County Burning Money on Legal Woes They Caused

County Burning Money on Legal Woes They Caused.  – June 28, 2016

Brace yourself! Wrap your head with duct tape before you read an enlightening Tyler Morning Telegraph article by Roy Maynard and Faith Harper, revealing the Smith County Commissioners Court has spent more than $46,000 of our tax dollars on legal woes triggered by their own actions. You’ll also learn that one of the attorneys, who made $12,540.58 in one month, referred to “JoAnn Fleming’s network of radicals” on his bill to the county. Congratulations, JoAnn! Unhinged flak like that means you are right over the target!

“Smith County spent $46,514.78 on outside legal representation stemming from two investigations into how the county commissioners handed a contract to place unmanned speed cameras in school zones.” Read what the attorneys were doing to bill the county (your wallet). Click here.

Indictments  A Smith County grand jury has indicted Judge Joel Baker on three counts of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act. The case is being prosecuted by Daniel Brody, Assistant TX Attorney General, White Collar Crime & Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Prosecution Division. The indictments are explained in this KLTV report:  According to news reports, the case is still under investigation; therefore, other indictments have not been ruled out.

The Texas Association of Counties (TAC) provides training and legal counsel for county officials. The Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Freedom of Information Foundation also provide detailed information online about how to AVOID breaking these “sunshine” laws. In addition, certification in the Texas sunshine laws is required of all local elected officials. There is NO EXCUSE for the mess made by the Smith County Judge and Commissioners Court. The following is an excerpt from a document prepared by the Texas Association of Counties Legal Department:

“Four acts are criminalized by the Open Meetings Act: meeting in a number less than a quorum with the intent to violate the act (commonly called a “walking quorum”); participating in an illegal closed meeting; participating in a closed meeting knowing that a certified agenda or recording is not being made; and disclosing a certified agenda or recording of a closed meeting without authority.

Removal From Office  A county judge or commissioner may be removed from office for official misconduct. Conviction of a county judge or commissioner for a misdemeanor involving official misconduct operates as an immediate removal from office of that officer. Therefore, a county judge or commissioner convicted for a violation of the Open Meetings Act is automatically removed from office.

Suspension without Pay  The State Commission on Judicial Conduct ordered Smith County Judge Joel P. Baker suspended without pay. The order addresses the grand jury indictment on three counts of open meetings violations, but does not address its current investigation into the sexting allegations about Judge Baker’s conduct while serving as Vice-Chairman of the Commission and as County Judge.

The Attorney General’s investigation and the resulting three count indictment lend credence to what Grassroots America asserted in our formal complaint and investigation request – that the County Judge and Commissioners violated the Texas Open Meetings Act during the process that resulted in a ten-year contract with American Traffic Solutions, Inc.

Dismissal of Petition – after the indictment and suspension of Baker without pay, Judge David Peeples rightly issued an order dismissing our Petition for Removal by Trial without prejudice. “Dismissed with prejudice” means that a case is dismissed permanently (can’t be brought back to court). A case dismissed without prejudice means the opposite. Judge Peeples left the legal door open to our intent to refile our petition on the sexting cause for removal should Judge Joel Baker be acquitted of the three-count indictment charges on open meeting violations and remain in office.

While Judge Baker is innocent until proven guilty and deserves his day in court, a community is known for what it tolerates. In Smith County, we should never accept disrespect for citizens, abuse of the public trust, and selective application of the rule of law – a recipe for rampant public corruption.

The Process of Appointing Acting County Judge  Must be done in open court. Must not be a member of the Commissioners Court! Mrs. Fleming is not interested. If she wanted the job, she’d run for it!

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