Go Directly to Jail

Probation officer Terry Hunt thinks prison is the best answer for every offender

After proving to Hunt and McSpadden that the polygraph examination revealed no such thing, the problem of how to rectify the situation came up.

"We're in a position where the probation had already been extended, and how do we fix that?" Denninger says. "No judge wants to get involved with early termination of probation, because there have been a couple of high-profile cases about that. And no one especially wants to early-terminate a sexual offender."

So the judge, the lawyer and Hunt worked out a deal where the client's additional year of probation would be served with the minimum of conditions: basically reporting to his field officer every three months.

But, Denninger says, Hunt refused to inform the field officer of the changed conditions despite repeated entreaties.

"I'd call him and call him, and he said he'd take care of it, but nothing would be done," Denninger says. "He repeatedly gives you information in this pompous sort of way that makes it appear like he knows what he's talking about, but the bottom line is that you can never tell when he's telling the truth because he always makes it sound like he is."

It wasn't until Denninger threatened to take his complaints to McSpadden, he says, that Hunt finally did what he had been ordered to do. It took four months of cajoling, Denninger says, until the change was made in February and his client could live under the less intrusive conditions.

Denninger takes pains to absolve McSpadden. "The judge treated me very well. When I told him what was happening, he took it at face value and treated the problem," Denninger says. (McSpadden's treatment involved talking to Hunt, but the officer still dragged his feet, Denninger says.)

Likewise, the former 209th prosecutor who tangled with Hunt says McSpadden was sympathetic.

"McSpadden knew about it, and he called Hunt in a couple of times," the prosecutor says. "Hunt would get better for a while, then he'd slip back to his old ways."

Jones isn't so enamored of McSpadden's actions. "I believe Judge McSpadden is protecting this individual," he says. "I believe he is intimidating to some extent the probation officials who cannot figure out what to do with Mr. Hunt.... When [probation officials] met with me, they said they were handling it, that they had admonished [Hunt] about the problem, and I had no reason to doubt their sincerity.

"I did not believe them when they said Judge McSpadden had not been involved in the decision, however," he adds.

Prominent defense attorney Stan Schneider, who refers to the CLO as "Judge Hunt," also believes the real judge of the 209th isn't completely oblivious to what's going on.

"Everyone needs a hatchet man, and [Hunt] serves a role," Schneider says. "No one wants to be a bad guy."

The usually loquacious McSpadden did not return phone calls about his longtime CLO.

Probation department chief Nancy Platt says she cannot talk about the specifics of Hunt's case.

Speaking generally, she says: "Anytime there's a complaint, we will immediately start investigating. Sometimes we will retrain the person, saying, 'You did something improper. If you do it again we're going to take corrective action.' That corrective action could include writing something up for the file, suspension or even termination."

People do not always file a complaint, however, she says. "If they don't complain to me or the department, it's frustrating. I hear about things from time to time, but without direct information it's hard to act on.... There are always two sides to every story, but we do not want folks out there not doing their job right."

She admits that sometimes there are probation officers who get a little overexcited. "But our staff cannot put people in jail. That is up to the judge and the prosecutor. All our staff can do is make the information available."

Acting aggressively to jail probationers "would not be acceptable," she says.

There are other attorneys out there who will talk about their run-ins with Hunt but don't want specifics published because of potential harm to their client. There are others, too, who say they have had no problems in the 209th.

Judge Godwin, the head criminal judge, says CLOs can sometimes fall victim to seeing too many cases. "All cases after a while have a certain sameness to them, and I believe that you constantly have to be vigilant against getting jaded," he says.

But sometimes disputes can be traced simply to personality conflicts, he says of the courthouse in general. "You're dealing with people, and there are good 'uns and bad 'uns.... All defendants want to go to the Betty Ford clinic, and no one wants to go to SAFP, and sometimes that can cause problems," he says.

Still, he says, "a CLO shouldn't say that there are no programs available and just that 'Your guy is going up the river.' That would be wrong."

Godwin didn't know the specifics of Hunt's case, so he wasn't expressing an opinion on whether the 209th's CLO had done what Godwin had just described as being wrong.

Jones, though, has no doubts. "I am certain," he says, "that people go to jail, lose jobs and suffer other major inconveniences because Mr. Hunt cannot or will not do his job properly and fairly."

E-mail Richard Connelly at rich_connelly@houston press.com.

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