In an interesting turn of events for the criminal case against half of Montgomery County’s commissioners court, one of the defendants has made a deal with the prosecution to testify against the other indicted members of the court ahead of their upcoming trial. Three members are charged with conspiring to circumvent the Texas Open Meetings Act.
In return for cooperating with the prosecution, Commissioner Jim Clark has been given a pretrial diversion, which means the charges against him will be dismissed. In return, Clark will be required to testify against County Judge Craig Doyal, Commissioner Charlie Riley, and political consultant Marc Davenport, whose trials are set to begin March 27.
The defendants were indicted by a grand jury in June 2016 after an investigation by special prosecutor Chris Downey. The charges revolve around a string of emails sent between Doyal, Riley, and Davenport, who was their consultant at the time, which could constitute a violation of Texas’ open meeting and transparency requirements. Clark was looped in as well, raising the issue of an illegal quorum.
Appearing before the grand jury, Clark testified for four and a half hours, significantly longer than the other defendants. The prosecutor subsequently reached out to Clark’s lawyer and arranged to meet with Clark on March 3, where Clark was offered the terms.
By making a deal with the prosecution, Clark is not admitting to any guilt, which is somewhat unusual, since pretrial diversions often come with a confession. In addition to testifying against Doyal and Riley, Clark will be required to complete special training regarding the Open Meetings Act, and must retain a consultant to advise him on matters regarding the act and make sure he follows it in the future. If he lives up to the terms of the agreement, the charge against him will be dismissed, and his case could be expunged.
If convicted, Doyal and Riley could face a $500 fine and six months in jail. Additionally, being convicted of a violation regarding the Texas Open Meetings Act legally constitutes official misconduct. According to the Local Government Code, Sec. 87.031, conviction of an offense involving official misconduct requires the office holder to be immediately removed from office.
If not convicted, Doyal, Riley, and Clark will all face voters in the 2018 primary.