Case reinstated against sheriff's department, again

David Yates Mar. 17, 2010, 10:30am

In March 2006, Walter Harris sued the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department after a motorist ran a red light and struck the prison transport vehicle in which he was captive.

Since being filed, the case has been dismissed twice and now reinstated twice � thanks to a March 15 ruling crafted by Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th Judicial District.

Court documents show that on March 25, 2004, Harris was in custody of the Sheriff's Department in the city of George West while being transported to the Jefferson County Correctional Facility in Beaumont by two deputies.

While passing through a George West intersection, Jeffery Estep � a codefendant in the suit � ran a red light and broadsided the sheriff's vehicle.

Four years following the incident, the Sheriff's Department filed a plea to the jurisdiction � arguing that it had governmental immunity and also that a police investigation showed Estep was responsible for causing the collision.

Judge Shuffield found the motion meritorious and ordered the Sheriff's Department dismissed from the suit on Oct. 30, 2008.

However, Harris' attorney, Charles Hornsby, filed a motion for a new trial � arguing that deputies were injured in the course of their employment and received compensation.

His motion states that the Sheriff's Department had "subjective awareness" of the incident and owed a duty to his client to keep him safe.

On April 29, 2008, Judge Shuffield reinstated the case.

More than a year later, on Dec. 29, 2009, Judge Suffield dismissed the case again � this time for want of prosecution.

Court records show that the plaintiff failed to attend a docket-call hearing on Dec. 18.

In response, Hornsby filed a motion to reinstate, pleading with the judge that the absence was unintentional since he was unaware of the hearing and out of the office for the holidays.

Hornsby says in his motion that he routinely checks the court's Web site for trial settings and "through inadvertence or mistake," he missed the setting notice.

Court records show that the Sheriff's Department has sought sanctions against Hornsby for failing to respond to discovery request.

The department is represented in part by Steven Wiggins, assistant district attorney.

A hearing to reinstate was held March 15. Judge Shuffield verbally ordered the case back on the docket.

Case No. D176-688

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