florez chose. It would make absolutely no sense to elect a
sheriff and force him to keep the old sheriff's staff."

He said the suit raised very critical issues on the first amendment and
due process.

"On the first amendment - basically, they felt like they had been fired
because they supported Florez," Bass said. "Our position was, `No, they
simply weren't re-hired.'

"Gomez evaluated their credentials and qualifications. He knew them
personally because he had worked there 15 years. He decided he wanted
someone else. It was just an employment decision he had the right to

Bass said the court found evidence that Gomez used reasonable
qualifications and judgment and didn't discriminate in his hiring

One case yet to be decided is on Susan Urquidez, he said.

"There was not enough evidence in the summary judgment proof as to
whether she had been fired appropriately or not," he said. "That's been
sent back (to Judge Butnon) to be decided on a better developed set of
Plaintiffs affected by Judge Bunton's dismissal order are Jose Baeza,
Janice Bell, Charles Titus, Felipe Villalobos, David Davis, Cynthia
Dutchover, Josie Breese, George Dominguez, Rod Ellis, Mary J. Garcia,
Ruben Gonzales, Joel Madrid, Janice Rodriguez and Lucy Rodriguez.

Rosie Poitevint and Dale Williams had earlier dropped out of the suit.

They sought back pay and reinstatement or front pay, plus $500,000 in
damages for mental anguish and $500,000 punitive damages.
Poitevint withdrew and Williams settled out of court for $3,000.

Briones has four trials on docket

Return to top
Staff Writer

PECOS, 1995 - Four jury trials are on the federal court docket for U.S.
District Judge David Briones Monday.

Judge Briones has served the Pecos Division for the past several months,
but has been re-assigned to the El Paso Division fulltime. Judge Royal
Furgeson, who has recently moved to Midland, will again take over the
Pecos docket.

Also on Monday's docket are nine criminal cases, one motion to suppress
evidence and five sentencings. Elva Marie Gomer, convicted of credit
card abuse, is among those to be sentenced Monday.

Another five defendants face sentencing Tuesday.

Trials are expected to continue throughout the week.

Drug possession trials go to jury

Return to top
Staff Writer

PECOS, 1995 - U.S. District Judge David Briones presided for selection
of juries this morning in three criminal cases dealing with drug

Pecos attorney Scott Johnson represents two of the defendants, Jaime
Baeza Nieto and Rito Sanchez. Nieto's trial is set to begin Tuesday
morning, and Sanchez will be tried Thursday.

Public Defender Elizabeth Rogers of El Paso represents Kimberly Ann
Smoots. That trial is set for Wednesday.

Rogers also represents Dixon Addy Jr., who was expected to enter a plea
today on a drug possession indictment.

Judge Briones set a bench trial for Juan Garza-Ambriz at 4 p.m. His
attorney is Paul Williams.

A motion to suppress evidence against Curtis Vernon King was set for
2:30 p.m. with Tony Chavez as defense attorney.

Others announcing they wouuld enter a plea today were Ozell William
McEntee and Crlos Rosado-Gonzales, represented by Steve Hershberger and
Mike Barclay, respectively.

U.S. District Judge David Briones on Monday sentenced Elva Gomer, 611 S.
Elm St., to 12 months and one day in federal prison, with three years
supervised release and restitution of $14,000.

Gomer was convicted of credit card abuse after purchasing about $24,000
in merchandise from QVC, a television marketing station, and charging
her purchases to an expired credit card.

A representative of the company said that shipment of the items was
stopped after QVC learned the credit card was not valid.

Jury finds young father innocent of drug charge

Return to top
Staff Writer

Federal court jurors on Tuesday believed a young Mexican father's story
that he didn't know the truck he was driving from Chihuahua, Mexico to
Abilene Texas had 227 pounds of marijuana and 2.5 ounces of cocaine
stashed inside the cab wall.

