After two and a half years of savage ethics problems, Montgomery County needs a Special Public Integrity Prosecutor independent of politics

After two and a half years of savage ethics problems, Montgomery County needs a Special Public Integrity Prosecutor independent of politics

Image: District Attorney Brett Ligon.

Eric Yollick, The Golden Hammer

Despite how good a lawyer and prosecutor Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon is, it’s way past the time for him to designate a Special Public Integrity Prosecutor (SPIP) inside the District Attorney’s Office. The SPIP should be independent of Ligon, and his or her staff should be independent of the other individuals in the DA’s Office.

Brett Ligon is an excellent DA. He came into office on the promise that he’d vigorously prosecute DWI cases and other violent crimes. Ligon is one of the top prosecutors in Texas in those types of cases. He’s hired an outstanding and very professional staff who handle tough cases in a tough environment very well. That is not the issue of this editorial.

The problem comes in the fact that Ligon is an elected servant. He’s a politician as well as a prosecutor just like all of the other DAs in Texas. Ligon has to deal with political pressures. Ligon has to appear before the Montgomery County Commissioners Court each year for approval of most of his budget. Ligon has to appear before the Commissioners Court regularly for approval of changes inside of his office. Ligon has to be a politician or else his office would not function.

At the May 22, 2018, meeting of the Commissioners Court, the citizens witnessed the failure of Ligon to kiss the right political ring of the angry Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, who opposed Ligon’s and Sheriff Rand Henderson’s because he was angry at them for failing to support his re-election bid. While Riley is his own worst enemy, placing Ligon in the position of having to work with such elected servants while examining whether or not to prosecute them obviously creates an inherent conflict of interest.

While Riley is his own worst enemy, placing Ligon in the position of having to work with such elected servants while examining whether or not to prosecute them obviously creates an inherent conflict of interest.

The last few years of Montgomery County’s ethics issues have been nothing short of savage:

  • Riley has engaged in open nepotism involving a job for his wife.
  • Riley and County Judge Craig Doyal have openly used public resources for their campaigns and for their personal enjoyment.
  • Riley, Doyal, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, and corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport faced indictments for alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
  • The Commissioners Court’s consideration of a so-called Code of Ethics was ugly and resulted in a watered-down and unenforceable code.
  • The transgressions of Precinct 4 JP James Metts are almost legendary in their magnitude.
  • There’s the mental health facility and its issues which ultimately public servants failed to address.
  • There’s the Joe Corley Prison facility and its issues which ultimately public servants failed to address.
  • There was the decision to end the career of 435th District Judge Michael Seiler with swiftness and harshness that almost appeared vengeful.
  • A huge number of public servants have used public resources for all sorts of campaign and private purposes and receive tacit or open condonation, while Sheriff’s Captain Damon Hall faces a Grand Jury investigation for a relatively minor action of the same nature.
  • The public received a pronouncement from the DA that elected servants may use their publicly-funded offices for campaign advertising, despite the provisions of the Texas Election Code and the regulations of the Texas Ethics Commission to the contrary. Immediately Wayne Mack, the rogue JP who believes that his every action is God-ordained so that he may do whatever he pleases, announced that the “rule of law” prevailed. Within minutes, however, several elected servants took down their websites and removed all photographs and videos filmed in their offices.
  • Several elected servants have “media relations” and “public relations” people on their staffs who fulfill personal campaign functions on the public dole.
  • The District Attorney, Ligon, has shown his remarkable political skills. He endorsed Metts for County Commissioner despite serious questions about Metts’ conduct in office and as a candidate. Ligon endorsed Gregory Parker against Riley in the Precinct 2 Republican Runoff in actions that raised more questions than they answer. For example, if Riley really threatened the District Attorney, how would such conduct not constitute obstruction of justice?
  • Quite frankly, I’m probably forgetting many instances, but a search in The Golden Hammer would turn many of them up.

Despite the length of that list and despite the public condemnation Ligon has made of many elected officials, including members of the Commissioners Court, the reality is that Ligon and his excellent team of prosecutors and their support staff are superb professionals. Nevertheless, the public has every right to question the inconsistent actions in the public integrity field from the District Attorney’s Office.

I don’t question Ligon’s sincerity or his honesty. The appearance of conflicts of interest, power politics, and potential conflicts of interest should never be parts of public integrity investigations, however.

The power to solve these issues once and for all, and fairly easily, rests entirely within Ligon’s hands. He should segregate the Public Integrity Unit of his office. He should erect a “Chinese Wall,” a legal term to describe individuals who do not share information with others and do not receive information from others even though they work together in the same office, around the individuals in that office.

Ligon can restore public confidence in the public integrity function of the DA’s Office by designating a SPIP who has independent power and is only subject to hiring and firing by Ligon as the SPIP’s ultimate boss. The SPIP should not have other duties inside of the DA’s Office but should operate independently of the remainder of the DA’s Office with a small staff of investigators and support who operate in the same manner.

The Montgomery County government, which has the reputation as the most corrupt in all of Texas, desperately needs Ligon to take this step. Taking that action will make Ligon an even better prosecutor. It will also give the citizens and public servants some peace of mind.

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