Conroe and Austin, March 18 – Today, Monday, March 18, 2019, at 10 a.m., at First Baptist Church Conroe, hundreds of mourners will celebrate the life of JD Lambright, the beloved Montgomery County Attorney, who lost a brief fight with cancer when he went into the arms of the Lord on March 9. By an amazing coincidence, the State Affairs Committee of the Texas Senate will hold a hearing in Austin at the exact same time on Senate Bill 710, The Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act, of which Senator Brandon Creighton of Conroe is the author.
Senator Creighton and State Representative Steve Toth, who wrote similar legislation which he authored and filed in the Texas House of Representatives, have both expressed their happiness that the legislation is moving forward in the Texas Senate. Creighton told this newspaper that he had asked Senator Joan Huffman, the State Affairs Committee Chair to set SB 710 for hearing but she had previously indicated that there was no time available for such a hearing.
On Thursday, March 14, Huffman amended the hearing schedule for the State Affairs Committee hearing for March 18 to include SB 710 on the docket. “It’s a miraculous opportunity that I know JD would be very happy to know,” Creighton told The Golden Hammer.
Creighton’s bill would allow any County Commissioners Court in Texas to establish an ethics committee and enact a code of ethics with enforceable provisions similar to the local legislation the Texas Legislature previously passed to allow El Paso County to do so. El Paso County is the only county among the 254 Texas counties with an enforceable ethics code.
In 2017, Montgomery County adopted a Code of Ethics, which Lambright and his team in the County Attorney’s Office had drafted. “I’m very proud of the Code of Ethics we drafted and were able to convince the Commissioners Court to adopt,” Lambright had said. One of the problems, as Lambright recognized, with Montgomery County’s Code of Ethics, however, is that the ethics committee has no enforcement power for violations other than to issue a reprimand of any County government employee who violates the code.
Although Lambright had sought a much more precise ethics code, the Commissioners Court, especially Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, former County Judge Craig Doyal, and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Meador, didn’t want anything to interfere with their wheeling and dealing with County vendors behind the scenes. Riley even tried to appoint his former campaign manager, Linda Stuckey, and his best friend, former Sheriff Tommy Gage, to the ethics committee, so that Riley could continue to get away with unethical behavior.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon had asked in February, 2017, that the Commissioner Court “reach for the stars” in adopting an ethics code. Sadly, the Commissioners Court instead reached for euphemisms to have an appearance of maintaining an ethics code without actually having ethics.
Montgomery County’s government has a wide reputation in Texas for:
- Nepotism. For example, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley created a job for his wife Deanne Riley after the incoming Sheriff Rand Henderson made clear he would not keep Deanne Riley on his staff.
- Conflicts of Interest. Out-of-County vendors give hundreds of thousands of dollars to members of the Commissioners Court, especially Riley, Doyal, and others, in return for lucrative multimillion dollar County government contracts.
- Gifts. LJA Engineering and many other County vendors wine and dine members of the County Commissioners Court with the infamous LJA “Fishing Trip” in June of each year at the Hackberry Rod and Gun Club in Hackberry, Louisiana, hunting trips, “camping trips,” and other gifts. Halff Associates, Inc., and a group of real estate developers, including Rick Shelton of San Antonio and Waco, set up a legal defense fund for Doyal which funded his criminal defense.
- Secrecy. Although the Texas Open Meetings Act has become an unenforceable shell, Riley, Doyal, and others regularly violated it by holding secret meetings to avoid having to deliberate in public meetings in the open before the eyes and ears of citizens. Doyal and Riley, in particular, have fought for stringent secrecy to hide County decisions and operations from the public.
- Use of government property for private purposes. Montgomery County, particular Precinct 2 (Riley) and several County Departments, regularly use County government property for private and political purposes.
Lambright and his team in the County Attorney’s Office wrote a strong first draft of a Code of Ethics, but Doyal and Riley, in particular, refused to allow it to proceed. Lambright regularly dealt with the corruption of the Davenport Ring and often had to counsel County employees how to respond to the Davenports’ depravations against ethical behavior.
Toth’s legislation would allow the Commissioners Court to pass a Code of Ethics with enforceability similar to the Code of Ethics in El Paso County. Lambright supported the concept. County Judge Mark Keough included that proposal in his “Contract with Montgomery County” platform when Keough ran against Doyal for County Judge in 2018.
Toth’s House Bill 1495, however, is a local bill which applies to Montgomery County only. Creighton’s Senate Bill 710 would allow any county government in Texas to adopt an enforceable ethics code.
After Lambright’s untimely death, a group of conservative activists request the naming of the pending legislation after Lambright. Toth and Creighton both agreed to name their legislation “The Lambright Local Government Ethics Reform Act.” Clearly, that’s appropriate since the late Montgomery County Attorney stood for government ethics so clearly.
Lambright fought for ethics reform in Montgomery County and spent an enormous amount of his time as County Attorney trying to promote ethical behavior inside the walls of the Sadler Administration Building and elsewhere in the Montgomery County government, which continues to have a reputation as “the most corrupt County government in Texas.” Lambright definitely had substantial work cut out for him in trying to bring ethical behavior to the corrupt Montgomery County government, yet he made significant strides before his untimely passing.