Jaime Baeza Nieto, 27, testified that he met the truck's owner in a
Chihuahua bar and agreed to drive the truck to Abilene as a favor. He
said he was to pick up a 1990 automobile to drive back to Mexico, and he
planned to stop over in Odessa to visit relatives.

While traveling from Pilares, Mex. to Van Horn at about 10 p.m. Oct. 7,
1994, Nieto was stopped by an agent for the U.S. Border Patrol.

Agent William Crowe inspected Nieto's immigration documents and
determined he was in the United States legally and let him go.

However, agent David Rivera, who stopped a Chevrolet Blazer traveling
just ahead of Nieto at the same time, said he noticed as the stake-bed
truck drove off that the sideboards had been freshly painted.

Suspecting the bed might contain a false compartment carrying narcotics,
Rivera conferred with Crowe, who said that Nieto was traveling from
Pilares to Van Horn to have a flat fixed and was asking directions to
Van Horn.

The bed contained a spare tire and gasoline can, Crowe said, and it was
unusual for a truck of that type to be traveling north.

Rivera decided to stop the truck again 16 miles south of Van Horn and
obtain a consent to search. Finding nothing suspicious about the bed,
Rivera tapped the cab and noticed a dull sound that led him to believe
it held contraband.

Nieto agreed to drive the truck on into Van Horn, where a drug-sniffing
dog alerted to the cab. Agents then found 226.9 pounds of a green leafy
substance that field tested positive for marijuana.

DEA agents later found 2.5 ounces of cocaine in the truck bed.

Defense attorney Scott Johnson filed a motion to suppress the evidence
found in the truck because Rivera had no probable cause to make the
second stop.

"There was no traffic violation and no new information since the first
stop," Johnson said. "You can't just keep stopping someone."

Rivera failed to tell Nieto that he didn't have to consent to the
search, that he was not under arrest and was free to leave at any time,
Johnson said.

However, U.S. District Judge David Briones denied that motion last month.

In the trial, Johnson staked his defense on Nieto's claim that he didn't
know the truck contained contraband.

In order to be found guilty, a person would need to have knowledge that
the contraband was in the vehicle, he said in his opening statement.

"If it was somebody else's car and he just happened to be behind the
wheel, that's not enough," he said.

Nieto testified that a friend named Arnulfo introduced him to Enrique
Navarro in a bar.

"We were talking and Arnulfo said `This gentleman works in the states.
He has papers,'" Nieto said. "Mr. Navarro asked me to do him a favor. I
said yes."

Navarro told him to take the truck, which had Chihuahua, Mex.
registration plates, to a rest area near Abilene and pick up a car and
bring it back.

He said he was not to be paid for driving the truck, but Navarro gave
him $260 for gas.

"I said yes because coming back I could go to Odessa and see my family,"
he said. "I was going to stay a couple of days, then leave it in Ojinaga
and take the bus to my home town and tell Navarro his car was there."

Nieto said he left Chihuahua at 8 a.m. October 8 and went to Ojinaga. He
had a trailer hooked to the truck and left it at Rancho Prieto south of
Pilares, he said.

At Pilares, he asked directions to Van Horn because the truck had two
flat tires that he wanted to get fixed, Nieto said.

"Did you have any reason to believe there might be contraband in the
vehicle?" Johnson asked.


Nieto said he did not give Rivera permission to search the truck.

"He never asked for permission. He just searched it," Nieto said.

Nieto said he works for a cinderblock manufacturer in Chihuahua and
lives in a one-bedroom cinderblock house with his wife and two small
children. He said he has never been in trouble with the law before.

Mississippi woman goes free

Return to top
Staff Writer

For the second time this week, a federal court jury has found a
defendant innocent of drug charges in a one-day trial.

Kimberly Ann Smoots was arrested Nov. 14, 1994 after Border Patrol
agents checking bus passengers and luggage found cocaine in her travel

Bill Massey, an El Paso DEA agent who questioned Smoots, testified
Wednesday that she told him conflicting stories about who she lived with
in Mississippi and how the cocaine could have gotten in her bag before
she left Los Angeles.

