Conroe, February 10 – County Attorney J.D. Lambright ghost-edited and partly wrote a “fake news” story in the Courier blog, slamming County government critic and private citizen Eric Yollick. The “fake news” article appeared in the Courier blog on January 8, 2017, and continues a long and dirty tradition of fictional stories, permitting others to ghost-write for Courier reporters, and completely failing to fact-check by the Courier blog, its reporters, and its editors. The article appeared under the Lambright-suggested headline, “Yollick’s fraud case settlement raises ethics questions of his own.” Although the byline as Catherine Dominguez, who has a long history that should have disqualified her from reporting any matter concerning Yollick or Montgomery County’s government, in fact Lambright researched and wrote substantial portions of the article.
“Ice Man” Lambright’s Use of County Time and Computers for Political Purposes
Lambright wrote part of the political-slam against Yollick utilizing County computers and during County work hours. Although The Golden Hammer obtained the documents through others means first, Montgomery County’s leading newspaper also obtained Lambright’s written work in which he obsessed about Yollick through an Public Information Act/Open Records Act request, thereby also showing that Lambright wrote the articles using County equipment and on County time.
The article in the blog that still publishes under the name of a newspaper, which residents previously respected, contains substantial fiction about Yollick’s involvement in a bank lawsuit involving a business transaction that occurred 8 years ago, a trial that occurred 5 years ago, and a story the Courier blog reported 5 years ago. The Courier blog failed to check facts, failed to review pertinent documents, and seemed to rely almost entirely on a version of events that Lambright wrote and provided to Dominguez. Lambright was not involved in the lawsuit. Yollick has no pending litigation with Montgomery County or Lambright’s office and has never sued Montgomery County on behalf of any client or himself.
The Courier blog posted the article on Monday, January 8. Yollick is a private citizen who has become a critic of the County government’s spending practices and has developed a network of more than two hundred County employees who are helping him obtain information, since Lambright as County Attorney has managed the effort to hide information from Yollick and others.
Around 9:37 p.m. on January 8, Yollick received a tip from a County employee that Lambright had asked the Courier to write the article, had written a large portion of the article, and had provided editing services to the Courier blog for the article, mostly during County time and partially using County computers. Yollick, who has taken an espionage course through the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University, and has applied espionage techniques to gather information County officials have attempted to hide, began slowly to obtain certain information about Lambright’s activities later that night.
On Wednesday, January 4, 2017, County Attorney Lambright requested that Dominguez write a story about Yollick’s involvement in a lawsuit concerning a former bank client of his. While the lawsuit ended with no judgment against Yollick, partly because the trial judge, the Honorable Sylvia Matthews, 281st District Judge of Harris County, had determined there was “no evidence” Yollick did anything wrong, Yollick during the past four months has been a vocal critic of Lambright, for several reasons, including the fact that Lambright is the highest paid elected official in the entire State of Texas, earning $196,064 per year in salary plus lucrative County benefits. Yollick has also criticized other spending practices for which Lambright is responsible wholly or in part that have cost County taxpayers many tens of millions of dollars in waste and unethical practices. County residents have begun to refer to Lambright as “The Ice Man” as a result of the $4,114 ice machine Lambright purchased for his office using public funds. (The machine holds 523 pounds of ice.)
Lambright has taken Yollick’s criticism very hard. In 2014, the State Bar of Texas reprimanded Lambright for violating the Professional Rules of Ethics when Lambright dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit without his client’s consent so that Lambright would not have a pending lawsuit against Montgomery County. The Courier blog and Lambright hid those facts from the public. Yollick had nothing to do with the State Bar discipline and punishment of Lambright but brought the matter to light through The Golden Hammer, the leading newspaper in Montgomery County.
Lambright provided some suggestions to Dominguez for the story about Yollick, even though it related to events several years ago, and emailed her some written notes from his County computer at 501 North Thompson Street, Suite 300, during the afternoon of Wednesday, January 4.
On Saturday, January 7, 2017, at 9:21 a.m., Lambright further instructed Dominguez as follows in an email:
Here are my comments for your consideration. Virtually all of my comments are straight out of the public record, so it’s perfectly fine if you want to incorporate some or all of them without referencing me specifically. I think the focus of this story should remain on Yollick. I will leave that up to you. I am not sending this to anyone else.
J D Lambright”
Lambright made clear to Dominguez that he wanted her to lie to her readers and pretend that she had contacted Lambright for comments, when, in fact, Lambright had written the article for Dominguez. Lambright then attached a two-page, single-spaced document that he wrote and which began, “When contacted by The Courier regarding Eric Yollick’s fraud case, County Attorney J D Lambright offered these comments…” Lambright’s two-page write-up contains a fictional version of events without reference to any specific documentary sources.
Dominguez then incorporated large portions of Lambright’s fictitious writeup into her story, seemingly misled her editor Andy Dubois into believing that she had contacted Lambright rather than the other way around, and did not disclose that Lambright had written most of the story.
Dominguez violated at least two Canons of the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists:
“Journalists should…Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.”
Dominguez quoted Lambright by name in her article but failed to identify Lambright as the source of almost all of the fictional facts she presented.
“Journalists should…Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.”
Dominguez’ and the Courier Blog’s Dirty History of Reporting False News About Yollick
Dominguez’ article was intentionally misleading. She caused the reader to believe that she had researched the facts when, actually, Lambright provided the fictional account as an anonymous source who faced no danger or retribution, since he is an elected official not subject to discharge or employment discipline.
