Image: Criminal co-indictees Marc Davenport (left) and Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal (right).
Conroe, March 3 – Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and local political boss Marc Davenport are criminal co-indictees for allegedly violating Section 551.143 of the Texas Government Code, a provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act. What happens to the County Judge and the County Commissioner if they’re convicted?
First, it’s important to understand the indictment. The indictment should speak for itself:
“THE GRAND JURY, for the County of Montgomery, State of Texas, duly selected, empaneled, sworn, charged, and organized as such by the 221st Judicial District Court for said County, upon their oaths present in and to said Court that Craig Doyal [and Charlie Riley and Marc Davenport] on or about August 11, 2015 and continuing through August 24, 2015, and before the presentment of this indictment, in the County and State aforesaid, did then and there as a member of a governmental body, to-wit: the Montgomery County Commissioner’s Court, knowingly conspire circumvent Title 5, Subtitle A Chapter 551 of the Texas Government Code (herein after referred to as the Texas Open Meetings Act) by meeting in a number less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, to-wit: by engaging in 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, Against the Peace and Dignity of the State.”
The Grand Jury indicted Doyal, Riley, and Davenport, for meeting in numbers of less than a Commissioners Court quorum (3 out of 5) for the purpose of secret deliberations in violation of TOMA to structure the resolution to set a November 2015 road bond referendum.
The indictment had nothing whatsoever with social media. Rather, Montgomery County’s Criminal District Attorney Brett Ligon initiated the Grand Jury investigation and Special Prosecutor Christopher Downey brought the facts to support the indictments before the Grand Jury, which indicted Doyal, Riley, and Davenport in June, 2016.
Doyal, Riley, and Davenport face criminal charges for conspiring to circumvent the Texas Open Meetings Act’s Section 551.143 by meeting in a number less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations in violations of TOMA. The desire for secrecy and to avoid public scrutiny is the problem with Doyal and Riley. Doyal paid Davenport $5,000 to represent Doyal in the negotiations over the road bond referendum.
Doyal, Riley, and Davenport sought to avoid facing the charges by challenging the constitutionality of TOMA by claiming it violated their rights to free speech and was so vague that they couldn’t understand what the statute prohibited them from doing. The Beaumont Court of Appeals unanimously rejected that argument last month.
Doyal’s attorney, Rusty Hardin of Houston, who lost the appeal, has made clear he intends to appeal the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin. It’s very, very unlikely the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin will hear the case. Since appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeals are discretionary, the Court of Criminal Appeals will likely just decline to hear the case altogether and send the case back to Montgomery County for a trial.
What will happen if Doyal and Riley are convicted?
What happens if Doyal and Riley are convicted depends in large part on when it happens.
The Texas Government Code answers one basic question: “The conviction of a county officer by a petit jury for any felony or for a misdemeanor involving official misconduct operates as an immediate removal from office of that officer.” Section 87.031(a), Texas Government Code. Since a violation of TOMA is “official misconduct” under Texas law, Doyal and Riley would be removed from office immediately upon conviction, just like Liberty County’s Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike McCarty was removed after he was convicted on April 24, 2017.
As for filling their positions, Texas law provides that the Montgomery County Commissioners Court would appoint a new County Judge and then the new County Judge would appoint a new Commissioner to replace Riley to serve the remainder of the terms for which Doyal and Riley were elected.
The real mess occurs if somehow Doyal and Riley were convicted before the November, 2018, General Election.
The way the rules under the Texas Election Code work is as follows:
- If Doyal and Riley were convicted, removed from office, and, therefore, ineligible to run in the November General Election for County Judge and County Commissioner, respectively, the Republican Party Executive Committee (all of the elected Precinct Chairs) would have the right to choose a nominee to fill their positions on the ballot, as long as it was more than 60 days prior to the General Election.
- If Doyal and Riley were convicted, removed, from office and, therefore, ineligible to run in the November General Election for County Judge and County Commissioner, respectively, and if that occurred within 60 days prior to the General Election, the County Republican Party could not nominate replacements to be on the November General Election ballot. Therefore, with democrat opponents in both of those races, the democrats would win automatically!!!
In actuality, the decision of Doyal and Riley to run for re-election under these circumstances is reckless. If Republican voters were to elect them as the Republican nominees in the March 6, 2018, Republican Primary Election, it would be downright dangerous, because it’s strongly possible that democrats would win the positions of County Judge and County Commissioner.