With a courtroom filled with supporters seated behind her, former Brown County Tax Assessor-Collector Linda Lewis Parker pleaded no contest Monday in 35th District Court to taking $11,762 in county funds and was placed on five years probation.

District Judge Steve Ellis also fined Parker, 53, $5,000 after convicting her of theft by a public servant, a third degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Her attorney sought to avoid a felony conviction.

Parker also pleaded no contest to a second charge of “false name, false information and forgery.” Authorities alleged in an indictment that Parker provided “false or incorrect information” on an application for a vehicle title on which the down payment was listed as a rebate, court documents state. She paid $345 less in sales tax than she was supposed to, it was alleged.

In that case, also a third degree felony, Ellis placed her on five years deferred adjudication, meaning she will not have a conviction on her record if she completes probation. The sentences will run concurrently, Ellis ordered.

Several current and former elected officials testified on Parker’s behalf in an effort to mitigate the court’s sentence.

“Are you sorry for what you did?” Parker’s attorney, Robert Glasgow of Stephenville, asked her after she took the witness stand.

“I’m very sorry for what happened,” Parker said. “I think I failed.”

Parker, while not disputing that she took the money, offered no explanation as to why. After the sentencing, she told reporters, “The only thing I want to say is, I just really have enjoyed serving Brown County all these years. It really has been a pleasure.”

Parker, who was first elected to office in 1996, was suspended without pay in April, after she was arrested. Her attorney said Monday she had signed an agreement to immediately resign from office.

District Attorney Micheal Murray did not seek jail time but asked Ellis to convict her, saying she had breached the public’s trust.

Glasgow said a felony conviction would cost Parker her job of shuttling Santa Fe Railway workers to work sites, since she would lose her security clearance.

“When someone commits a crime, it’s not just a dumb mistake,” Ellis said, referring to Glasgow’s earlier statement that Parker acted stupidly in committing the theft.

“(In) the theft case, I cannot in good conscience give you deferred adjudication,” Ellis told Parker. “I wish personally that I could, but I can’t. I cannot ignore the total evidence here.

“ … You will pay your debt to society. You can hold your head up. … But there are consequences when you violate the public’s trust and you did that. If I could change that, I would.”

Before Ellis assessed the sentence, Murray presented the court with a written statement that Parker gave to Texas Ranger Nick Hanna in March 2006, a few days after Hanna began investigating the theft of the county funds.

Parker said in the statement that she took the money and could not say why, but said she was sorry. Parker said in the statement that she kept back cash that was supposed to be deposited in the bank, then tried to make up the shortfall later.

Background

An investigation began after officials realized deposits from Parker’s office were coming up missing, Hanna testified.

Vance Hill, an investigator for the district attorney’s office, testified that Parker at first claimed employees in her office were attempting to set her up. Parker wanted to fire one of the employees but didn’t when Brown County Judge Ray West advised against it, Hill testified.

Around that time, authorities said earlier, Parker told officials she didn’t take the money but offered to repay it. Parker has said she obtained a personal loan to repay the missing funds.

She said she turned the money over to authorities, who placed it in an escrow account.

A grand jury, meanwhile, returned sealed indictments against Parker in April, and she was arrested. In an interview after her arrest, Parker told the Bulletin she was innocent.

Also in April, a civil suit was filed seeking her removal from office. Visiting Judge V. Murray Jordan suspended Parker from office without pay pending the outcome of the case.

Parker hired a lawyer, stopped giving media interviews and virtually disappeared from public view. She went to work for Kansas-based Renzenberger Inc., which contracts with Santa Fe to transport railroad workers.

Murray had said his office was in plea negotiations with Parker’s attorney but it was never certain whether Parker would accept the deal Murray offered — probation with a conviction, it was revealed Monday in court.

Her day in court

Parker, wearing a gray suit and black turtleneck sweater, entered a packed courtroom Monday at 2:40 p.m. She was thinner, and her long red hair had been cut collar-length.

Spectators also included employees of the tax assessor-collector’s office and other courthouse offices.

After Murray presented the state’s evidence, Glasgow elicited testimony from former District Judge Ernest Cadenhead, former Brown County Sheriff Bill Donahoo, Justice of the Peace Walter B. Croft, former Brown County Democratic Party Chairman John Lee Blagg and Eastland County Tax Assessor-Collector Sandy Cagle.

“She’s a fine person,” said Cadenhead, who with the other witnesses said Parker was worthy of receiving deferred adjudication.

When Parker took the stand, Glasgow said, “now, Linda, you have done some stupid things. Do you understand that?”

“Yes,” Parker replied. “ … I’m taking responsibility.”

Glasgow told Parker to “tell the judge what’s in your heart.”

“What’s in my heart — I’ve always tried to do the responsible thing …” Parker replied.

Murray, questioning Parker on cross-examination, asked her to look at her written statement to Hanna. Murray asked her if she’d said “in no uncertain terms” that she’d taken the money and was responsible.

“Correct,” Parker replied.

“Do you have an explanation to offer the court?” Murray asked.

“I do not,” Parker said.

Parker said she’d never blamed any specific employees for trying to set her up and said she’d never wanted to fire anyone over the matter.

“There were some hard feelings. I never said there was a conspiracy,” Parker said.

Murray asked Parker if she’d had problems with drugs or alcohol or had abused prescription drugs. Parker said she had not.

Ellis then questioned Parker. “‘I can’t tell you where the money went,’” Ellis said, reading from her statement to Hanna. “Can you tell me, as you sit here today, what happened to the thousands of dollars you admitted to taking?”

“No,” Parker said.

Glasgow told Ellis that Parker “has committed a theft and that’s just stupid on her part.” He asked Ellis to structure a punishment that fit Parker and did not include a felony conviction. “She’s still human, she’s still frail. She’s just like the rest of us.”

He said Parker’s request was “give me another chance and I’ll show you what I can do.”

Murray disagreed, saying her actions warranted conviction. “Certainly there is a matter of a breech of public trust,” Murray told Ellis. He said the public expects much more of a public servant who, he said, should be “a beacon of responsibility.” He said the public should feel confident that there is no abuse of public office.

Murray said he’d hoped Parker would come into court and tell why she took the money.

After the sentencing, Glasgow said, “I think Linda’s not a criminal. … I don’t think Linda’s a thief.” He said she’d always intended to give the money back and “she never intended the county to lose any money.”