Dominguez should never have even written the article about Yollick, because she has a severe conflict of interest. In 2003, Yollick received an appointment to the Montgomery County Hospital District Board of Directors. At his first Board meeting, April 15, 2003, Yollick moved to cut the MCHD budget by $5 million per year, an annual spending reduction of approximately 22%. The resolution passed on a 4 to 3 vote. The next morning, as part of the Yollick-sponsored spending cuts, MCHD terminated Dominguez, who worked as the director of MCHD’s Public Relations Department, where she spent tens of thousands of dollars on “MCHD bling” and other promotional items, issued propaganda to justify the overpayment by millions of dollars to physicians providing cancer treatment to indigent patients, and argued for keeping mobile medical clinics, a million dollar boondoggle that provided little patient care but cost taxpayers a fortune.
In 2005, the Courier blog’s Andy Dubois, now its Editor-in-Chief but its News Editor at that time, and Jim Fredricks, who was the Editor-in-Chief but, after the Courier fired him, became Chief of Staff to County Judge Craig Doyal, printed quite an amazing article on the front page about Yollick. The article, dated December 13, 2005, under the headline “Yollick seeks guidance on resignation” reported that Yollick faced possible perjury charges in a federal court and intended to resign from the MCHD Board as a result. The article was complete fiction! The Courier blog had not even attempted to interview Yollick, had not checked court records, and had not spoken to anyone other than Yollick’s MCHD political nemesis, Nicol Huff. The Courier reporter called Yollick that afternoon to apologize and admitted everything in a tearful telephone conversation with Yollick. Yollick forgave her. The following morning, December 14, 2005, the Courier blog ran another article on the front page which stated:
“Montgomery County Hospital District Boar Member Eric Yollick is not facing possible perjury charges in federal bankruptcy court.
“A Courier story Tuesday regarding Yollick and potential sanctions he may face in federal bankruptcy court for an alleged lack of candor was incorrect regarding any potential perjury charges.
“’You should note that I am not facing possibly perjury charges, have never heard that I am facing possible perjury charges and cannot conceive how I possibly could face perjury charges,’ Yollick wrote in a brief letter to the Courier delivered Tuesday. ‘I was not testifying under oath. I was not testifying at all. The statements occurred in a hearing when I was not testifying at all.’
“The Courier regrets the error, apologizes to Yollick for the error and seeks to set the record straight in this story.”
The Courier blog is the scion of the political establishment in Montgomery County. They’ve allowed Lambright, an elected official, to ghost edit and ghost write an article, without fact-checking, in which he attacked a private citizen who dared to criticize him and some other elected officials for overspending, waste, mismanagement, secrecy, ethics violations, and conflicts of interest.
On January 10, 2017, Yollick saw Dominguez at the 9:30 a.m. Commissioners Court meeting. Yollick went up to Dominguez and attempted politely to shake her hand and said “Hi, Catherine” to her. Dominguez refused to shake Yollick’s hand and refused to speak to him. Yollick intends to remain active in the effort to unmask our County government’s wasteful practices. Dominguez should have nothing whatsoever to do with reporting any matters pertaining to the County government. She lacks objectivity and is nothing but a propagandist for Lambright, Doyal, and their desperate attempts to fend off any serious efforts at reform.
As the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists mandates, “The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.” The Courier blog leaves readers guessing who wrote their posts and what the motivations of unnamed writers behind the Courier posts could be.
The Golden Hammer exists to report the truth.
The Bizarre Story of “Agador Spartacus”
During the afternoon of January 9, 2017, and the business day of January 10, 2017, some lengthy comments appeared at the end of the Courier blog’s story about Yollick in the comment section under the fictitious name “Agador Spartacus,” the name of a gay butler (whom renowned actor Hank Azaria portrayed) in the movie “The Birdcage.” After complaints from several citizens, Courier editor Andy Dubois removed the “Agador Spartacus” comments from the end of the article. The comments falsely stated that Yollick was in trouble with the State Bar of Texas and that Yollick was planning to stop practicing law. The “Agador Spartacus” allegations about Yollick were blatantly false. Eventually, Facebook banned the “Agador Spartacus” account for violations of Facebook’s ethics and anti-cyberbullying policies.
The Golden Hammer has concluded that “Agador Spartacus,” the fake Facebook account used to make false allegations about Yollick in the Courier, was likely none other than County Attorney Jerry Don “Ice Man” Lambright, or possibly someone in his office working closely with him. The “Agador Spartacus” posts are identical in many respects to the wording of Lambright’s writing that he directly submitted to Dominguez, especially those portions that Dominguez did not include in the article the Courier published under her name. The Golden Hammer made several attempts to discuss these issues with the Courier blog’s editor, both in a face-to-face meeting, by telephone, and by email. The Courier blog’s editor did not return the telephone calls or the visits.
“Agador Sparatacus” is likely County Attorney J.D. “Ice Man” Lambright (or someone in his office working closely with him).
Therefore, readers should find no surprise in the Courier blog’s twist of a story which ran yesterday about the pre-meeting meetings, which County Judge Craig Doyal and his staff have conducted to maneuver around the Texas Open Meetings Act’s prohibitions against deliberations outside of “open” meetings. While The Golden Hammer truthfully reported that the pre-meeting meetings involving members of the Commissioners Court and their staff had come to an end after substantial citizen complaints after The Golden Hammer had exposed that practice under Doyal, the Courier blog reported the “continuing” practice of “Ice Man” Lambright meeting with County department heads to prepare the agenda. Once again, with Lambright’s collusion, the Courier blog and Dominguez have attempted to conceal the facts about a major County policy change from Montgomery County citizens.
The current editors of the Courier have turned it into a blog. They don’t fact-check. They let “establishment” politicians write articles for them which they then “adopt” as their own. They don’t investigate any matters pertaining to our government. They’ve left those chores to The Golden Hammer.