Texoma judge voluntarily resigns following complaint with State - KTEN.com - No One Gets You Closer

UPDATE: Former judge accused of driving Texoma town deep into debt

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UPDATE [Aug. 2, 2013] -- There are new details about a state audit that left the town of Oak Ridge nearly $100,000 in debt.

The town owes the state more than 99-thousand dollars. An audit by the comptrollers office found the city failed to pay the state its portion of court costs and traffic fines from 2009 and 2012.

Of the $99,000 owed, audit documents show $88,000 came from excess fees collected from citations written to drivers along Highway 82.

The Texas Comptrollers Office says Oak ridge will begin making $2,500 payments to the state beginning in September. The debt will take 10 years to pay off, according to the state.

OAK RIDGE, TX [July 18, 2013] – An audit by the Texas Comptrollers Office has revealed the town of Oak Ridge is deep in debt after failing to pay what it was supposed to during a three year period.

Any town in Texas, including Oak Ridge, must pay the state a portion of the money it collects from traffic citations.

WATCH VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIqwbR4gtfw

Oak Ridge is in Cooke County east of Gainesville. The towns' sign shows its population is 141. It's located along Highway 82, where the speed limit drops from 70 to 60 miles per hour.

Richard Zubiate was a police officer in Oak Ridge from 2008 to 2010 and says most his traffic stops were for speeding along its nine-mile stretch of highway.

"We were heavily encouraged to write as many traffic tickets as I could," Zubiate said. "So, I didn't think there was anything odd about that because the traffic citations were there."

But while working as an Oak Ridge officer, Zubiate says he caught on to what he describes as a scheme between Municipal Court Judge Darlene Nelson and Oak Ridge Police Chief Janet Van Patten.

In a complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Zubiate claims Judge Nelson often directed Van Patten to "void out" citations then says the money was concealed in a secret cash box inside town hall.

"I had overheard them say a number of times, they were angry at having to pay the state fees," Zubiate said.

What happened to the money after that -- Zubiate says -- he isn't sure.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct investigated his claims but says it can't discuss the details due to the fact that Nelson agreed to voluntarily resign in lieu of disciplinary action in June 2013.

The agreement cites at least two reasons for the resignation, including a state audit which found accounting mistakes in the method and manner in which the court was collecting fines.

Although it's unclear what manner the state was referring to, an email to KTEN reveals the town of Oak Ridge now owes the state $99,602.23 in unpaid court costs and fines between January 2009 and September 2012. It was notified of the amount on June 12.

"It doesn't surprise me," Zubiate said. "Doesn't surprise me at all."

After able unable to reach Nelson by phone, we stopped by the town hall in Oak Ridge where we were told she was unavailable for comment.

However, by phone, Police Chief Van Patten told us the claims Zubiate has made are in retaliation for being fired.

We also asked about the tens of thousands of dollars, Zubiate says, were intentionally kept off the books.

"Was the money accepted and used for personal gain between you and the judge?" KTEN reporter Meredith Yeomans asked.

"No, absolutely not," Van Patten said. "I've never put a dime in my pocket that I didn't earn."

It's unclear how much money, if any, has been paid to the state since it notified Oak Ridge about the debt in June.

KTEN will continue to follow this story and report on any new developments.

Texoma judge voluntarily resigns following complaint with State
[Posted: Jul 03, 2013 6:22 PM CDT]
OAK RIDGE, TX -- A municipal court judge for the town of Oak Ridge has voluntarily resigned following a complaint filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The Honorable Darlene Nelson stepped down in June in lieu of disciplinary action.

Oak Ridge is located along Highway 82 just east of Gainesville.

The complaint alleges Nelson violated the Texas constitution by holding two jobs with the town at once.

She was the city secretary at the same time she was a judge.

In a phone conversation with Nelson, she said the city wasn't aware holding two positions was against the law.

The complaint also alleges improprieties involving the method and manner in which municipal court collected fines in 2011. Documents show an audit by the State Comptroller's Office found accounting mistakes in the way the court was collecting fines. It also states the court was in the process of correcting the mistakes. Nelson says the city collected more than 30% of the city's total revenue from traffic tickets, which is illegal for a town as small as Oak Ridge. Nelson said the town's population was less than 5,000.

Nelson resigned from her position as judge in lieu of disciplinary action.

However, she retained her position of city secretary and said the city is working to resolve the accounting mistakes.

The municipal judge position she left empty has been filled.