McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis (right) administers the oath of office to Randy Riggs. (Photo by John Carroll)
WACO (September 18, 2012)—Former Waco City Councilman Randy Riggs, who successfully challenged McLennan County Tax-Assessor A. F. “Buddy” Skeen in the GOP primary in June and then defeated Jeff Nickell in the party’s runoff in July, was sworn in as Skeen’s replacement late Tuesday afternoon.
Earlier Tuesday afternoon, Skeen interrupted jury selection in his trial and pleaded guilty to misapplication of fiduciary property, one of several charges he faces, but the only charge for which he was to have been tried this week.
Skeen also resigned his office effective immediately.
McLennan County Commissioners met in emergency session at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and named Riggs, who is unopposed in November, to fill the vacant post.
The vacancy was the third that commissioners filled Tuesday.
Tuesday morning they selected retired banker Scott Felton to complete the term of retiring County Judge Jim Lewis and former McLennan County Treasurer Bill Helton to succeed Danny Volcik, who resigned after less than two years in the post.
Volcik defeated Helton in November 2010 and assumed office in January 2011.
While commissioners met, the selection of a jury continued in state district court to decide Skeen’s punishment.
There was no immediate word on the status of the other charges.
Skeen entered the plea after retired State District Judge Ed Magre of Milam County denied a defense motion seeking to bar State District Judge Matt Johnson from presiding over Skeen’s trial.
The recusal motion filed Monday sought Johnson’s removal because he, his wife and his children are McLennan County residents and by extension victims of the breach of fiduciary duty of which Skeen is accused.
The motion also cited an exchange during a meeting Friday in chambers involving a prosecution motion to amend Skeen’s indictment in which the defense claims Johnson threatened to “stack” Skeen’s sentences if Skeen exercised his right to 10 additional days to prepare for trial.
Jury selection was underway Monday morning when Skeen's defense attorneys asked Johnson to step down, but he refused
Magre was named to decide the recusal motion.
His ruling Tuesday cleared the way for resumption of jury selection with Johnson presiding.
Skeen, 69, is charged with one count of abuse of official capacity, five counts charging misappropriation of fiduciary property and additional counts stemming from the alleged misuse of his office.
His attorneys are also asking that the trial be moved out of Waco because of excessive pretrial media coverage.
Johnson deferred a ruling Friday on the request and said he would assess the impact of media coverage of Skeen's arrest and indictment as prospective jurors were vetted.
Monday he presented prospective jurors with a special questionnaire as jury selection began intended to gauge the panel's prior knowledge of the case.
Skeen was arrested in December 2011 on warrants charging theft by a public servant and false name, information and forgery after the McLennan County Grand Jury indicted him.
McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna said the charges stemmed from a false statement on a motor vehicle title application and the theft of accessories from a county-owned vehicle that were installed on Skeen's personal vehicle.
In April he was named in six new indictments, along with a woman who works for him.
The charges included one count of abuse of official capacity and five counts charging misappropriation of fiduciary property.
Dorothy Ramos, a top deputy in the tax assessor-collector's office, was indicted for abuse of official capacity.
Texas Rangers served a warrant on Skeen's office on July 20, 2011 searching for records to support an investigation involving allegations that Skeen fraudulently listed a county-owned vehicle as a trade-in for the purchase of a personal pickup truck to avoid paying more than $1,300 in sales tax.