"Throughout the ride she stated a bag that the contraband was found in
was hers. On other occasions she said it wasn't hers," Massey said.

Smoots said she had been living with friends and relatives in Los
Angeles and was traveling back to Mississippi, he said.

"I specifically asked her if someone in California could have placed the
cocaine in her bag, and she said she didn't know anyone in California
that would place narcotics in her bag," Massey said.

At first, Smoots said she lived with her brother, Robert Smoots, in
Mississippi. Later she said Robert Smoots was her husband, Massey said.

Smoots was upset during the ride from Sierra Blanca to El Paso, Massey

"She felt like somebody had set her up to be arrested and said it was
probably the Border Patrol who placed narcotics in her bag," he said.
"She said those type circumstances often hppen in Mississippi."

Massey said he had never heard anyone make that statement about the
Border Patrol before.

Public Defender Liz Rogers of El Paso defended Smoots before U.S.
District Judge David Briones. Jan Bonner was prosecutor for the

The jury deliberated about four hours before returning the "not guilty"
verdict at 7:30 p.m.

Girlfriend's story seals drug conviction

Return to top
Staff Writer

PECOS, 1995 - Testimony by the girlfriend of an Odessa man accused of
importing and possessing marijuana for distribution may have provided
federal prosecutors the edge they needed Wednesday to get a conviction.

Jurors deliberated 5½ hours before returning a guilty verdict to both
counts against Rito Sanchez, 38. During the long afternoon, they asked
to see one "brick" of the contraband and asked for a transcript of
testimony by three U.S. Customs officers.

District Judge David Briones told the jury they could have testimony
read back to them only if there was a conflict between jurors as to what
was said.

Jury foreman Randy J. Davis then said the conflict between jurors was
whether or not Sanchez said the vehicle was his before or after the
contraband was found.

Judge Briones, prosecutor Jan Bonner and defense attorney Scott Johnson
answered that there was no testimony to indicate that Sanchez ever said
the vehicle was his.

Davis reported at 6:45 p.m. that the jury was deadlocked and could not
reach a unanimous decision. However, Judge Briones ordered them to
continue deliberating because if they failed to reach a verdict the case
would have to be tried again at great expense.

He said that the jury has a duty to reach a verdict "if you can do so
without surrendering your conscientious convictions."

Sanchez was arrested Dec. 18, 1994 after U.S. Customs inspectors at the
Presidio Port of Entry found 97 pounds of marijuana concealed inside a
gas tank on the 1983 Ford Bronco he had just driven across the
international bridge from Ojinaga, Mex.

Christine Nichols, 27, of Odessa testified that she accompanied Sanchez
to Ojinaga at his request, but that she refused to take their baby

They spent Saturday night at the home of Sanchez's cousins in Ojinaga,
Nichols said. During the night, someone drove away in the Bronco and
returned it just before noon on Sunday.

Nichols said that she and Sanchez left his cousin's house at 11:30 a.m.
Sunday, went to a cafe to eat and then bought groceries before heading
back to Odessa.

She said that Sanchez asked her to drive the Bronco across the border
and to tell inspectors at the POE they were married because there was
something wrong with his residence card.

"I didn't drive," she said. At the POE, the inspector looked at
Sanchez's documents and questioned him, then told him to pull into the
secondary inspection area.

A drug-sniffing dog alerted to the Bronco during the inspection,
officers said. When they removed the gas tank they found the contraband.

Sanchez was the only witness for the defense. He denied knowing the
marijuana was in the gas tank.

EPA employee countersues MERCO

Return to top
Staff Writer

PECOS, 1995 - Claiming that MERCO Joint Venture has mob ties, an
Environmental Protection Agency employee sued by the Sierra Blanca
sludge spreaders has denied their claims for $16.3 million and counter
sued for $1.05 million.

Hugh B. Kaufman, an advisor and engineer in the field of discovery,
investigation and remediation of uncontrolled waste sites with the
Hazardous Site Control Division of the EPA, said that MERCO owners are
under federal investigation.

