Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Local News

December 19, 2013

Fletcher’s initials on document

Officials don’t deny signature for Bentley written by former county court-at-law judge

RUSK — The Dec. 9 resignation of Cherokee County Court-at-Law Judge Craig Fletcher appears to be related in some capacity to a year-old court document that eased the restrictions on a convicted Rusk sex offender.

In that Dec. 12 document,  Fletcher signed in the name of Second Judicial District Judge Bascom W. Bentley III with the scribbled caveat "by permission CAF" directly

beneath it.

Fletcher's resignation immediately preceded the appointment of County Attorney Kelley Peacock as his immediate successor the same day it was accepted by Cherokee County Commissioners.  

Fletcher has gone off the grid since his resignation and has not responded to numerous requests for comment. He has, however, made updates on his Facebook account that do not address allegations but do specify he has a new job at University Land Clearing LLC of Rusk.

Bentley, meanwhile, has remained mum about the signature issue, even when asked directly in a Dec. 12 email if Fletcher had permission to sign his name on the sex offender document and if doing so was legally allowed by law.

Bentley's court coordinator, Tina Teetz, responded on his behalf — a week after a direct response was requested.

"Judge Bentley would not like to comment on this matter at this time," Teetz wrote in her Dec. 19 response.

An email inquiring as to the legalities of one judge signing for another also was submitted to the office of  Dallas County Justice of the Peace Steve Seider, who is listed as the chairman of the state commission of judicial conduct.  But as of a week later Seider had not responded.

After Fletcher's resignation was officially accepted,  a reserved Cherokee County District Attorney Rachel Patton confirmed a criminal investigation into Fletcher dates as far back as early October, shortly after she was informed of inappropriate professional behavior on the part of Fletcher that had the potential to have criminal implications.

Patton said she contacted the Texas Rangers and the Attorney General's office to request an independent outside investigation and possible prosecution.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety also confirmed that the Texas Rangers recently were asked to investigate Fletcher through a special prosecutor with the district attorney's office.

When asked directly if this signature or those documents had anything to do with the investigation, Patton responded, "The initial allegations I was made aware of did not involve a court order."

But she added, "What information or potential charges the subsequent investigation by separate, independent agencies may have turned up, I cannot speak to."

Tom Kelley, spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, was equally guarded in his comments when asked about the signature situation.

"I'm sorry," Kelley said in an email. "The matter was closed as far as our involvement, and no charges filed. So we cannot comment. If you want to consult a legal expert on the legality of signatures, you certainly may do so."

The sex offender whose restrictions were eased by virtue of the court action is listed in court documents as Rebecca Diann Blankinship, a former Rusk Independent School District nurse who pleaded guilty to having an improper relationship with a student — two counts of sexual assault of a child — in January 2010.

The case was prosecuted by DA Patton, when she was a first assistant district attorney for her predecessor, Elmer Beckworth.

As part of a plea agreement with Patton, Blankinship acknowledged her guilt on two counts of indecency with a child and two counts of improper relationship between an educator and a student.

She was sentenced to two years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for one of the counts of sexual assault of a child and received five years "unadjudicated" probation on the other count of sexual assault of a child.

As part of the plea agreement, Blankinship agreed to voluntarily relinquish her Texas nursing license, and she was required to comply with the Sex Offender Registration requirements for life.

Blankinship’s victim was a student of Rusk ISD while Blankinship served the district as nurse, the DA's office announced at the time.

The Dec. 2012 order signed by Fletcher using Judge Bentley's name modified the terms and conditions to community supervision rendered in January 2010 allowing Blankinship to attend extracurricular, religious or school-related activities with her biological children with a chaperone approved by her supervision officer.

She also will be allowed to use the Internet and to pick up and drop off her biological children.

Since authorities are declining to discuss the court document and Fletcher's signature, it was not clear Thursday if its presence on the document modifying Blankinship's community supervision is still legal.

Blankinsip was not at the home address listed for her in Cherokee County sex offender records when a reporter stopped by for comment Thursday.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Jacksonville College, high schools team up to offer dual credit program

    Jacksonville College is currently offering qualifying high school juniors and seniors attending Jacksonville and New Summerfield ISDs and The Brookhill School in Bullard the opportunity to get head start on their higher education.

    April 18, 2014

  • JISD board members to consider district strategic plan

    The Jacksonville ISD Board of Trustees will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 21, to discuss a district strategic plan and consider buying new band uniforms.

    April 18, 2014

  • 2 men arrested after standoff in grocery store

    Two men were arrested early Wednesday morning after a standoff at the B&B Foods in Alto.
    According to Alto Police Chief Jeremy Jackson, a person reported seeing two black males at the store just before 3 a.m. Wednesday.

    April 17, 2014

  • Some area entities closed for holiday

    Many area offices and businesses will be closed Friday in observance of Good Friday and Easter.

    April 17, 2014

  • Dispatcher Enge 0416.tif JPD dispatcher killed in wreck

    A dispatcher for the Jacksonville Police Department was killed Monday on her way to work, according to officials.
    Amber Enge, 35, of Whitehouse was pronounced dead at the scene of a one-vehicle wreck Monday afternoon on CR 2177 in Whitehouse.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • CR speed limit changes, E-filling fee top agenda

    On Monday, Cherokee County commissioners set April 28 to hold public hearings concerning the changing speed limits on two county roads.

    April 16, 2014

  • Catherine look.tif Religious lines drawn: Protesters met by members of Church of Wells

    Other than a few community members' voices that rose above the crowd, the protest Saturday against the Church of Wells remained peaceful.

    April 15, 2014 3 Photos

  • HOPE event Pic 433.tif Folks attend weekend fundraiser for H.O.P.E.

    It was an evening fit for royalty, as supporters of the Helping Others Pursue Enrichment (H.O.P.E.) program gathered Saturday at The Castle on the Lake outside Jacksonville for “A Renaissance Evening.”

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Church Member looks.tif Church of Wells members attend protest

    About 30 members of the Church of Wells arrived at a protest Saturday. The event was planned after an incident at Wells Homecoming Day on April 5 where the church loudly "street preached" causing a disruption. Three of the church members were injured by two men at the parade. On Saturday, the event was peaceful, despite a few loud voices.

    See the complete story and photos in the next edition of the Daily Progress on Tuesday, April 15.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • ScholarshipAwards.tif 5 receive scholarships from Chamber’s Agri-Business Committee

    The Agri-Business Committee of the Jacksonville Chamber recently awarded five $1,000 scholarships at the Annual Cherokee County Junior Livestock Show on March 29.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo