Conroe, October 14 – While Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal believes he has a “first amendment right” to discuss County government business in secret, he has actively begun to prohibit County citizens from expressing their “First Amendment right of free political speech” in the open at appropriate times during meetings of the Montgomery County Commissioners County over which Doyal presides. Doyal changed the rules ad hoc during the October 10, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting in an effort to prevent citizens from commenting on agenda items and to attempt to prevent the presentation of “The Golden Hammer Award” to Doyal for his corruption and influence-peddling in his political and business relationship with corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport and their efforts to give Phonoscope, Inc., preferred fiber optic cable development rights.
Doyal’s criminal indictment under the Texas Open Meetings Act
A Montgomery County Grand Jury heard evidence, which District Attorney Brett Ligon presented, and then indicted Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport (husband of County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport who is the supervisor in the County government of Doyal’s daughter) on June 24, 2016, for allegedly “meeting in a number less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act [TOMA], to-wit: by engaging in a 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.” Doyal and Riley had hired Davenport to act for them with respect to the road bond behind-the-scene negotiations.
If convicted, Doyal and Riley will likely suffer removal from their elected offices. The secrecy with which Doyal has attempted to operate the Montgomery County government, his staunch efforts to create massive “consent agendas” literally filled with thousands of policy items so that other members of the Commissioners Court and the public will have no change to ascertain what’s happening, and his threats to County employees that they’ll lose their jobs if they communicate with citizens about County secrets, have created a corrupt and closed government environment throughout the County government.
The opportunity to clean house by removing Doyal and Riley and by opening the business of the County government back up to the citizens has turned the criminal case into a major event known as the “Trial of the 21st Century” in Montgomery County.
Doyal’s primary defense to the criminal charges against him has been that TOMA violates his rights of free speech under the First Amendment. Specifically, Doyal’s lead criminal defense attorney, Rusty Hardin, whom Doyal’s criminal defense legal fund hired under the direction of convicted felon and lobbyist Pete Peters of Austin, real estate developer Rick Sheldon of San Antonio, and Minnesota developer and land swapper Varde Partners’ managing director Jeff Thuringer had hired, filed a brief with the Beaumont Court of Appeals on Doyal’s behalf.
In Doyal’s brief to the Court of Appeals in his criminal case, Doyal argued:
“As a content-based law that restricts speech, Section 551.143 [of TOMA] is presumed unconstitutional and is subject to strict scrutiny. Under Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 135 S.Ct. 2218 (2015), the Supreme Court’s most recent relevant case, a law regulating speech is ‘content-based’ if that law ‘applies to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed.'”
The gist of Doyal’s argument that TOMA is unconstitutional as the prosecutors have applied the law to him is that it’s unconstitutionally restricting his free speech “because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed.” In all fairness to Doyal, that argument is complete hogwash, because the United States Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals have long recognized that statutes may restrict the “time, place, and manner” of political speech if there is a rational and reasonable government purpose for the restrictions. That’s how municipalities get away with requiring the Nazi Party to conduct their protest in a particular city park, for example, in order to minimize traffic congestion.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that Doyal has taken the extreme position in his criminal defense that any law that applies to particular speech because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed is an unconstitutional restriction on free political speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Texas Constitution as well.
Doyal’s citizen comment hypocrisy in the Montgomery County Commissioners Court
Despite his extreme position in defending himself to the Beaumont Court of Appeals in his criminal case, Doyal has begun to restrict speech in the Montgomery County Commissioners Court clearly “because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed.”
Prior to October 10, 2017, Doyal would only allow each citizen 3 minutes to make a citizen comment. Doyal only allowed citizen comments about issues on the Commissioners Court Agenda near the beginning of the meeting and citizen comments about all other issues at the end of the meeting. That’s clearly restrictive and “content-based” at least as Doyal has argued his position in his criminal case.
On October 10, 2017, however, Doyal began to take an even more extreme position in the Commissioners Court meetings. First, when a citizen attempted to criticize the Commissioners Court for approving a $37,125 payment under the “Consent Agenda” to Phonoscope, Inc., the fiber optic cable company with very, very, very close ties to corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport from whom Doyal regularly takes orders about purchasing matters, and when that citizen presented “The Golden Hammer Award” to Doyal specifically for the Commissioners Court taking that action, Doyal attempted to cut the citizen off from speaking entirely “because of the topic discussed or the idea or message expressed.”
Doyal didn’t want attention brought to an item tucked away in the Consent Agenda for which he had “hammered” the taxpayers with a corrupt purchase from a County government vendor. He swiftly too action, which failed, to shut the citizen up.
Doyal’s extreme censorship of citizen political speech continued throughout the meeting. When citizen John Wertz attempted to speak on an agenda item concerning disaster relief efforts, Doyal tried to interrupt Wertz who has been very critical of Doyal’s poor leadership (or complete lack thereof). Doyal also cut off Mayor Diane Lincoln of the Town of Woodloch when she tried to discuss some very serious issues concerning disaster assistance.
What’s interesting about Doyal’s new methodology where he’s obviously trying to restrict citizens’ rights of free speech is that he’s raising an important question: why are citizens restricted to 3 minutes when non-citizens, such as County vendor Rich Muller, a paid attorney who will say whatever Doyal wants him to say in favor of the Tx-249 Tollway, may speak on and on and on for 15 or 20 minutes or whatever he feels? Aren’t Doyal’s principles a bit backwards? Shouldn’t he restrict non-citizens to 3 minutes while permitting citizens to speak for as long as necessary? Doyal is defining the reality: he feels that his real constituents are County vendors many of whom, including Muller, contribute large amount of dollars to Doyal for his political campaign.
During the discussion of the $73 million, 3.6 mile, Tx-249 Tollway, also known as the Decimation of Hope Highway, Doyal wouldn’t even allow Magnolia GOP Precinct Chair Ginger Russell to speak at all, even though she had signed up in writing in Doyal’s office prior to the meeting to speak specifically about that item on the Commissioners Court Agenda. Russell almost had to shout down the meeting just so that she could get Doyal to recognize her so that she could discuss a topic, some ideas, and some messages.
Doyal doesn’t like criticism of himself or of the corrupt expenditures he’s foisting on the taxpayers. Clearly, he’s shown a willingness to carve out a major exception to the First Amendment. In honor of himself, Doyal has rewritten the First Amendment, at least in the Commissioners Court to read:
The government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech…or the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances unless Craig Doyal disagrees with the speech or the petition in which case censorship is allowable.