Moreover, MERCO was not a registered Texas entity when the Sierra Blanca
ranch was registered for disposal of New York City sewage waste, Kaufman
said in the counter claim filed Wednesday in Pecos federal court.

Jon Masters, general counsel for MERCO, called Kaufman's claims to mob
ties an "absolutely false assertion." And he doubts that a federal
investigation is underway.

"I have no knowledge of anyone being the least bit interested in MERCO's
operation," he said.

As to Kaufman's own investigation, Masters said that the EPA has ordered
him to drop any activity regarding MERCO and has refused to pay him for
the time he spends on it.

Kaufman claims that MERCO owners interfered with his job by contacting
high level officials at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

In his 24-year career with the EPA, this is the first time he has been
sued, Kaufman said. And although he has investigated hundreds of cases,
this is the first case where the potentially responsible parties have
been directly linked with organized crime in recent testimony in federal
murder trials, he claims in the suit.

"I have no knowledge that any of my clients have talked to EPA in this
regard," Masters said. "Our efforts with EPA are to determine compliance
standards. Mr. Kauman floats around in a different category," he said.

MERCO is in compliance with EPA standards and Texas standards, he said.

"We file monthly reports with everybody. It is one inch thick, with
detailed chemical analysis. Without a doubt we are the most regulated,
tested and observed beneficial use project in the country," he said.

MERCO has been spreading New York sludge on their 128,000 acre ranch
near Sierra Blanca since July, 1992. Their suit stems from a television
show in El Paso on Aug. 2 1994.

Named defendants are Kaufman, Tri-State Broadcasting Company Inc. of El
Paso, Roy Sekoff, Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. and Willard Robert
Addington Jr. of Sierra Blanca.

In the news magazine show "TV Nation," Kaufman and others depicted the
sludge project as illegal and dangerous to Hudspeth County residents.

Sekoff, a reporter, said during the broadcast that the sludge contains
high levels of lead, mercury and PCB's, the original complaint alleges.

Kaufman admits saying, "this hazardous material is not allowed to be
disposed of or used for beneficial use in the state of New York and it's
not allowed to be disposed of or used for beneficial use in Texas
either. So what you have is an illegal haul and dump operation
masquerading as an environmentally beneficial project and it's only a
masquerade...the people in Texas are being poisoned."

Passerby rescues court clerk's purse

Return to top
Staff Writer

PECOS, 1995 - Honesty still exists in our hectic, modern world, a
federal court deputy learned Monday.

Kathy Long, courtroom deputy for Senior Judge Lucius Bunton, arrived at
the Pecos federal courthouse early for the monthly docket. Parking her
car on the east side of the Post Office at about 7:30 a.m., she set her
purse on the trunk, gathered up her computer, briefcase and other
effects, and proceeded upstairs to the courtroom.

She hadn't even noticed her purse, "with my whole life in it," was
missing until about 20 minutes later a young man brought it upstairs
looking for the owner.

"I thought, `Oh my goodness,'" Long said. "I was in such a state of
shock at doing such a thing that I didn't even get a chance to thank him
or ask his name."

Long said she would like to reward the young man and write his boss a
letter of commendation.

"You just don't find tht much honesty around anymore," she said. "I
really appreciated it so much. I later thought I at least could have
given him $5 for lunch or something."

Her benefactor was in his early 20s, tall, slender and clean shaven,
wearing a blue windbreaker, Long said. She is asking that he or someone
who knows him give his name and address to the deputy district clerk at
445-4228 so she can properly thank him.

Robinson found guilty of cocaine, marijuana possession

Return to top
Staff Writer

PECOS, 1995 - Federal court jurors on Tuesday found Darren Maurice
Robinson, 29, of Los Angeles, Calif. guilty of posession with intent to
distribute marijuana and cocaine.

Robinson was arrested January 28 at the Sierra Blanca Border Patrol
checkpoint after agents found the contraband in a black suitcase in the
luggage compartment of a Greyhound bus.

