Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff, left, and District Attorney Sherri Tibbe, right. File photos.
By SEAN BATURA
Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff and Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe have filed no formal responses to a lawsuit initiated in August by Kevin Ficke, the former supervisor of the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) criminal investigations division who resigned in June.
Ficke’s attorney, Chad Dunn, said his client and the defendants are discussing an out-of-court settlement option, and said the lawsuit will proceed if an agreement cannot be reached.
In his original petition, Ficke alleges that “a nasty public political battle” between Ratliff and Tibbe resulted in Ficke’s discharge from the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) “for no valid or lawful reason.” Ficke said he was “forced” to resign by Ratliff after Tibbe said Ficke could never offer credible testimony in future criminal cases.
Ficke said he notified Ratliff of two criminal charges against himself before becoming employed by Hays County. Ficke was never convicted of the charges — the first was expunged from his record and the latter was dismissed for deferred adjudication and sealed pursuant to a judge’s nondisclosure order. Consequently, records pursuant to the both charges are not available from the court system, and neither Tibbe nor any attorney involved in the prior cases agreed to reveal the nature of the charges.
San Marcos Local News filed an open records request to obtain written communications sent and received by Tibbe regarding the charges. Tibbe refuses to release the material unless the state attorney general rules that she must disclose it.
Ficke alleges Tibbe contended that information regarding his past criminal charges constitutes “Brady material,” or exculpatory information attorneys are legally obligated to disclose to the court and defense. In his original petition, Ficke disputed that the information must be so disclosed, saying Tibbe made an issue of the charges for the purpose of “political retribution” against Ratliff.
“Plaintiff suffered a loss of his job as well as a loss his ability to obtain gainful employment as a result of Defendants’ disclosures,” states Ficke’s original petition.
Ficke said he took a job with the HCSO after receiving assurances from Ratliff that the charges would not be held against him. Ficke began work at Hays County in May 2009 after serving in the Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Office for 15 years.
“Before Kevin Ficke came to work here, there was a long meeting, with lawyers present in the meeting, where all of this was discussed and hashed out,” said San Marcos attorney Charles Soechting, the former state Democratic Party chairman. “And Kevin was told this was not a problem. He left a job based upon those representations that this was not a problem. What the sheriff did is wrong. I’m not a lawyer on the case. I’m Kevin Ficke’s friend and I was his lawyer back in the day — and apparently the only one who understood that when a judge says don’t talk about something, you don’t talk about it. Apparently, I’m the only one who understood that when a case is dismissed, it’s dismissed. As the sheriff is known to say, in law enforcement you have to make split second decisions. And that’s true. But that’s when it comes to choices such as using deadly force and the like. It doesn’t come to personnel matters. You stop to think those through. That’s what he didn’t do. He should have at least taken the time to find out what was going on. There are just a million things that he could have done that he just did not do.”
Ratliff declined to discuss the matter, citing his department’s policy of not commenting on personnel issues and pending litigation involving the county.
Tibbe refused to comment on the matter on similar grounds, though she offered the following statement provided to multiple media outlets: “The recent allegations of a so-called public feud between Sheriff Ratliff and myself are unfounded and unrealistic. Furthermore, the idea that Mr. Ficke’s resignation was the result of any political disagreement between Sheriff Ratliff and myself is misguided and, in my opinion, deliberately calculated in an attempt to establish a legitimate basis for a lawsuit where one does not exist. Our agencies have worked well together since the time Sheriff Ratliff took office and continue to do so. While I am prohibited from addressing Mr. Ficke’s specific situation, I can say that as a prosecutor, I have an obligation to ensure the integrity of the criminal justice system. The public must be able to trust that investigations and prosecutions in this county are conducted in a manner that is both ethical and in compliance with the rule of law. Our juries must be able to trust in the system and the people who run it. I fully intend to do what I think is right in order to meet this obligation and will continue to do so in the future.”
On Nov. 2, Ratliff lost his bid to finish out the unexpired term of the late Sheriff Allen Bridges, who died in Dec. 2008, one month after he won re-election. The Hays County Commissioners Court voted, 4-1, to appoint Ratliff, who vowed to run for the remainder of the term in 2010.
Along with Ratliff, three of the Democratic commissioners who voted to appoint him were sent home last week by Hays County voters. Ratliff lost to Gary Cutler (R-Driftwood), who will take the office when the vote is canvassed next week.
Tibbe (D-Buda) was re-elected without an opponent in last week’s election.
Soechting, a former state trooper, said Ficke became “a very fine officer with an excellent career and an excellent reputation.” Soechting said someone from the Hays County District Attorney’s Office recently sent personnel-related documents regarding Ficke — including documents mentioning Ficke’s previous charges — to Guadalupe County’s district attorney’s office for the purpose of preventing Ficke from obtaining employment with Guadalupe County.
“It was a mean-spirited and unlawful act that someone engaged in,” Soechting said. “It was done in violation of a judge’s order, it was done in violation of the county’s own employment standards, and it was done knowing that it would cause Mr. Ficke to lose his employment benefits with Hays County — and especially his health insurance. And whether it was known to Tommy Ratliff and Ms. Tibbe, Mr. Ficke has a family member with a very, very grave medical condition which he has now lost insurance to cover.”
Ficke could not be reached for comment and Dunn declined to discuss the matter further.
Soechting said he used to practice law with Dunn, who is general counsel for the Texas Democratic Party. Ratliff and Tibbe are Democrats.
“What do you think it took for the general counsel of the Democratic Party to sue two Democratic officeholders?” Soechting said.
Ficke’s suit names Ratliff, Tibbe, the HCSO and the District Attorney’s office as defendants, and states that he seeks damages.
“These damages include actual damages, expectancy damages, reliance damages, loss of value, punitive and exemplary damages,” states Ficke’s original petition. “Additionally, Plaintiff is entitled to pre and post judgment interest on the damages claimed. Pursuant to §§ 37.009 and 38.001 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, the Plaintiff seeks the recovery of reasonable and necessary attorney’s fees and expenses incurred in the prosecution of this action.”Email | Print