Romei Pleads Not Guilty; Defense Says Local DA Shouldn't Prosecute

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The former director of the Arts Council of the Brazos Valley pleaded not guilty Thursday in his first court appearance on theft charges.

P. David Romei is accused of stealing arts and city money and using it for his own personal purposes. In 16 separate allegations, Romei is accused of illegal transactions.

Seven of those involve theft by deception with the Arts Council. Two are theft by deception with the City of College Station. The remaining seven involved illegal campaign contributions to, among others, Brazos County Judge Randy Sims, 272nd District Court Judge Rick Davis, and Brazos County District Attorney Bill Turner.

Romei's attorneys entered the not guilty pleas on all four indictments. Romei said nothing during the pretrial hearing.

However, Turner took the stand in the 361st District Court as his ability to properly prosecute the case was the main question of the day.

As a result of receiving the alleged illegal campaign contribution, Turner has voluntarily recused himself from prosecuting that indictment alone. Huntsville prosecutor Jack Choate will handle that case, and was on hand Thursday.

However, Romei's attorneys made their case that Turner and his office should not prosecute any of the four cases because he could potentially have to take the stand. Defense lawyer Billy Carter told Smith he believed the four indictments were too intertwined, and that Turner may have to be involved in the cases other than his prosecutorial duties.

It's a claim refuted by Turner during testimony Thursday.

"In this particular case," Carter said during questioning, "you [Turner] have some connection to what David Romei's been accused of doing because there was a contribution to you."

"With all due respect," Turner responded, "I believe I've satisfied that by moving those cases to a disinterested prosecutor. That's my position.

"There is no reason for me to take the stand in those cases in order to get my job done, and I believe that for the defense to do it -- quite frankly, to even claim they would do it -- is disingenuous based on what I know the facts to be," Turner later said.

Turner said the state would not call him to the stand in either of the three cases his office would prosecute.

Judge Steve Smith ordered the defense to file legal briefs by October 26 to make their case that Turner's office should not prosecute Romei. The DA's office will then have until October 31 to file their briefs. Smith will then make a decision.