Agent Guadalupe Trevino testified that Robinson was the only passenger
on the bus who had a ticket to Memphis, Tenn., the destination for the
black bag. He gave his name as Williams and said he had no luggage nor

When he asked Robinson to stand up and move away from the seat, Trevino
said he searched behind the seat, between the seat and the back, and in
an air vent nearby. In the air vent he found a baggage claim ticket for
the bag containing the contraband.

Robinson surrendered a second claim ticket with a consecutive number
and in the same handwriting as the first.

After taking Robinson inside the station for questioning, Trevino said
he noticed a wallet in his back pocket and asked to see it. Inside was
California identification with the name of Robinson.

Agent John Miller, who found the contraband while checking the bus
luggage compartment, said that Robinson's bag contained Robinson's birth
certificate and other documents identifying him.

It is unusual for a person to carry contraband in the same bag with his
items that will identify him, Miller said.

Agents said the marijuana weighed 16.46 pounds and the cocaine weighed
2.78 pounds.

Because of the amoung of drugs and a prior criminal record, Robinson
could be sentenced to 36 years to life in prison. He is on parole for a
felony conviction in Maryland. Senior Judge Lucius Bunton set sentencing
for May 15.

In other hearings this week, Judge Bunton accepted four guilty pleas
and approved dismissal of charges against one defendant.

Ester Rodriguez Berner of Kress was charged with possession with intent
to distribute marijuana on January 19. Prosecutor Jan Bonner asked that
the charge be dismissed, pending further investigation.

Serina Ray Toomey, 19, of Denver, Colo., pleaded guilty to possession
with intent to distribute marjuana on January 23. A charge of importing
marijuana is to be dismissed at sentencing May 15.

Juan Angel Martinez-Carbajal pleaded guilty to one count of a
superceding information, and his co-defendant, Juan Carlos
Loya-Quinonez, pleaded guilty to the indictment for possession with
intent to distribute over five kilograms of cocaine on January 16. They
are to be sentenced May 15.

Francisca Hernandez pleaded guilty to one count of possession with
intent to distribute marijuana, with count two to be dismissed at
sentencing on May 15.

California man charged with cocaine possession

Return to top
PECOS, 1995 - Federal prosecutors filed felony charges this week against
a California man for possession with intent to distribute cocaine on
March 17.

Damond Nelson, 24, of East Riverside, Calif. is charged with possession
of more than 5 kilograms of cocaine, which could result in a prison
sentence of 10 years to life and a $4 million fine if he is convicted.

Nelson is one of the few suspected drug traffickers charged in federal
court in recent weeks.

U.S. Customs agents at Presidio have initiated a program to check all
vehicles entering the United States from Mexico and have seized numerous
loads of drugs. However, those are being turned over to the state for
prosecution, clogging courts in that area.

C.W. Thompson, deputy chief for the Border Patrol's Marfa sector, said
they are checking vehicles heading for the border for possible suspects.

"We don't have anything indicting they are coming this way, but the
Marfa sector is ready for them," he said. "We are looding for anything

They were alerted that two Middle Eastern men in their mid 20s or 30s
and wearing blue jogging suits were seen leaving the area of the bombing
in a brown truck. No description of the driver was given, he said.

"They found the brown truck off I-35, so we don't know what they might
be driving," he said. "We will talk to them if we encounter anything."

Feds dump drug cases on state courts

Return to top
Staff Writer

PECOS, 1995 - Hudspeth County has 595 pending felony criminal cases in
district court, said Patricia Bramblett, county and district clerk.

Most of those cases arose from U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints at Sierra
Blanca on I-10, Desert Haven on U.S. Highway 62/180 and the U.S. Customs
Port of Entry at Fort Hancock - all in Hudspeth County.

Because federal prosecutors choose not to accept "small" drug cases for
prosecution in the Pecos Division, they are turned over to state or
county courts. "Small" includes all marijuana loads under 200 pounds.

