Image: Visiting District Judge Randy Clapp.
Conroe, April 4 – Visiting District Judge Randy Clapp dismissed all criminal charges against Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and local political consultant Marc Davenport and ruled that the Texas Open Meetings Act, Section 143, is unconstitutional.
The Special Prosecutors, Christopher Downey, David Cunningham, and Joe Larsen, all of Houston, indicated that the State of Texas will appeal the ruling.
Downey, the lead Special Prosecutor, told The Golden Hammer, “We were surprised to hear the court ruled on the matter today through a notice we received from the Court Coordinator. It’s regrettable the court didn’t consider the briefs we are preparing and that the Court had requested. We were in the process of compiling briefs to address the confusion regarding some of the legal issues the defendants had raised during the four days of hearings we just completed.”
Judge Clapp’s ruling holds Section 143 of the Texas Open Meetings Act unconstitutional. No other judge has ever held any provision of the Open Meetings Act unconstitutional.
The indictments of the four defendants, who included Clark, stated:
“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] 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, Davenport, and Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark 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. Clark has since turned “state’s evidence” so he is no longer a defendant subject to the prosecution.
TOMA Section 143, the provision under which Doyal, Riley, and Davenport faced criminal charges provides:
“A member or group of members of a governmental body commits an offense if the member or group of members knowingly conspires to circumvent this chapter [TOMA] by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.”
Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark said, “I’m just glad we have some resolve and we can move forward with the business of running Montgomery County.”
Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack told The Golden Hammer, “While I respect the decision of the court, today’s decision was just another step in this ongoing saga.”
Former Texas State Representative Steve Toth said, “It shows that if you’re willing to spend enough money, you can get any kind of verdict you want. This statute has previously been held constitutional by many courts. There is no justice. Now Ken Paxton and the entire Texas Attorney General’s Office will need to defend the openness in government law. His staff will have to get involved. It will be a waste of Texas taxpayers dollars.”
Toth concluded, “Craig Doyal and Charlie Riley fight for government secrecy and backroom deals. They’ve brought down the entire Texas Open Meetings Act and openness in government throughout the State of Texas. I’m disgusted.”
Now, members of governmental bodies will have the opportunity to conduct secret deliberations outside of a formal quorum with impunity.
The Court’s ruling is a major blow to open government and transparency throughout the State of Texas. Doyal has cloaked the Montgomery County government in secrecy. While, as a community, we should congratulate Doyal, Riley, and Davenport for their momentary victory, Doyal should take serious action to open the government of this County back up to the citizens and the entire public.