Conroe, March 31 – Renowned criminal defense attorney Rusty Hardin of Houston, who is representing criminal defendant Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal in the Texas Open Meetings Act (“TOMA”) trial in the 221st District Court in Conroe pending before Visiting District Judge Randy Clapp, concluded the day’s testimony on Thursday afternoon with an interesting question to Austin attorney Jennifer Riggs, a hired paid expert for the criminal defendants.
Hardin asked Riggs, “Can’t we assume they [the Legislature] did not intend to draft a statute that makes criminal the things they do every day in government?” Riggs dutifully answered the leading question, “Yes.”
Judge Clapp has not heard, however, any of the evidence of alleged wrongdoing by Doyal that resulted in Doyal’s, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley’s, and political consultant Marc Davenport’s indictments for violating TOMA. Judge Clapp has also not heard anything about the events of the past week where the community heard about how one County employee received a threatening text message for not supporting Doyal politically, how Doyal fired one County Department director in October, 2016, for providing public information to a citizen, how Doyal threatened the Human Resources Director with her job and her career for failing to cooperate with promoting Doyal’s daughter, how Doyal chased away a superstar Animal Shelter Director away from the County after conducting a secret accusatory meeting jarred with political threats, how Doyal has changed the agenda policy of the Commissioners Court so that County Commissioners are excluded from the process, how Doyal has refused to provide thousands of pages of necessary backup materials to the public and the Commissioners Court so that no one would have notice of matters coming before the Commissioners Court, and how Doyal’s political ally and co-defendant Charlie Riley did his famous nepotistic “2-step” to create a new job for his own wife, Deanne Riley through secret Consent Agendas.
Therefore, the true answer to the question is “No, Mr. Hardin, the Legislature likely intended to make criminal the things we do here in Montgomery County, but not the things they do every day in other governments across the Lone Star State.”
Riggs also admitted that “whether a statute is difficult is not a test for constitutionality.”
Riggs showed great difficulty on the witness stand trying to reconcile her previously-stated opinions with appellate legal opinions and the TOMA statute itself.
Judge Clapp asked Riggs a few questions at the end of the day. He was particularly interested in the definition of the phrase “any public business” as it relates to the definition of “meeting” and “deliberation” within the TOMA statute. In other words, the judge showed an interest in the breadth of those definitions in an attempt to understand what public officials could and could not do without violating the statute.
Riggs told Judge Clapp that it’s her experience that most local governing bodies want to comply with TOMA. (Notice she carefully avoided whether that statement would include Montgomery County’s government.)
Commissioner Noack comments on the trial
In response to Oak Ridge North Mayor Jim Kuykendall who testified earlier in the afternoon yesterday that he was afraid of TOMA and the possibility of a criminal prosecution under that statute, Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack responded, “I’m not afraid of TOMA. The only people who are afraid of TOMA are the people who don’t want the citizens to know how government decisions are made.”