A familiar face was missing from the Jan. 1 swearing-in ceremony at the Wood County Courthouse.
Former District Attorney Jim Wheeler, who won re-election to the office in November, apparently will not fulfill his term in office. The Texas Rangers opened an investigation of Wheeler on Oct. 10 for official oppression, about the same time he stepped down as district attorney. First Assistant Angela Albers has functioned as acting district attorney since Wheeler’s departure.
Longview Judge Alfonso Charles of the 124th Judicial District appointed Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd as acting prosecutor in the case involving Wheeler. Charles’ action stemmed from a complaint against Wheeler that Byrd turned over to the Texas Rangers on Oct. 9, according to the Department of Public Safety.
Meanwhile, the Wood County Commissioners Court voted on Dec. 28 to reduce the salary for the district attorney position by more than $15,000 per year. Instead of paying $20,400 toward the district attorney’s salary, the county will pay approximately $5,000, which is the same contribution the county makes toward the district judge’s salary. According to County Auditor Terry Sellars, the positions are considered state-level jobs, and the county supplements what the state pays. The commissioners believed that since the district attorney job was currently vacant, it was a good time to reduce the county’s contribution, according to Sellars.
Gov. Greg Abbott will appoint a district attorney to serve until 2020, when an election will be held to fill Wheeler’s remaining two years in office. Another election will then be held in 2022, to fill the unexpired term, according to the Texas Election Code.
John Whittman, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office, said Abbott is under no deadline to make an appointment. The Governor’s Office will take the appropriate amount of time to make sure the most qualified person is appointed. An appointments team will review applications, interview applicants and recommend one or two names to Abbott, Whittman said.