Not guilty verdict for Liberty County commissioner accused of nepotism

Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski (File photo)

It took longer to pick a jury than to get a ‘not guilty’ verdict in the nepotism trial of Liberty County Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski on Monday in the 75th State District Court in Liberty County.

In the months leading up to the trial, the District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to dismiss the charge against Karbowski, citing a lack of evidence. However, the Honorable Mark Morefield, judge of the 75th State District Court, refused to dismiss the case, insisting that the allegations of wrongdoing be heard by a jury.

The charge of nepotism against Karbowski stems from the 8-month employment of the son of Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur. Arthur’s son was hired on a temporary basis as a welder on a project to build metal cabinets for the evidence room at the Liberty County Jail.

Since his indictment in August 2020, Karbowski has contended that before hiring Arthur’s son, he sought advice from the Liberty County Attorney’s Office and was given the green light on the hire. The County Attorney’s Office told Bluebonnet News previously that it found differing opinions on such a nepotism charge.

The trial on Monday began with zero evidence presented by the DA’s office, which sparked a blistering rebuke from Judge Morefield.

“Fifteen people on the grand jury heard the evidence. They believed there was probable cause that a crime had been committed and that this defendant committed that offense,” Morefield said.

Suggesting there is an “insidious virus” plaguing the legal justice system that allows for special treatment for some people, Morefield said, “In that particular group, there is a belief that there is a class of people who, based solely on who they are, who they are related to, how much money they have or their political affiliation or what public office they hold, that these people are entitled to special treatment. I do not cave to that. I have not been infected. This court has not been infected. I harken back to 200 years ago when Thomas Jefferson said that government’s most sacred duty is to give equal justice to all citizens. Special treatment does not equal justice.”

Assistant District Attorney Mark Boemio, who prosecuted the case, then told the judge that the DA’s office had done all the due diligence of the case and found itself at a place where they believed there were no facts to support a conviction.

Morefield responded by saying there were three reasons why he denied the motion to dismiss. First, that the grand jury, which initially saw the evidence, believed there was probable cause for a charge. Second, that the motion to dismiss was a “defense motion and was the same grounds that [defendant’s] counsel could have used to file a motion to quash.” Lastly, that the Court had asked the DA’s office to recuse itself from prosecuting the case and the DA would not consider appointment of a DA pro tem.

“Why is everybody so afraid of a second opinion?” Morefield asked.

Boemio and District Attorney Jennifer Bergman assured the judge that they had sought opinions from other district attorneys about the case and that the consensus was that a charge against Karbowski was unwarranted.

“I wanted an opinion from someone who had no association with this whatsoever,” Morefield said.

Boemio began to respond to the suggestion that the DA’s office should have recused itself, which seemed to only further anger the judge.

“Recuse my butt. What this is about is seeing that justice is done, not only for this defendant but also to the community at large. As a matter of fact, that is your only job – to see that justice is done,” Morefield said.

In response, Bergman told Morefield she had no grounds to recuse herself or her office. She assured the judge that her office had done every single thing it needed to do in this case and justice was their only motive.

“We have reviewed the case. I have had it reviewed by a number of DAs across the state,” she said.

Morefield told the DA that none of that information was shared with his office beforehand, to which Bergman replied, “I am not statutorily obligated to share with you everything that goes on in my office, nor will I do so.”

With no evidence for the jury to consider, Morefield had no choice then but to compel the jury to find Karbowski not guilty of the offense.

Less than 20 minutes later, the jury returned to the courtroom and presented Morefield with the ‘not guilty’ verdict. After apologizing to the jury for the earlier moments in the trial and thanking them for their service, Morefield then left the courtroom without further comment.

Karbowski’s attorney, Lum Hawthorn, said afterward that the case is one of the most unusual ones he has seen in his more than 50 years of experience.

“I have never had a situation where a judge has refused to sign a motion to dismiss. The district attorney is representing justice in the particular jurisdiction. The DA knows what the facts are and the DA knows what the law is. In his comments to the jury, the judge stated that he did not know the facts of the case. He just went ahead and gave his opinion based on something that is not based on facts. I have never seen a judge do that. I have never seen a judge lose control of himself like this judge did,” Hawthorn said.

In the past, Hawthorn represented, in federal court, a former county commissioner and county judge who were accused of profiting from Hurricane Rita disaster relief contracts. Given this previous experience of Liberty County, Hawthorn said, “There is one thing I have learned about Liberty County is that prosecutions are brought oftentimes based on political concerns rather than what the law actually is. I am not saying that this is what happened in this case, but I think this particular DA did the right thing by filing a motion to dismiss. I don’t think the facts, nor the law, justified the prosecution at all. I think a jury, if they had a chance to listen to the facts, would have agreed with me and found [Commissioner Karbowski] not guilty.”

In a statement after the trial, District Attorney Jennifer Bergman defended her office’s actions in court and said that justice was the only motivation.

Bergman wrote, “When I took office as the Liberty County District Attorney in January 2021, I took an oath to see that justice is done. Seeing that justice is done is the most integral part of what my office does each and every day and is one of the most important cornerstones of American democracy. Justice can come in many forms; it oftentimes comes in the form of a guilty verdict and a prison sentence. At other times, justice comes in the form of a dismissal. What is not just and right is to allow any outside influence sway what true justice is.  My office thoroughly and completely investigated the facts, researched, and reviewed opinions and the law, and came to the clear conclusion that the filing of a Motion to Dismiss would be warranted as we did not believe that any other course of actions would be tantamount to justice. I unwaveringly stand behind this decision. This Motion to Dismiss was denied by the Court. At the end of the day, I remain steadfast in my decision to seek justice in the form of a dismissal and will never proceed with a prosecution that I do not wholeheartedly believe to be just. Ultimately, I will continue to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do and for no other reason. I have made a commitment to seek and pursue justice to the people of Liberty County, even if doing so is not popular and is difficult. The people of Liberty County deserve a District Attorney who is steadfast and unswayed by political pressures and willing to seek justice, whatever the cost. Ultimately, I remain committed to justice and pursuing it, regardless of the price.”

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