DEA supervising agent Travis Kuykendall of El Paso said their 26 agents
concentrate on large seizures and do not have the manpower to
investigate the checkpoint cases and follow through with numerous court
appearances in Pecos.

Agents must travel from El Paso to the checkpoint to interview the
suspects, then bring them 120 miles to Pecos for initial appearance
before a magistrate. Kuykendall said that is too much driving for the
agents, especially since the federal magistrate is not always available
in Pecos "and we have two within sight of our office in El Paso."

District Judge Royal Furgeson, recently assigned to the Pecos Division,
has called a meeting of magistrates in the Pecos, Alpine and El Paso
divisions, U.S. Attorney James DeAtley and area assistants, a public
defender, Customs, DEA and Border Patrol agents, deputy U.S. Marshals,
probation and pretrial services and deputy district clerk to discuss the

He and Senior Judge Lucius Bunton will host the meeting in the Pecos
court's jury room at noon on May 11.

"My goal is to promote the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of
criminal cases which arise in this far-flung area of Texas," Judge
Furgeson said.

He said he wants to see the cases resolved justly, efficiently and
inexpensively as possible.

Since DEA agents work out of El Paso, he has suggested they might be
allowed to take suspects arrested in Hudspeth County to an El Paso
magistrate for the initial appearance.

Sierra Blanca is about 80 miles from El Paso, and Desert Haven is 40
miles away.

Judge Bunton said that could result in higher costs of housing and
transporting suspects.

"If you keep them in El Paso, they charge more," he said. "Someone has
to transport them back from El Paso to Reeves County after the initial
appearance. It looks like a whole lot simpler just to bring them to
Reeves County."

The El Paso county jail charges $50 per inmate day, while Reeves County
charges $40.

Once a suspect is charged before a magistrate, he or she becomes the
responsibility of the U.S. Marshal Service to house and transport to

"Marshal offices are not designed to service other divisions," said
Billy K. Johnson, deputy in the Pecos marshal's office. "To go to El
Paso to bring prisoners to court sucks," he said. "Some deputies never
have to go over 10 miles, and we would drive 500 miles to get prisoners
for court."

Recognizing that type of problem, Judge Bunton entered an order in 1981
that all suspects arrested in the 10 counties comprising the Pecos
Division be processed and incarcerated within the division.

Agents and prosecutors obeyed that order until 1993 when a fulltime
magistrate assigned to the Pecos Division with some duties in Midland
chose to locate his home and office in Midland.

With U.S. Magistrate Louis Guirola in Pecos only two days a week,
meeting his schedule became more of a problem than agents were willing
to deal with, so they have virtually stopped filing any cases in the
Pecos Division.

Katherine Baker, U.S. Magistrate in Alpine, is assigned to the Big Bend
National Park. Both DEA and Border Patrol agents said they would take
felony cases to her for initial appearance, but Judge Bunton ordered
them brought before Guirola.

Both felony and misdemeanor cases arising at Alpine-area checkpoints and
the port of entry at Presidio are being turned over to the state for
prosecution as well.

U.S. Customs arrested 27 drug suspects in the first quarter of this year
in their "Operation Hard Line" at the Presidio port of entry, seizing
1,410 pounds of mrijuana and 15 vehicles, said Roger Maier, public
information officer. All were turned over to the state for prosecution.

District Attorney Albert Valadez said that out of 25 felonies indicted
in Presidio County in March, 23 were drug cases turned down by federal
prosecutors. Most are accepting plea bargains for probation or a light
sentence, and with a visiting judge, those cases are being disposed of

District Clerk deputy Gloria Garcia said that 38 marijuana possession
cases were disposed of in April, leaving 142 felony cases pending.

Judge Furgeson said he would also address Baker's role in handling
initial appearances in felony cases. She has recently been accepting
misdemeanor cases presented by the Border Patrol for trial.

