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of purchasing “stolen” missile guidance components for resale to Iran. The affair gained national media attention and landed Painter on ABC television’s Nightline where he hailed the operation as an effective blow against international arms smuggling. The case against the “arms traffickers” was eventually dropped for lack of evidence; the “missile components” had never existed. Painter’s flirtation with national fame continued over the next several years. In 1988, for example, his department was using its 296-C Hughes helicopter to round up seized cattle. It was, by all accounts, a calculated publicity stunt. With television cameras rolling and the assembled reporters scribbling, one of Painter’s deputies took to the skies. While hovering just four feet off the ground, the chopper’s skid was hooked by a cow’s horn, bringing the craft crashing to the ground. The wreck caused several thousand dollars damage and the helicopter never flew again. Once again the headlines blared. The supermarket tabloid The World featured an artist’s rendering of the incident on its cover. The Commissioner’s Court howled. The commissioners’ headaches had just begun, however. During this same period, Painter began the operations that would eventually lead to the present conflict with the Commissioners’ Court. Many of sheriff’s department’s “reverse stings,” in which undercover officers pose as drug dealers, were being conducted beyond the borders of Midland County and, in some cases, outside state lines. The commissioners concluded that these cross-border jaunts violated both the Texas Constitution and case law regarding jurisdictional authority. Moreover, they feared that such activities unnecessarily exposed the county to liability for which it cannot obtain insurance of any kind precisely because insurance companies, aware of these operations, flatly refuse coverage. The result, say the commissioners, is that the county is self-insured by default and could face the unpleasant prospect of having to float a bond issue or raise property taxes, should it be sued and lose. Battle Lines Drawn The issue came to a head in January of this year when the Dallas Morning News filed an Open Records Act request with the sheriff’s office seeking detailed information about the stings, including interoffice memoranda. Painter apparently failed to provided all the information requested, and the newspaper took him to court. The lawsuit was the last straw for the commissioners. On July 23 they issued a directive ordering Painter to “cease and desist any and all criminal investigation operations, reverse stings and narcotics operations being conducted outside Midland County.” Judge Seltzer also instructed the county auditor’s office “not … to pay any invoices” from the county’s General Fund or the Sheriff’s Office Drug Forfeiture Fund for travel outside of Texas by Painter or his deputies except for the extradition of prisoners or “approved education.” The commissioners did, however, allow certain legal exceptions, including “hot pursuit” of criminal suspects and serving arrest warrants issued in Midland County. Painter simply ignored the new restrictions, insisting they impeded his ability to run his department. “The directives … are ridiculous and certainly not in the best interest of the public, nor good law enforcement,” Painter wrote in a letter to the Commissioner’s Court. “It is obvious that some members of the court, and especially the county judge, have a tacit desire to take total control of the various county elected official positions,” including the sheriff’s office. The letter goes on to say that if Painter were to “succumb” to the commissioner’s stipulations, “I would be violating my oath of office and certainly my obligations to the citizens of Midland County…. I have no alternative but to ignore the document in its entirety.” On August 12, the commissioners responded by issuing a formal “Resolution Policy and Order” which essentially restated and en BARTHOLOMEW RICHARD larged upon their earlier directive. Citing the county’s “limited resources,” the order declares that “that all employees of Midland County shall perform their duties within the boundaries of Midland County, Texas.” It also prohibits any “official, agent, or employee of Midland County” from leaving the county’s boundaries “while in a duty status or in a compensatory leave status … without the express prior approval of the Commissioner’s Court.” The commissioners then list eight specific exceptions to these restrictions, allowing deputies to leave the county when in hot pursuit of a criminal suspect, to testify at court hearings, and so on. In an effort to enforce these policies through the power of the purse, the resolution states that the costs of any “unauthorized out-of-county operations, business, and/or travel will be deducted from the budget and/or salary of the official, agent, or employee during the next succeeding or some subsequent pay period.” The order also says that the Commissioners’ Court will not defend or provide any defense funds for any Midland County employee who carries out unauthorized out-of-county operations or makes an out of county trip. County Attorney Mark Dettman, defends the Commissioners’ Court’s actions as being within the scope of their duties. “They [the commissioners] have budgetary control over where he [Painter] goes,” Dettman told the Midland Reporter-Telegram. “If he goes anywhere, that’s his business. They are just saying they are not going to pay for it. That’s their privilege…. I think the order they drafted is perfectly legal and proper.” Initially, Painter grudgingly assented to the order, saying he would “abide” by it if it were proven “lawful” or until it is overruled or superseded by another order. Just two days later, however, on Aug. 14, he publicly rejected the resolution, calling both it and the earlier directive “asinine.” With that, Dettman, who represents both the commissioners and the sheriff’s department, entered the fray, seeking a legal opinion THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1 1 .:,60,