Hamilton County Commissioner Mark Tafel (Hamilton Herald-News photo)
HAMILTON (February 22, 2013)—Waco’s 10th Court of Appeals has reversed the conviction of a Hamilton County commissioner found guilty of unlawfully carrying a handgun into a commissioners court meeting.
Hamilton County Commissioner Mark Ken Tafel was originally indicted on two felony counts of carrying a concealed weapon in a prohibited place.
In June 2012 Tafel waived a jury trial in 220th District Court in Hamilton and retired visiting Judge Philip Zeigler found him not guilty on the two felony counts, but guilty on two misdemeanor counts of carrying a weapon into a public meeting.
Zeigler fined Tafel $1,500 on each count.
In the appeal Tafel's lawyers argued that the district court did not have proper jurisdiction on the misdemeanor counts and therefore erred in finding him guilty.
In their opinion Thursday the justices of the 10th court agreed.
The justices said, "The State (prosecution) did not inform the trial court or Tafel that the cases were misdemeanors involving official misconduct and that, therefore, the district court had jurisdiction over the charges.
"The parties acknowledged that the charges were misdemeanors and agreed that the District Court had jurisdiction.
"Subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be conferred by agreement of the parties; jurisdiction must be vested in a court by constitution or statute," the appeals court ruling said.
In conclusion, the court sent both convictions back to the 220th District Court.
"Because the trial court lacked jurisdiction to hear the causes, we vacate the judgments of the trial court and remand the causes to the district court.
"The district court is instructed to transfer the causes to the county court," the order said.
Tafel was arrested in November 2011 after the county sheriff caught him carrying two handguns into the Hamilton County Courthouse.
Tafel, a concealed handgun permit holder, said at the time the county judge had written a letter that authorized him to carry the weapons in the courthouse.
State law prohibits concealed handgun license holders from carrying weapons "in any government court or offices" unless written regulations permit concealed weapons or unless the license holder has written authorization.
A statement issued in November 2011 by Hamilton County Sheriff Gregg Bewley said Tafel was carrying a semi-automatic pistol under his clothing at the meeting and that when deputies arrested him during a recess, a second firearm was found.