Upcoming trial proceedings against a former Brazil Clerk-Treasurer will be taking place in another county.
On Tuesday, Clay Superior Court Judge Blaine Akers granted a Change of Venue motion filed by defense attorney Jessie Cook in the case against Tracy Webster.
During the pre-trial hearing in open court, Cook cited previous publicity, and the increasing amount of interest the media will take in the case as it draws closer to the time of the trial, as a primary reason for her concern about having an impartial jury selected from Clay County.
On Feb. 22, Webster, 42, Brazil, turned herself in to authorities after an arrest warrant was issued on allegations she mishandled municipal funds while employed with the City of Brazil. Webster was formally charged the next day with one class C felony Forgery and three class D felony Theft charges.
The Clay County Prosecutor's Office filed the charges after a five-month joint investigation by the Indiana State Board of Accounts (SBOA) and Indiana State Police Criminal Investigative Division. Information in a 15-page probable cause affidavit alleged Webster was involved in a total of $19,550.54 of unauthorized vendor payments, plus overpayment of compensation and/or benefits on numerous occasions between May 4, 2007 and Nov. 21, 2008.
Deputy Prosecutor Mark Greenwell told the court that although the prosecutor's office believed an impartial jury could be pooled from Clay County, the state would not be opposed if a jury were selected from another county to ensure Webster has a fair trial.
There was discussion about pooling a "test jury" to indicate the level of pre-trial publicity on local residents' opinion. But Cook reminded the judge this procedure would only help determine current trends, and not the impact of future publicity on the case.
Akers also questioned the defense with regards to his remaining judge over the court proceedings.
"To ensure (Tracy) Webster has a fair and unbiased trial, I believe we need to err on the side of caution in this case," Akers said.
When information was provided in court that members in both Akers and Webster's families are acquainted, Akers recused himself from the case due to the perception of "potential bias, prejudice or the appearance of impropriety in the case."
To further ensure the integrity of the legal proceedings, Akers said if the defense and prosecution were unable to agree upon a county to venue the case to, he would contact the Indiana Supreme Court to provide assistance in determining a proper venue for further court proceedings in the case against Webster.
A motion informing the court about the parties' agreement, or non-agreement, as to the selection of a county should be filed within a few days.
Webster is currently out on bond while awaiting further court proceedings in the matter.