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Former Warden Wins Suit Against TDCJ

An Anderson County, Texas, jury found that former Beto I Unit warden Terry Terrell was fired because he reported corruption and violations of the law by other employees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

The jury deliberated for nearly four hours before awarding Terrell, $100,000 for mental anguish, $53,670 for lost earnings, and $132,213 in attorney fees. Terrell's attorney, Bob Thomas, said the entire verdict will earn 10 percent interest dating back to six months after Terrell was fired in July 1991.

The former warden filed suit in 1991 under the Whistleblower Act alleging that he was fired in retaliation for filing three complaints against then-Northern Regional TDCJ Director Marshal Herklotz. Terrell accused Herklotz of trying to intimidate witnesses and derail an investigation. The investigation had been started by Terrell who charged a TDCJ major with failing to prevent the stabbing of a prisoner after he had received information that the prisoner was in mortal danger.

Terrell also wrote letters to then-TDCJ board chairman Seldon Hale and Gov. Ann Richards complaining of corruption within the TDCJ. In a meeting with Hale, Terrell accused then-prison director Andy Collins of falsifying payroll records and misapplying state travel funds.

Court testimony revealed that TDCJ Internal Affairs investigated and its findings did not support any of Terrell's allegations.

During the trial, Seldon Hale was asked why he had resigned from the TDCJ board. Hale said that when reports surfaced that a board member was being investigated about working for a company the TDCJ had contracted with, he resigned to keep bad publicity from hurting governor Richards.

In 1993, an Anderson County jury ruled that Terrell was fired out of malice and awarded him $700,000 in damages -- $445,508 for lost earnings and $250,000 punitive damages. However, that verdict was reversed by the 12th circuit court of appeals and remanded for retrial.

In his closing statement to jurors in the second trial, Thomas asked for lost earnings of $644,000, a figure he said was calculated by an economist. Assistant A.G. Phil Marrus argued, however, that Terrell is better off financially today. While he was making $54,000 a year as a TDCJ senior warden in 1991, Terrell currently earns $74,000 annually as a warden of a private prison in Louisiana. He said of the $644,000 the economist calculated in lost earnings $550,000 was related to unpaid prisoner labor which cared for Terrell's state-owned house and lawn.

"It's unseemly to me to come in here and tell you that is a loss to him over the next twenty years,'' Marrus told the jury. "He has to mow his yard. How many of us don't? He has to trim his hedges. How many of us don't?"

Marrus argued that the Whistleblower Act wasn't designed to protect people who make unfounded allegations, and there was no evidence of Terrell's allegations.

Thomas told the jury that the TDCJ Internal Affairs division investigated Terrell's allegations against Herkhlotz, but not those against Collins, who is currently the focus of a federal grand jury probe investigating widespread TDCJ corruption which occurred while Collins was in charge of the Texas prison system.

Palestine Herald-Press

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