Case against Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, commissioners Riley and Clark dismissed

The case against Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and other elected officials has been dismissed.

The case against Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and other elected officials has been dismissed.

Presiding Judge Randy Clapp of Wharton County’s 329th District Court ruled that a portion of the Texas Open Meetings Act is unconstitutional—thus dismissing the case against Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and other officials.

The case, which was heard in Montgomery County’s 221st District Court, brought to question whether Doyal, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark and political consultant Marc Davenport violated the Texas Open Meetings Act while negotiating details of the November 2015 Montgomery County road bond. However, the case never made it to trial.

During the court hearings, attorneys questioned a mix of expert witnesses and government officials about their experience with the TOMA and questioned the constitutionality of one statute in particular—Texas Government Code 551.143. The statute states that members of a governmental body cannot knowingly conspire to circumvent the TOMA by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.

On Wednesday, Clapp ruled the statute is unconstitutional. The ruling does not affect the remainder of the TOMA, but it does strike the provision from the law.

“We hope to show through this evidence that we are not challenging TOMA,” Doyal’s attorney Rusty Hardin said during the hearings. “This is simply talking about [a] single statute that criminalizes a supposed conspiracy. The problem with the statute is it does not set out in specific set ways what a person that may be exposed to it can and cannot do. This specific statute is unconstitutionally vague.”

Special prosecutor Chris Downey, who represents the state of Texas on the case, said his team will make a decision soon on whether an appeal will be filed.

“I regret that the court elected to rule on this matter before receiving the briefs the sides were preparing to address the issues raised in this unusual hearing," Downey said. "That said, I certainly respect the court’s ruling. Given the constitutional challenges the defense raised in opposition to one of the important enforcement components of the open meetings act, this is an important matter of both legal and public policy. With that in mind, we will determine in short order whether to file notice of appeal.”

Doyal said the challenge to the provision does not affect the remainder of the open meetings act. The ruling instead means that Clapp agreed the provision did not meet constitutional standards. Defense attorneys also argued that the statute can also capture innocent behavior because it did not explicitly outline which behavior is and is not permitted by law.

“We got word from the judge that he ruled in our favor and dismissed the indictment," Doyal said. "I agree with the open meetings act and the public should be involved. I never did anything wrong and I have tried hard not to do anything wrong. I am excited that the judge has dismissed this indictment. Now it is time to move forward and take care of Montgomery County."

Riley said he is relieved now that a decision has been reached, and that the ruling will help elected officials across the state openly discuss issues in their communities with constituents and one another.

“This has been one of the biggest tests of faith my family has ever endured.  I am so thankful for the court’s ruling," Riley said. "It is a ruling that affirms my support for open government and my belief that public officials ought to be able to constructively talk to, and work with, the people of Montgomery County without fear of being prosecuted.  My staff and I look forward to continuing the excellent service that our community has come to expect from the Precinct 2 Commissioner’s Office.”


Montgomery County commissioners criticized the lawsuit between Conroe Mayor Toby Powell and two tax officials of the county. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Montgomery County commissioners criticize Conroe Mayor Powell's lawsuit against tax officials

Montgomery County Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador called the lawsuit a “political posturing move.”

According to METRO, the two employees were a bus controller and a bus repairman, neither of whom had contact with the public. The bus controller has not worked for METRO since May 17. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: Two more METRO employees test positive

According to METRO, the two employees were a bus controller and a bus repairman, neither of whom had contact with the public. The bus controller has not worked for METRO since May 17.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar spoke to members of the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce on May 27 about what the state's post-pandemic economic turnaround might look like. (Screenshot of May 27 virtual luncheon)
Texas comptroller predicts slow, steady economic turnaround post-pandemic

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said the state entered the era of the coronavirus in a healthy financial situation, which bodes well for the future as reopening continues, but that Texans are not out of the woods yet.

Nursing facilities across Texas will be able to apply for federal funds to purchase devices to connect residents to friends and family. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Gov. Greg Abbott announces $3.6 million project to connect nursing home residents to families

Gov. Greg Abbott announced May 27 that $3.6 million will be provided to nursing facilities to purchase tablets, webcams and headphones to connect residents with family members.

The industry has had to shift to more virtual open houses, which has brought both advantages and disadvantages. (Andy Li/Community Impact Newspaper)
Montgomery County real estate market takes hit in April; real estate industry goes virtual

Between May 5-11, the Greater Houston area had 241 virtual open houses that drew 1,330 attendees.

Voters are encouraged to bring their own equipment in order to prevent catching or spreading coronavirus.(Graphic by Matthew T. Mills /Community Impact Newspaper)
State of Texas releases voter health checklist for polling stations in June and July

Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs released a checklist May 26 for voters to follow to help prevent the spread of coronavirus at polls.

Montgomery County Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack announced his plan to give $500 stimulus checks to homeowners. (Courtesy James Noack)
Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack proposes plan for $65 million return through CARES Act

A plan will be submitted for Montgomery County property owners to be able to apply for a $500 stimulus check later this summer.

On May 27, SpaceX will launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. This marks the first time in nearly a decade U.S. astronauts have launched from the U.S. (Courtesy NASA Television)
UPDATED: Here's how to watch the historic May 30 SpaceX rocket launch

For the first time since 2011, NASA astronauts are launching from U.S. soil to space.

Public health officials have now confirmed five deaths total over the past five days in the county. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: No new deaths, 286 new cases confirmed in Harris County May 26

Public health officials have now confirmed five deaths total over the past five days in the county.

Montgomery County commissioners met May 26 in Conroe. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Here’s how Montgomery County will distribute Round 1 CARES Act funding

Round 2 is half the amount of Round 1 and will be used for food distributions and for the elderly and children. The allocation method for Round 3 has not yet been determined .

According to several Facebook posts, Grand Texas officials pushed forward with opening the water park on May 23 despite state orders. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Big Rivers Waterpark & Adventures reopens despite state orders; developer plans for future of Grand Texas

Editor's note: After this print story went to press on the morning of May 26, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation allowing that water parks, recreational sports programs for adults, driver education programs and food-court dining areas in malls can soon reopen at 25% occupancy under Phase 2.