Image: Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal lied on Fox 26 on Sunday morning, February 11, 2018, trying to blame “social media” for his indictment and for Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley’s indictment for conspiracy to violate the Texas Open Meetings Act in June, 2016.
Conroe, February 13 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal made himself into a major national embarrassment when he tried to blame social media for his criminal indictment in June, 2016, for conspiracy to circumvent the Texas Open Meetings Act (“TOMA”). Doyal told Greg Groogan, the ace investigative reporter for Fox 26 News, “You know there’s always allegations online. In any political season you’re gonna hear that kind of chatter out there that there’s all this corruption and all this…it’s simply not that way…sometimes I think social media will be the death of this country at some point because people can put anything out there they want.”
Fox 26 had a panel of analysts on its Sunday morning, February 11, 2018, show at 7:30 a.m., which Groogan hosted. The analysts sharply disagreed as a group with Doyal’s comment that social media somehow led to Doyal’s indictment, as social media had nothing whatsoever to do with the criminal investigation of Doyal or his co-indictee criminal defendants Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley and local political boss Marc Davenport, the husband of embattled County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport.
One of the analysts said, “I want to weigh in on what I heard him say which was that social media is the root of this and it’s the death of the nation. I’m sorry but the criminal charges he’s facing weren’t brought by social media; they were brought by a criminal judge and a criminal district attorney. That’s a talking point that’s shoved in the right and sometimes the left uses it as well that everything that comes out is fake news. This is not fake news. This is a real shenanigan that’s happening right here in our very own state and this is indicative of what’s happening in our politics today. We’re super partisan and we’re super self-preserving. And elected officials are worried about themselves. Meanwhile, United States citizens and Texas citizens, we’re sitting holding the bag.”
“I want to weigh in on what I heard him say which was that social media is the root of this and it’s the death of the nation. I’m sorry but the criminal charges he’s facing weren’t brought by social media; they were brought by a criminal judge and a criminal district attorney. That’s a talking point that’s shoved in the right and sometimes the left uses it as well that everything that comes out is fake news. This is not fake news. This is a real shenanigan that’s happening right here in our very own state and this is indicative of what’s happening in our politics today. We’re super partisan and we’re super self-preserving. And elected officials are worried about themselves. Meanwhile, United States citizens and Texas citizens, we’re sitting holding the bag.” – – Fox 26 News analyst.
Doyal, Riley, and Davenport all testified before the Montgomery County Grand Jury prior to the indictments.
The indictment should speak for itself:
“THE GRAND JURY, for the County of Montgomery, State of Texas, duly selected, empaneled, sworn, charged, and organized as such by the 221st Judicial District Court for said County, upon their oaths present in and to said Court that Craig Doyal [and Charlie Riley and Marc Davenport] on or about August 11, 2015 and continuing through August 24, 2015, and before the presentment of this indictment, in the County and State aforesaid, did then and there as a member of a governmental body, to-wit: the Montgomery County Commissioner’s Court, knowingly conspire circumvent Title 5, Subtitle A Chapter 551 of the Texas Government Code (herein after referred to as the Texas Open Meetings Act) by meeting in a number less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, to-wit: by engaging in verbal exchange concerning an issue within the jurisdiction of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court, namely, the contents of the potential structure of a November 2015 Montgomery County Road Bond, Against the Peace and Dignity of the State.”
The Grand Jury indicted Doyal, Riley, and Davenport, for meeting in numbers of less than a Commissioners Court quorum (3 out of 5) for the purpose of secret deliberations in violation of TOMA to structure the resolution to set a November 2015 road bond referendum.
The indictment had nothing whatsoever with social media. Rather, Montgomery County’s Criminal District Attorney Brett Ligon initiated the Grand Jury investigation and brought the facts to support the indictments before the Grand Jury, which indicted Doyal, Riley, and Davenport in June, 2016.
Doyal, Riley, and Davenport face criminal charges for conspiring to circumvent the Texas Open Meetings Act’s Section 551.143 by meeting in a number less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations in violations of TOMA. The desire for secrecy and to avoid public scrutiny is the problem with Doyal and Riley. Doyal paid Davenport $5,000 to represent Doyal in the negotiations over the road bond referendum.
What is TOMA Section 143?
TOMA Section 143, the provision under which Doyal, Riley, and Davenport face criminal indictment provides:
“A member or group of members of a governmental body commits an offense if the member or group of members knowingly conspires to circumvent this chapter [TOMA] by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.”
In other words, a quorum of the Commissioners Court is three members among Doyal, Riley, Clark, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador. If three actually meet and discuss an issue within the jurisdiction of the Commissioners Court or any public business, then they’ve conducted a “closed meeting” in violation of Section 144 of TOMA under certain conditions. But if two members of the Commissioners Court meet to circumvent TOMA’s open meetings requirement, and secretly have a verbal exchange about public business, for the purpose of conspiring to circumvent TOMA by meeting in groups of less than a quorum, they’ve committed a crime under Section 143.
For example, if Craig and Charlie decide they want popcorn served in all County offices to County employees, they’re okay to discuss that with each other. But if Craig and Charlie have that same verbal exchange with the knowledge that they’re doing so in order to have “secret deliberations” (a VERY IMPORTANT TERM!), then they’re in trouble with the law. “Deliberations” is an important term here. It means “a verbal exchange during a meeting between a quorum of a governmental body…concerning…any public business.” How do Craig and Charlie break that law? They meet and decide about the popcorn policy and do so knowing that they’re going to get a third Commissioners Court member into their decision outside of an open meeting of the Commissioners Court.
Basically, the criminal allegations against Doyal, Riley, and Davenport are pretty simple, because they not only had verbal exchanges about the provisions of a road bond referendum resolution but also they memorialized those discussions in a written Memorandum of Understanding with some third parties. The next step that got them in trouble occurred when their political consultant Davenport, on retainer to both Doyal and Riley at the time, went to Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark to get his road projects and to communicate with him about the road bond referendum. Those actions, and the likely testimonial explanation of Clark in a trial, are likely the reason that Doyal and Riley are in nuclear hot water.
The cavalier actions of Doyal, Riley, and Davenport are what got them into trouble, regardless of whether their actions technically constitute violations of the law. Memorializing their discussions in a Memorandum of Understanding created a written record of their discussions with respect to how Doyal and Riley would vote when the November, 2015, road bond referendum resolution came before the Commissioners Court. By including Clark within the negotiations, after Doyal and Riley sent Davenport to communicate with him, Doyal and Riley arguably met in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations outside of an open meeting before the public.