Conroe, June 22 – With their use of the Net Data database system and software, four out of the five Montgomery County Justice of the Peace Courts have a serious judicial record openness problem. They don’t seem to comply with the requirements of the Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals with respect to making judicial records open to the public during normal business hours.
The main two advocates for the Net Data database system in Montgomery County’s “government” have consistently been Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts and the man whom Metts introduced to numerous County employees during database evaluation meetings as his “sworn deputy,” local political consultant and “boss man,” Marc Davenport. Judge Metts’ repeated appellation of Davenport as a “sworn deputy” in the Precinct 4 Justice Court is a interesting use of terminology to say the very least. Metts began to utilize the term when other County employees questioned why Metts insisted that Davenport, who is not a County employee, should remain in County employee-only meetings to discuss and make decisions concerning the Courts’ database system.
The Golden Hammer has confirmed that there are no records in the County’s Human Resources Department that would indicate that Davenport ever has been a County employee. Furthermore, both the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation do not list Marc Davenport has a licensee or ever having held a license of any sort.
Net Data has caused serious problems within the Montgomery County government. Not only has the decision of Judge Metts and others to utilize the database program within the Justice Court been a major source of dissension and downright nastiness in Commissioners Court meetings but also the Justice Courts that utilize the Net Data database are substantially less efficient in their collections of fines and fees than those Court which instead utilize a different collection methodology. Please see “Montgomery County Justice Courts reveal stark financial contrasts,” The Golden Hammer, June 22, 2017.
The record openness problem
The four Justice of the Peace Courts – JP #1, 2, 4, and 5 – that utilize the Net Data database for their criminal and civil cases differ markedly in one very important respect from the one Justice of the Peace Court – Judge Edie Connelly’s Precinct 3 Justice Court – that utilizes the County’s Odyssey database system: judicial record openness. Court files in the four Justice Courts that utilize Net Data are not open to the public.
The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, confirmed today that Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts will only permit a citizen to review a court file after making a formal open records request in writing to the court personnel. The records are not otherwise available.
A policy of not making judicial files regularly open to the public is a straight-up violation of clear Texas law as set forth in the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration.
Rule 12.1 of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration provides:
“12.1 Policy. The purpose of this rule is to provide public access to information in the judiciary consistent with the mandates of the Texas Constitution that the public interests are best served by open courts and by an independent judiciary. The rule should be liberally construed to achieve its purpose.”
Rule 12.4(a) of the Texas Rules of Judicial Administration further mandates:
“Judicial records other than those covered by Rules 12.3 and 12.5 are open to the general public for inspection and copying during regular business hours.”
Judge Connelly’s Precinct 3 Justice Court, all five of the Montgomery County Courts at Law, and all eight of the District Courts in Montgomery County make all of their records open and available to the public 24 hours per day online through the Odyssey database system and during regular business hours through computer terminals and physical files made available to the public upon request.
To the contrary, Judge Metts, who is one of the “clients” who seem to work more for Davenport than the other way around, does not permit the public to inspect and copy files unless they submit open records act requests. The court files of Judge Metts, Mack, Judge Masden, and Judge Spikes are not available to the public online, a highly inefficient, inconvenient, and questionable practice, given the policy pronouncements of the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals to shift to electronic access to court records.
Both Judge Spikes and Judge Masden seem to be fair minded arbiters who work hard to make their Courts operate efficiently and fairly, both judicial and financially. It is critical in this day and age that they work to make their court records available to the public online, even if that means that they should join the vast majority of the other courts in Montgomery County on the Odyssey system, which seems far more efficient financially. If Judge Metts and “deputy” Davenport choose to operate “their” Court without openness and efficiency, hopefully their poor decision will not bleed into other County judicial departments.