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Wednesday, July 23, 1997

Former banker sues state over lottery forgery conviction

HOUSTON (AP) - A former banker who says she wrongfully was convicted of forgery after she found a lottery ticket on a downtown street is suing the state, claiming the ordeal cost her her job, her husband and relationships with relatives.

Patsy Bolander, whose conviction was overturned last year, blames the state, lottery officials and the Harris County district attorney's office for negligence in her arrest and conviction.

She and her ex-husband are seeking $1 million in punitive damages and about $500,000 in actual damages for her lost wages and legal fees.

Ms. Bolander, 58, says her nightmare began June 4, 1992, when she found a scratch-off lottery ticket that revealed symbols indicating it was a $10,000 winner.

She says she took the ticket to the bank where she worked and showed it to at least two other bank officials, all of them trained to detect forged documents. No one saw signs of tampering, she said.

Ms. Bolander was arrested and jailed for forgery after presenting the ticket at a lottery claims center. Investigators said the second $10,000 symbol obviously was cut from another ticket and clumsily pasted over another symbol.

Ms. Bolander, a mother of three who had been married for 18 years, was convicted of lottery forgery and sentenced to 10 years' probation. She was fired from her job at BankOne and denied retirement and other benefits. She and her husband, Noel, were divorced last year.

Ms. Bolander's lawsuit accuses the state of negligence in the hiring and supervision of Lottery Commission investigator Tom Hedrick, who was accused of giving erroneous testimony as the state's only witness at Ms. Bolander's trial.

The lawsuit accuses prosecutors of violating Ms. Bolander's rights by failing to confirm Hedrick's information with other witnesses or conduct an independent investigation.

A judge granted Ms. Bolander a new trial after another Lottery Commission employee supported key points of her account. The district attorney's office dismissed the case for insufficient evidence.

Defendants in the lawsuit include the state, the state comptroller's office, former Lottery Commission Director Norma Linares, prosecutor Kim Whittington and supervisor Karen Morris.

Prosecutor Stephen Smith said the allegations are without merit and that his legal research shows prosecutors are shielded by virtual unlimited immunity against civil suits.

State District Judge Dwight Jefferson granted a defense motion Monday that the district attorney's office cannot legally be a defendant. Alden Holford, Ms. Bolander's lawyer, said he will ask the judge to reconsider or he will refile the case and name Harris County as a defendant instead. Send a Letter to the Editor about This Story | Start or Join A Discussion about This Story
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