C.W. Thompson, assistant chief for the Marfa Sector of the Border
Patrol, said they would prefer to take local cases before Baker. And
Sierra Blanca checkpoint cases should be taken to El Paso so the DEA and
prosecutors would accept them, he said.

"It is extremely inconvenient. Unless it is of major importance, they
don't want to accept prosecution," he said."

Mike Barclay, an Alpine attorney who accepts appointments in the Pecos
Division, said he is disappointed with the drop in cases filed because
he enjoys the drive through the mountains and the Pecos people.

Judge Furgeson said he is experienced in dealing with diverse views and
hopes to be able to work out a solution acceptable to all.

Federal court docket zero in April

Return to top
Staff Writer

PECOS, 1995 - Federal prosecutors filed no cases in the Pecos Division
during April, and no cases were closed, said Karen White, deputy
district clerk.

The last criminal case was filed on March 28, bringing the number filed
this year to 15; less than half the number normally filed in Pecos.

During that same period, 26 civil cases were filed - an increase over
previous years.

White said that her report of "no openings and no closings" of criminal
cases in April is unusual and has never happened in the seven years she
has been in the Pecos Division.

Senior Judge Lucius Bunton has agreed to handle the Pecos docket two
months in the spring and two months in the fall. He has two criminal
cases (with five defendants) set for May 15, along with four sentencings.

District Judge Royal Furgeson has seven criminal defendants set for
sentencing May 11-12.

Furgeson has invited prosecutors, magistrates, court support personnel
and law enforcement agents to meet with him and Judge Bunton at noon May
11 to discuss how the Pecos docket can be handled in a just, efficient
and economical manner.

He included El Paso magistrates in the discussion because they may be
asked to handle initial appearances on Pecos Division felony cases
arising in nearby Hudspeth County.

In the meantime, lawyers and political leaders in El Paso continue their
campaign to get more district judges to handle the overloaded criminal
and civil dockets in federal court.

El Paso has the largest criminal docket in the Western District of Texas
- about four times that of Pecos in a normal year. Currently they have
two courtrooms and two judges full time, with some help from other
judges on a part-time basis.

Twelve district judges serve the Western District: four in San Antonio
(one also serves Del Rio), two each in El Paso and Austin, one in Waco
(also serves Austin) and one in Midland-Odessa (also serves Pecos and El

When Furgeson and David Briones, both of El Paso, were appointed to the
federal bench last year, Furgeson was assigned to Midland and Briones to
Pecos for one week out of the month.

Chief Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth and Furgeson petitioned the Fifth Circuit
Judicial Council in February to move the district judge position from
Midland to El Paso. They lost 10-5, and Judge Furgeson moved his staff
to Midland.

Two senior judges, Bunton of Odessa and D.W. Suttle of San Antonio, may
accept assignments in any federal court in the United States and its

In addition, 10 full-time magistrate judges serve the district, plus one
part time in the Big Bend National Park. San Antonio has three
magistrates, El Paso and Austin two each, Del Rio one,
Pecos-Midland-Odessa one and Alpine one part time.

Full-time magistrate judges may handle some civil cases that normally
would go before a district judge if the defendant agrees. And some
district judges allow the magistrate judge to accept guilty pleas in
felony cases. The district judge still is required to sentence the
defendants, however.

Judge Bunton said that at one time part-time magistrates served much of
the district, and Pecos and Midland each had a magistrate. But the head
of the magistrate judge division in the administrative office "detested
part-time magistrates" and set out to get rid of them, he said.

"It suited us just fine to get rid of them and make them full time,"
Judge Bunton said. "But there was not enough statistics at that time to
justify a full-time magistrate in Pecos and get rid of the part-time
magistrate in the Big Bend (part of the Pecos Division)."

So statistics of Pecos and Midland were combined to justify one
full-time magistrate to serve both, leaving the Big Bend Park magistrate
in Alpine part time.
Return to top

Return to Top

Copyright 1996 Pecos Enterprise
324 S. Cedar, Box 2057, Pecos TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321