Montgomery County’s Trial of the 21st Century: The Open Meetings Trial, Basic Facts

Montgomery County’s Trial of the 21st Century: The Open Meetings Trial, Basic Facts

Image: Political consultant Marc Davenport is at the epicenter of Montgomery County’s Trial of the 21st Century.

Conroe, March 8 – The Texas Open Meetings Act (“TOMA”) trial with County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark, and political consultant Marc Davenport is set to begin March 27, 2017, with a pretrial hearing on March 21, 2017, at 1:30 p.m. The trial will provide an open portal into the manner in which Montgomery County’s government, well known across Texas as one of the worst County government for out-of-control spending and ethics issues, operates. Here are the basic facts about the case.

THE CHARGES: The Montgomery County Grand Jury indicted the four defendants of conspiring to violate TOMA by engaging in deliberations in smaller groups than a quorum of the Commissioners Court in order to circumvent the requirement that the Court conduct its business in “open meetings” before the public. The allegations concern the Court’s work to get a November, 2015, road bond referendum on the ballot – without the controversial Woodlands Parkway Extension – after a May, 2015, road bond referendum had soundly failed.

THE DEFENDANTS:

  • Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, embattled for numerous other problems as well, since he became the County Judge in 2015. Doyal is under a partial suspension from the Texas Judicial Conduct Commission under which he may engage in no judicial acts, although the Commissioner has permitted Doyal to act as the County’s chief executive.
  • Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, who is well known for his secretly creating a new County government position for his wife, his failures to complete road maintenance and construction projects within Precinct 2, and his efforts to create a corridor to feed traffic from The Woodlands to the $100 million 3.6 mile Tx-249 Decimation of Hope Highway road project supported by numerous big-dollar political contributors to Riley and Doyal from outside of Montgomery County.
  • Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark who recently has taken a turn towards the conservative and has joined forces with Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack on several reform proposals. Clark had early suffered severe criticism for his mishandling of the Montgomery County Animal Shelter and Precinct 4 operations. Some observers believe Clark is trying to save his political career after those early missteps.
  • Political consultant Marc Davenport whose influence over the Montgomery County government is enormous. Davenport has aided several elected officials to win their public offices, including District Attorney Brett Ligon, 9th District Judge Phil Grant, Sheriff Rand Henderson, Justices of the Peace James Metts and Wayne Mack, and Constable Kenneth “Rowdy” Hayden. Davenport is married to County Treasurer Stephanne Davenport. Many people consider Davenport a brilliant political operative.

THE ATTORNEYS: The trial involves some of the most talented criminal attorneys in this community. The Special Prosecutor is Christopher Downey of Houston who replaced District Attorney Ligon who stepped aside for this case as a result of his then-First Assistant Phil Grant’s connection to Davenport. Doyal’s criminal defense lawyer is Rusty Hardin of Houston, considered one of the finest criminal defense attorneys in the United States. Conroe’s Steve Jackson, a rising star among the criminal defense bar, represents Davenport. The highly-experienced and respected Tay Bond, also of Conroe, represents Clark. Conroe attorney Doug Atkinson, well liked and well thought of among judges and lawyers, represents Riley.

THE LIKELY DEFENSES: Doyal will likely argue that he carefully avoided engaging in any deliberations with a quorum of the Commissioners Court during the negotiations that resulted in the signing of a written Memorandum of Understanding with the Texas Patriots Tea Party PAC before the November 2015 bond election. Doyal has privately told many people in this community that he believes that the necessity of the road bond projects justified his actions. Riley will likely argue that he relied upon Doyal and Davenport and, otherwise, did not know what was occurring in the negotiations. Clark will likely argue that he did not communicate with other members of the Commissioners Court other than to propose the list of road projects he wanted to see included in the road bond referendum. Davenport will likely claim that he is not subject to TOMA because he is not a “governmental official.”

WHAT WILL HAPPEN AND WHEN: A pretrial conference before Visiting District Judge Randy Clapp of Wharton County will probably occur on March 21, at 1:30 p.m., at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Conroe. The trial would proceed with pretrial motions, jury selection, opening arguments, and the evidence, beginning on Monday, March 27, 2017, around 9 a.m. in Conroe.

THE WILDCARDS:

  • It’s possible that one or more of the Defendants could enter into a plea agreement and cooperate with the prosecution. That would likely occur between now and March 21. Clark and Riley would be the most likely people to turn “State’s evidence.”
  • The likely testimony of Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack will inject a political and potentially adversarial element into the trial.
  • Former state representative Steve Toth testified to the Grand Jury in the case about TOMA. It’s very possible that the prosecution could call him as a witness to establish that the defendants knew or should have known about TOMA’s requirements.
  • Since the prosecution will need witnesses to prove the timeline and the documents, the cooperation of Texas Patriots Tea Party PAC officers Julie Turner, Jon Bauman, and Bill O’Sullivan would seem to be essential.

 

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