Legal problems raise questions about candidate for Victoria County judge
By GHENI PLATENBURG
Aug. 1, 2010 at 3:01 a.m.
An extensive criminal and civil history raises concerns about the Republican candidate for Victoria County judge.
Matthew J. Ocker, who ran unopposed in the March primary elections, is on the ballot against Democrat Don Pozzi, the incumbent, in the November General Election.
A search of court documents revealed 32-year-old Ocker's legal woes range from the 1990s to present.
"I do worry about his mental stability," said County Commissioner Gary Burns, a fellow Republican. "I hope people will get to know each candidate and vote for the one with the best record and the most self-control and not just pull a straight lever."
Ocker attributed most of his legal problems to a bitter divorce.
"As of today, I have not been found guilty of anything," Ocker said. "Pozzi has a criminal conviction. That should be all that matters."
Ocker has pleaded no contest in two separate cases. A plea of no contest occurs when defendants decline to dispute or admit their guilt to the charges. Defendants are sentenced the same as if they had entered a guilty plea.
Ocker's first no-contest plea came in response to a 1999 assault charge, for which he was sentenced to one-year probation and a fine.
He gave the same plea again in 2000 in response to a disorderly conduct charge during which he shouted obscenities and made derogatory racial remarks about Hispanics.
Ocker received one day in jail as a result of that plea.
His record also contains three criminal trespassing warnings, all from 2009.
In December 2009, Ocker was investigated for interference of a 911 call after he called an emergency operator to complain about Victoria County Sheriff's deputies who came to his home.
Responding to an open-records request, the sheriff's department said deputies were assisting another agency but did not identify which one. Victoria police were not at the scene.
During the 911 call, Ocker became irate and stated the Gestapo was there and he wanted them to leave, according to the police offense report.
He was not arrested for the incident, and the charge was dropped July 15.
The charge was dropped for insufficient evidence, Victoria District Attorney Stephen Tyler said. However, the statute of limitations for the crime remains open for up to two years.
"Should we get new or additional evidence, we'll have the opportunity to refile," Tyler said.
Business partner sues
Along with the criminal cases, Ocker was the subject of a civil lawsuit filed in May by former Boss Oil Field Service business partner Jason Brannan.
The lawsuit alleged that in addition to owning a competitor company, Ocker Oilfield Services, Ocker began a "pattern of financial mismanagement" with the company he co-owned with Brannan, ultimately, leading to the "gross mismanagement of the corporation."
In June, a judge granted Brannan's motion for a default judgment against Ocker.
Brannan will find out Sept. 7 how much money he will receive in damages. Ocker has filed for a retrial; however, a date has not yet been set for hearing that motion.
Protective order issued
Legal issues stemming from troubles with his ex-wife, Sheri Eddleman, also have filled Ocker's schedule in the past year.
In February 2009, Eddleman was granted a protective order, which Ocker said he entered into willingly.
In her application for the order, Eddleman shared details of Ocker's alleged physical and verbal abuse against her and his teenage stepdaughter.
Victoria police records show Ocker violated the protective order in March of this year when he showed up at his daughters' school on a day he was not supposed to have the children, as outlined in the protective order.
When his ex-wife refused to give up one of the daughters, witnesses said he tried to pull her away from her mother, according to a police offense report.
The lack of video footage to support the allegations of a physical attack, however, prompted the Victoria District Attorney's office to not pursue charges and closed the investigation.
Incumbent has record
Ocker pointed to Pozzi's record as deserving of scrutiny. The incumbent's record includes a conviction in 1987 for unlawfully carrying a weapon. The charge stemmed from an arrest on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.
The drunken-driving charge was dismissed, but Pozzi pleaded guilty to the weapons charge and was fined $500.
Pozzi, who was a lawyer at the time, is now in his eighth year as county judge.
No matter what legal problems candidates have, political scientists agreed good political strategy entails being up-front about past indiscretions.
"Having any kind of blemish can be a disadvantage to running for public office," said Peck Young, director of Austin Community College's Center for Public Policy and Political Studies. "The public expects public officials to be a combination of Socrates and Superman."
Both Pozzi and Ocker shared their stance on bringing their private matters to the public forefront.
"Most people, who I know, know about it, but it is a matter of public record," said Pozzi. "I would hope the people will vote for me based on what I have accomplished for Victoria County over the last eight years."
Ocker said he has not been forthcoming with information because of the sensitive matter of the issues.
"I don't feel like it's anyone's business," Ocker said. "I have nothing to hide, but I believe it is a private matter that does not violate public trust, public health or public welfare."
He continued, "There are two baby girls that love their Daddy who just don't understand what is going on."
Ocker said he was the victim of a campaign by his ex-wife to smear his name in the upcoming election.
"When you have an ex-wife who is bitter and can't move on with life and can't reconcile with the divorce, these things come out of it," Ocker said. "I've only been accused. There have been no findings whatsoever."
Ocker's former brother-in-law, Travis Eddleman, responded on behalf of his sister.
"He's a very manipulative person," Eddleman said. "If you don't know him personally, you'd think he was the greatest guy. I'm glad I don't live in that county."
Charlie Stoops, a professor of social work at Dominican University and co-founder of the Center for Domestic Peace in Illinois, said individuals with violent tendencies often seek leadership positions as a way to exercise their need for control over others.
He warned voters to be wary of any candidate who exhibits violent tendencies.
"My concern is that there have been documented cases and if he has not gotten services to help address his choice of behavior, I think that might call into doubt his ability to be fair and impartial," said Stoops, who has more than 17 years experience working with violent individuals.
County party chair backs Ocker
Ocker's legal history does not preclude him from running for office or serving.
Michael Cloud, chairman of the Victoria Republican Party, said potential candidates can get on the county judge ballot one of two ways: filing an application and paying a fee of $750, or by getting a petition signed by the lesser of 500 or 2 percent of all the gubernatorial candidate votes from the county, which came out to 375.
Ocker got on the ballot by petition, collecting 375 signatures.
The party has no additional screening process for candidates, Cloud said. Ocker ran unopposed in the Republican Party primary.
"Ideally, the primary process is supposed to be the way voters screen the candidates," Cloud said. "The party leaves that up to the voters."
The party stands behind Ocker as its candidate, Cloud said.
"Our executive committee is committed to supporting all the Republican candidates that the people in our community have selected," Cloud said.
Melvin Hinich, a political science professor at the University of Texas, said Ocker's nomination was suspicious, given his background.
"It may be something the movers and shakers didn't know about," Hinich said.
Ocker said he was hopeful his current legal drama would be over soon, making it a non-issue.
"I would ask voters to allow the court system to do its job and afford the accused the opportunity of the protections outlined in the U.S. Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure," Ocker said. "I'm going to be vindicated."
Both candidates said they were against airing each other's dirty laundry.
"It's really none of my business," Ocker said of Pozzi's past.
Pozzi said he runs clean campaigns.
"I worry about serving the people of Victoria," he said, "not about what my opponent has or hasn't done."
Related:Matt Ocker file