Former BISD electrician will face state charges, appeals court rules

Calvin Walker

Barring a successful appeal to a higher court, former Beaumont Independent School District electrician Calvin Walker will stand trial in Jefferson County for crimes prosecutors say he orchestrated against the school district and the city of Port Arthur while he worked for the public entities and collected taxpayer funding in the millions.

Walker was arrested pursuant to the charges in July 2014, on the heels of a six-count indictment filed by then Jefferson County Criminal District Attorney Cory Crenshaw. According to information released from the DA’s office, Walker was indicted on four felony charges of securing execution of a document by deception and two felony charges of money laundering. The indictments allege that, from Dec. 23, 2008, through Sept. 10, 2009, Walker submitted fraudulent invoices to both BISD and the city of Port Arthur resulting in the contractor being “compensated for labor, materials, and other expenses which were never incurred concerning his work as a contractor on various projects, including temporary campuses at BISD’s South Park and Regina Howell schools, a softball field at Ozen, and Port Arthur parks.”

Walker, who faced similar federal charges in 2012, filed a motion with Jefferson County Judge John Stevens to dismiss the case on the grounds of double jeopardy, claiming that the most recent prosecution was just an attempt to get a second chance at presenting the same case. Stevens ruled without a hearing that precedent upheld the state’s argument that federal prosecution and state prosecution are sovereign of one another and jeopardy is not attached between the two.

Walker, through attorney Dick DeGuerin, appealed Stevens’ ruling to the Court of Appeals, Ninth District of Texas at Beaumont in January 2015. Justices from the Ninth Court of Appeals handed down their ruling Wednesday, March 9, upholding Stevens’ prior decision.

Ninth Court Justice Charles Kreger delivered the three-judge appeal court’s opinion, a consolidated ruling on all six of Walker’s pending cases.

“In his sole issue,” Kreger wrote of all six counts, “Walker contends that the trial court erred by ruling on Walker’s pretrial petitions … without conducting an evidentiary hearing and without notifying Walker of its intent to rule without a hearing.” Kreger and fellow justices determined that Stevens was within the scope of the law to rule without a hearing – and, furthermore, the rationale behind Stevens’ ruling was also in accordance with the law in that the state and federal governments are not bound to each other by double jeopardy.

“Walker alleged that the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office, in bringing its six state prosecutions against Walker, was being used as a mere tool of federal authorities who were dissatisfied with the outcome of Walker’s federal trial and that the state’s cases are nothing more than a ‘sham and cover’ for what is essentially a second federal prosecution for the same acts,” Kreger surmised from Walker’s assertions, before agreeing with Stevens’ prior determination that there is “no direct, affirmative evidence demonstrating that the six pending state felony indictments at issue resulted from (a) one independent sovereign [i.e., the federal prosecutor in Beaumont] manipulating another independent sovereign [i.e., the Jefferson County District Attorney] into prosecuting (Walker) in state court, (b) the state and the federal prosecutor being the same person, or (c) (Walker’s) initial federal prosecution being used as ‘a cover or tool’ for (his) subsequent state prosecution in Jefferson County ...”

Additionally, the appeals court agreed that, based on Walker’s petitions, he “is entitled to no relief whatever.”

Walker’s attorney, DeGuerin, said the court of appeals ruling was “disappointing.”

“There is a higher court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, we can apply to,” DeGuerin said of possible strategy moving forward. “We haven’t decided if we’re going to do that yet, though.”

DeGuerin said he would likely know what the next step is for Calvin Walker by the end of the week. However, it would be several weeks before a response is due to the court, he added.

“I don’t have any doubt,” he further wanted to say on the record, that, despite the appeals court ruling, the most recent prosecution of his client is still tantamount to double jeopardy.

Former DA Crenshaw has never seen it that way.

“The United States is a sovereign. The great state of Texas is a sovereign,” Crenshaw said shortly after the 2014 Walker indictment. “Case law and Supreme Court precedent allow individuals to be charged in both state and federal court when their conduct violates the laws of both sovereigns. This practice is not uncommon. No prior state court in Texas has adjudicated Mr. Walker on the conduct alleged in the indictments returned against him; … therefore, double jeopardy simply does not apply.”

After the Ninth Court of Appeals ruling, Crenshaw, now County Court at Law No. 2 Judge, reaffirmed his prior stance.

“This appeal was just another example of Calvin Walker’s ongoing attempt to escape justice by sugar coating his criminality and blaming others,” Crenshaw said.

“I’m pleased the Court of Appeals saw through this and now our community looks to Bob Wortham to finally bring Calvin Walker to justice.”

Crenshaw’s successor, District Attorney Bob Wortham, said he is ready to pursue justice in this case.

“We are glad we have the opportunity to go forward with this case,” Wortham said. “The citizens need this case to go forward, and the citizens deserve for a decision to be rendered in this case.”

Wortham said, although he did not present this case for indictment, he has been preparing to assist with the prosecutorial team moving forward. The team includes Wortham, and assistant district attorneys Wayln Thompson and Cory Kneeland at this point, although more manpower will be added if needed, he said.

“We’re ready to move forward,” Wortham emphasized. “We just need to get our witnesses in and we’ll be able to proceed whenever the case is placed on the docket.”

Wortham said that it is unlikely Walker will get another appeals court to intervene at this point, especially given the Ninth Court of Appeals’ ruling.

“We expected this would be the opinion of the court,” he said. “It is very strong and, we felt, very clear, to the point, and followed the law we thought the court would follow.

“It’s easy to follow. This law is so well established and the opinion is written in such a manner you don’t have to be a lawyer to understand it.

“Well done, Court of Appeals.”

Should no stay of prosecution be granted, the case will likely proceed to trial within the next few months, Wortham surmised based on typical court docket scheduling. If convicted, Walker faces up to life in prison on each charge due to the amount of fraud being in excess of $200,000, according to the District Attorney’s office.