CHAMBERS COUNTY — BREAKING: A judge in Chambers County has thrown out a felony campaign finance indictment against Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens.
Stephens made state and national headlines when she became the first African American woman elected sheriff in Texas. A grand jury in Chambers County indicted her for a State Jail Felony of Tampering With a Government Record and two Class A Misdemeanor charges stemming from her campaign in 2016.
During a hearing Thursday, Judge Randy McDonald in Chambers County decided to quash, or throw out, the felony indictment against Stephens, accusing her of changing the dollar amount of a contribution on a campaign finance form.
Stephens has maintained from the beginning she did nothing wrong and nothing was intentional.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office, which presented the case, says it may appeal the judge’s decision.
Jefferson County will now have to decide whether to pursue the felony case and that may be unlikely. A conviction on that State Jail Felony carries a possible punishment of up to 2 years in a state jail and up to a $10,000 fine.
The two Class A Misdemeanor campaign finance violations remain. The judge set a September 23 trial date in Chambers County on those. A conviction on that charge carries a possible punishment of up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
During the hearing, the judge told both the state and the defense he was most concerned about whether the Texas Attorney General had the jurisdiction to prosecute this case from Jefferson County.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or TECOLE, licenses peace officers.
KFDM/Fox 4 spoke with TECOLE spokeswoman Gretchen Grigsby. She says if someone is convicted of a felony, they lose their peace officer’s license. If convicted of a Class A Misdemeanor, a peace officer’s license would be suspended for a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of 10 years. There would be a hearing before an administrative law judge who makes a recommendation on how long a license is suspended. It then comes back to TECOLE Commissioners to make a final decision. It’s up to a local jurisdiction, in this case, Jefferson County, to determine if the person can continue serving while a license is suspended.