In an opinion released Feb. 7, the Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont reversed a ruling made by Judge Randy Clapp, of Wharton County, that dismissed charges against Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley and political consultant Marc Davenport. Montgomery County Precinct 4 commissioner Jim Clark was also indicted, however charges were later dropped in exchange for his testimony in court.
The original indictment related to negotiations for the 2015 Montgomery County Road Bond referendum among the commissioners, Davenport and members of the Texas Patriots Political Action Committee. Clapp, who was the visiting judge for the 221st district court during the proceedings, dismissed the case following arguments that a subsection of the Texas Open Meetings Act is vague and unconstitutional.
Now that the decision has been reversed, the case is expected to return to trial in District Court to determine if the elected officials knowingly circumvented TOMA as they made plans to place the referendum on the November 2015 ballot.
The defendants have 30 days to file for a petition for discretionary review, which is a petition requesting the Court of Criminal Appeals review the decision of the appeals court. If the defendants file a PDR, the proceedings in the court case will likely be put on hold pending that outcome, criminal law attorney Chris Downey said. Downey represents the state of Texas on the case.
“I was glad to see that the Court of Appeals agreed that the statute governing the Texas Open Meetings Act is, in fact, constitutional,” Downey said. “It is the intent of that statute to punish acts, not mere words. We look forward to moving this matter along and getting this indictment in front of a jury.”
Doyal confirmed on Friday that he plans to file an appeal over the decision.
“We always knew this would go to the Criminal Court of Appeals regardless, if we had won they would have appealed it and certainly we will too,” Doyal said. “We feel like the ruling that Judge Clapp made was a good ruling and we feel like the Criminal Court of Appeals will agree with that. The thing that people need to know is this ruling is solely on the constitutionality questions about the statute itself, it has nothing to do with the facts of the case.”