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Becker-Ross v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Sixth District, Texarkana

January 13, 2020

ROSENA BECKER-ROSS, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

          Date Submitted: December 10, 2019

          On Appeal from the 4th District Court Rusk County, Texas Trial Court No. CR19-096

          Before Morriss, C.J., Burgess and Stevens, JJ.

          OPINION

          RALPH K. BURGESS JUSTICE

         A Rusk County jury found Rosena Becker-Ross guilty of three counts of abuse of official capacity, all Class A misdemeanors. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 39.02(b). The trial court imposed jury-recommended community supervision and, in accordance with the jury's verdicts, ordered her to pay a $1, 000.00 fine and two $500.00 fines as a term and condition of her community supervision.

         On appeal, Becker-Ross argues that (1) the evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury's findings of guilt, (2) the trial court erred in denying her motion to quash the information, and (3) the jury charge erred in including an instruction on the law of parties. We find the evidence legally sufficient to support the jury's verdicts. We also conclude that the trial court properly denied Becker-Ross's motion to quash and that there was no error in the jury charge. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgments.

         I. Factual Background

         The State alleged that Becker-Ross, a city administrator for the City of Mount Enterprise, Texas (City), pressured the city marshal, Parker Sweeney, to write a certain number of traffic tickets within a specified period even though traffic-offense quotas are illegal. The evidence at trial described how and why the offenses were committed.

         James Reese, a retired state trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety, testified that he had served as city councilman for the City for several years, was recently elected to Place 5 of the city council, and had studied the City's budget. According to Reese, from October 2017 through September 2018, $210, 000.00 of the City's total $386, 487.31 budget was collected through payment of traffic fines.

         Reese testified that, as a result of the City's dependence on traffic tickets as a source of revenue, part of the city marshal's job required him to provide Becker-Ross with "weekly and monthly report of warrants worked, daily logs, collection calls, and moneys collected." Reese testified that Becker-Ross was the highest-paid City employee and made a salary of $55, 800.00 for thirty-two hours of work per week.

         Reese also testified that the city council never imposed a ticket quota on the prior marshal, David Collins. However, Reese went on to say that Becker-Ross "approached the council several times . . . and told [them] that [the prior] marshal wasn't writing enough tickets." Reese and the Mayor testified that the city council reduced Becker-Ross's pay due to the tight City budget. Reese further testified that Collins retired, and Cody Rollins took his position. However, according to Reese, Rollins did not stay in his position long.

         The State introduced an audio recording of a telephone call wherein Becker-Ross told Sweeney that the budget was short by $150, 000.00 because Rollins had failed to write enough traffic tickets and that the city council was ready to fire Rollins as a result. Becker-Ross also asked Sweeney if he would like to be the new city marshal. On the audio recording, Becker-Ross said that "the City Council was wanting" more traffic tickets. On May 15, 2018, Sweeney was hired as city marshal. Sweeney testified that, after the call, he believed Rollins was "fired for not writing enough citations" and that he would be expected to write more traffic tickets if he took the job. Sweeney testified that he recorded the call because Rollins warned him "there was a little bit of . . . a push for traffic citations." Yet, despite Becker-Ross's demand that he write more traffic citations, Sweeny accepted the city marshal job because he believed he "could show them where it was illegal and change it."

         Nevertheless, the evidence showed that Becker-Ross was relentless in pushing Sweeny to write more traffic citations. Just a few days after his hire, Becker-Ross texted, "[W]e have to get revenue back up first so . . . when will you be able to start writing tickets." The month after his hire, she wrote that the City had "over 36, 000 cars a day come through." She continued, "[T]hat's why Council doesn't understand why tickets aren't written. As you know that many can't all follow the rules." On another call, Becker-Ross said, "[I]f we get that revenue in there we'll be good, because we can't have no more negative . . . . The warrant money is what's keeping us going. We just got to have more tickets." Becker-Ross reminded Sweeney that "they" fired Rollins because he was not writing enough tickets. Sweeney assumed Becker-Ross was referring to the city council.

         Sweeney received text messages from Becker-Ross telling him that the City needed "at least twenty to forty [tickets] each week." Sweeney recorded audio of Becker-Ross harassing him several times to "get that ticket count up," warning him that the city council said he was on probation, and threatening him by saying, "If you don't get tickets up you ain't going to be City Marshall, do you hear me?" Becker-Ross also told him to write more tickets because he had "to pay for that salary," that "Johnny" from the city council looked every week to see how many tickets were being written, and that the city council would not wait six months to fire Sweeney if he did not get the ticket count up. Becker-Ross texted Sweeney, "[A] couple of tickets a day is not going to do it. I tried telling [Rollins] this but he wouldn't listen until it was too late. . . . Like I told you before the City Marshal position you need to have thirty to fifty tickets each Monday." She also texted that the ticket counts were "still not bringing in enough to pay [Sweeney's] salary" and that "fourteen tickets . . . . [was] not enough to justify having the City Marshal position."

         Sweeney testified that he feared he would lose his job if he did not violate the law. He said that Becker-Ross "was running the show," that it "was very clear [the city council] voted every way she wanted to at every meeting," and that "everybody looked towards her before a vote was made." According to Sweeney, Becker-Ross "would tell her opinion on how the vote need[ed] to go and that's the way it went." Reese, the city attorney, and the mayor testified that Becker-Ross had no authority over Sweeney. However, Sweeney said that the mayor and city council member Judy Cox told him he needed to listen to and do whatever Becker-Ross said.

         To put an end to the ticket quota, Sweeney copied Section 720.002 of the Texas Transportation Code and showed it to Becker-Ross and the city council during a meeting. Sweeney testified, "I . . . explained to them that what we were doing is illegal and also I showed Ms. [Becker-]Ross on more than one occasion but also at that same meeting." Nevertheless, the pressure to write tickets did not stop. Sweeny added, "I even had meetings with the mayor and mayor pro tem trying to change it but it didn't." Sweeney was fired.[1]

         David Roberts, a sergeant with the Rusk County Sheriff's Department, testified that Becker-Ross turned herself in after she was charged in this case. According to Roberts, before she was booked into the jail, Becker-Ross said, "I won't be the only one going down." Roberts reported this statement to the investigating Texas Ranger, Chris Baggett. Baggett testified that imposition of traffic quotas was prohibited by Section 720.002 of the Texas Transportation Code. According to Baggett, the text messages from Becker-Ross to Sweeney showed that Sweeney "was being driven to write a certain amount of tickets, not traffic contacts, not warnings, but tickets and that that position was created as a revenue stream."

         After hearing the evidence, the jury found Becker-Ross guilty of all three ...


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