Should Jerry Eversole be removed from office?

January 13, 2011 3:19:38 AM PST
13 Undercover and In Focus are both on the latest developments in the Jerry Eversole story. Should the county attorney be trying to remove the indicted commissioner from office.

Commissioner Eversole paid one of the biggest ethics fines in Texas history last year and he's now accused by the FBI of bribery. But should the county attorney's office be taking steps to remove him from office?

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan campaigned as an ethics watchdog, but in the year and a half since word of the FBI investigation was made public, the county attorney's office admits it hasn't even asked the question to Jerry Eversole: Did you take gifts from Michael Surface?

Since the indictment, still no questions.

Ryan let his number two do the explaining.

"We actually do monitor the behavior of county commissioners. Do we interrogate them? No," said Terry O'Rourke, Harris County Assistant Attorney.

Our legal analyst Joel Androphy weighs in.

"Nobody wants to touch it because nobody wants to be the one to rule that Eversole or anybody else should be kicked out of office because it's an unhealthy thing for politicians," said Androphy.

Commissioner Eversole denies he took bribes, and Tuesday, he went even further. When we asked him if the gifts or loans detailed in the indictment actually happened, Eversole replied, "No. No."

However, last month, defense lawyers suggested the government was trying to criminalize a long friendship, suggesting anything exchanged between the two men had nothing to do with government, but a decades-long friendship.

"It is not against the law to be friends. It is not against the law to do mutual things on behalf of friends," said Rusty Hardin, attorney for Jerry Eversole.

"It is the duty of the Harris County attorney to remove officers, officials who violate their oath and violate the duty of their office," said O'Rourke.

But should that now be happening?

"There doesn't appear to be from the indictment, as we've seen it, some smoking gun," said O'Rourke the day of the indictment.

In the 90s, the former county attorney sought removal of former Harris County judge Jon Lindsay after a convict accused him of bribery. But Lindsday was never even charged with the crime. Jerry Eversole has been indicted. And under state law, he was required to fill out a financial disclosure form detailing gifts.

"The purpose is to appear to have transparency in government -- that's what it was supposed to do," O'Rourke said.

That requires county officials to disclose gifts of over $250 even if you get them from your closest buddies.

Take a look at Eversole's 2004 financial disclosure. He claims no gifts that year. And swears to it. And the Justice Department used that to bolster its claims that if they weren't gifts, then they were bribes.

The federal indictment alleges in that same year, Surface orchestrated a payment of $26,975 to landscape Eversole's home, provided $25,000 in collateral to guarantee a loan, and paid travel expenses for Eversole and his wife for a South Carolina golf trip.

"It is serious, the failure to not to disclose; it is not a removable offense in itself," said O'Rourke.

But KTRK's legal analyst says the county attorney shouldn't be making that call.

"I believe the citizens of the county have a right to at least have a judge make a decision," Androphy said.

Anyone who lives in Harris County can ask a judge to remove Eversole. We havelink to a copy of the state removal law here.

More stories from the 13 Undercover 'Winning Hand' investigations and Commissioner Jerry Eversole

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Strange Harris County land deals

Who got the winning hand?

Eversole has no plans to resign

Commissioner Eversole to pay back money

Large fine for Comm. Eversole's campaign

Grand jury gets evidence on Eversole

Jerry Eversole ethics bombshell

Eversole admits mistakes in campaign report

Questions about Jerry Eversole's house

Ethics questions swirl around official

Commissioner Eversole's office time investigated