Precinct 3 Montgomery County Justice of the Peace candidates, left to right, Dan Zientek, Matt Beasley, and Ronnie Yeates, II.
The Woodlands, January 27 – The three candidates for Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace squared off in an hour long debate which the Montgomery County Eagle Forum hosted on Thursday, January 26, 2018. Matthew Beasley, Ronnie Yeates, II, and Daniel Zientek answered several questions from citizens during the discussion. All three seem highly qualified to serve as a Justice of the Peace. Two questions, in particular, set the three apart from each other: gay marriage, use of the NetData database and collections system.
Sherry Johnston asked “Will you perform same-sex marriages?” One of the candidates gave a surprising answer rarely heard from a candidate running for office in the Republican Party in Montgomery County.
Ronnie Yeates, II, who currently works as a Grimes County Assistant District Attorney, answered, “I will do no marriages, because the court needs to do its dockets.”
Matthew Beasley, Chief of Staff in the Precinct 3 County Commissioner’s Office, answered, “No, I won’t perform marriage ceremony services.”
Precinct 3 Deputy Constable Dan Zientek surprised the crowd by answering, “Yes, I will do weddings. When I’m elected, I will do weddings. The decision has been made that I will perform civil unions. The clerks will issue the license and I’ll do the ceremony.” Zientek is the first judicial candidate in Montgomery County openly to state that he’ll perform gay marriages.
Referring to the United States Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, Republican Precinct Chairman John Hill Wertz asked a follow up “How can you justify the concept that Obergefell is the law of the land when Texas law says marriage is between a man and a woman?” Wertz, of course, referred to the Texas Family Code provision which defines marriage in Texas as only between a man and a woman. The Texas Legislature has not changed that definition since 2015 when the Obergefell decision occurred.
Zientek answered Wertz’s question first, “I must do civil unions. I believe as a Christian that marriage is between a man and a woman. God’s already decided that what is between a man and a woman is a marriage. But as your Justice of the Peace, my first act will be to take an oath. I’ve been sworn to follow the law.”
Beasley explained, “Nothing compels a JP to perform a marriage ceremony and my preference is not to do that.” Yeates explained his position, “Marriage is between a man and woman. That’s what I believe. The law has come down and said they are to perform these duties. It’s not a judge’s position to make law or create law. Whether we like it or not I have to follow the law…The law is what the law is. Up to legislature to determine what law is. I’ve chosen not to perform weddings because I want to concentrate on the court docket.”
Conservative political activist Adrian Kaiser, who is currently running for Republican Precinct Chair, asked Beasley specifically, “Why won’t you do marriages?”
Beasley answered, “It’s not something I have to do as a duty.”
Fine and fee collections, NetData database
FISCAL YEAR 2017
The Golden Hammer has previously reported the problems revealed from the Fiscal Year 2016 statistics for Montgomery County Justice Courts. The court of Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Edie Connelly, who is retiring, is, by far, the most successfully court among the five JP courts in fee and fines collections. The difference between Connelly’s court and the other four, however, is that Connelly utilizes the County government’s Collections Department and the Tyler Odyssey court file database system.
Not only are Connelly’s collections numbers massively higher than the other four courts but also hers is the only one of the five JP courts to make court files available publicly online. In fact, it is very difficult to get court files at all from the other four JP courts, a problem which Connelly has said violates litigants’ due process rights under the Texas and United States Constitutions.
The other four JP courts utilize a private law firm, Graves Humphries Stahl (GHS), to do their fee and fine collections, but the law firm provides little value for the enormous fees it receives. Graves Humphries Stahl provides the NetData court file database program for free, but that program has numerous problems with it in addition to the fact that the court files are then not available publicly.
The Texas Office of Court Administration report, above, now shows how terrible the Fiscal Year 2017 collections continue to be for James Metts, Wayne Mack, and Precinct 5 JP Matt Masden all of whom utilize the GHS/NetData collection process rather than utilizing the in-house Montgomery County government collection system which County Clerk Mark Turnbull and Collections Director Clegg Dewalt established.
Mack’s and Metts’ fees and fines collection percentages are, by far, the worst of the five JP courts at 76% and 78%, respectively. Judge Edie Connelly’s Precinct 3 Justice Court, which utilizes the County collections system rather than GHS/NetData has a 96% collection rate in comparison. Precinct 2 JP Trey Spikes collects 83% of his fines and fees assessed, while Precinct 5 JP Masden collects only 81%.
The net collections per case are even more striking when one compares Connelly’s court to the other four: Connelly’s net collections were case are $124.81, Spikes $109.65, Masden $40.41, Metts $.37.31, and Mack $36.50. The failure of Metts and Mack to collect at rates comparable to Connelly’s collection percentage rate is costing Montgomery County taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
Metts and corrupt local political boss Marc Davenport, who presides over the corrupt Davenport Ring of elected officials seeking to take over the County’s purchasing and information technology systems, have pushed the GHS/NetData collections system on the four JP courts, but they could never get Judge Connelly to agree to go along with them. Therefore, NetData seems to be the driving force in this Justice of the Peace election as a result of the Davenport Ring’s strong interest in taking over the massive fees and fines from the immense court docket of JP Precinct 3.
A citizen asked the simple question to the three JP 3 candidates at the Eagle Forum candidate debate, “GHS/NetData will you commit not to use it?”
Yeates, who seems to have ties to the Davenport Ring, answered, “I won’t commit one way or the other which I’ll choose.”
Zientek was somewhat equivocal in his answer: “As far as the two systems used, I’m only familiar with Tyler Odyssey. I know that’s what the JP 3 clerks are familiar with. That what we’ll start with. -I’ve spoken with the other JPs on NetData and that works for them…I don’t see a need to change the system that the clerks are familiar with. I’d like the two systems to be able to talk to one another.
Beasley made clear he will not use GHS/NetData. He answered, “I’m going to use the software the court uses now. That’s what they’re trained to use. The important thing is that we have someone on the bench who moves the docket. Judge Connelly’s software system is the one I’ll use.”