Judge Lacy was “in violation,” and the Court can decide how to interpret the law – sometimes. It was an interesting day in Bowie County Commissioners Court.
First, it turns out we were correct in our assumption that Commissioner Sammy Stone thought Judge Lacy violated the law when he filled the position of full-time courthouse receptionist with two part-time employees (Agenda Item #8).
Judge Lacy said the law wasn’t applicable, since it exempts officials in counties with less than 190,o00 employees from seeking authority to appoint “any other kinds of employees.” He stated that since the receptionists are neither deputies, assistants, or clerks (as stated in the statute) that he was simply fulfilling his responsibilities. He said, “In the courthouse we hire people to sweep the floors, clean the toilets and do all kinds of things, and they are neither a deputy, an assistant, or a clerk, and neither is the receptionist.”
County Legal Advisor Carol Dalby told the Court, however, that they could define the receptionist however they want.
Judge Lacy pointed out that the Court comprised the jury, the accused, the accuser, and another member who, by bringing Agenda Item #9 (removal, by order of the Court, of the two employees filling the receptionist position) had already shown prejudgment. He stated that under American jurisprudence, the Court either didn’t have jurisdiction or didn’t have objectivity.
County Legal Advisor Carol Dalby told the court, however, that since it was county business, they could decide how to vote. Judge Lacy pressed her whether the Court could be objective, and she replied, “Judge, you’re asking me for my opinion, legally, there’s no answer to that, on a legal basis. You asked whether or not the Court can take this action. The Court can take any action it wishes to take that applies to county business.”
Commissioners Stone, Whitten and Blackburn voted to find Judge Lacy in violation of Texas Local Government Code, Section 151.001. Judge Lacy and Commissioner Carter voted no. The motion carried. There was never any discussion about consequences.
Next. Commissioner Tom Whitten made the motion mentioned above: to eliminate, by court order, the two part-time receptionist positions recently hired for Bowie County Courthouse. Judge Lacy said that if the two people were fired, he could immediately post an opening for a full-time position, which had already been authorized (costing the county over $19,000 more than the two part-time positions). Interestingly, no one argued that he did not have the right to do so.
County Clerk Tina Petty interrupted to suggest the money be used to help other departments that were shorthanded, and Judge Lacy told her she was out of order. She shouted back, “I don’t care!” Judge Lacy continued, “and if you continue to disrupt the Court I’m going to ask the Sheriff to remove you.” Petty replied, “Ask him to remove me, because if you remove me, you’ll have to stop this meeting.” Judge Lacy asked the Sheriff to remove her, recessed the Court for ten minutes to allow time to bring in a new ex officio clerk, and then left the room.
Ms. Petty did not have to be removed – she left voluntarily. At the the end of the recess, she returned and sat in her chair next to Judge Lacy, where they had a semi-quiet conversation. It sounded like he was asking her something, and she could be heard to say, “I think it’s rude…” and the the phrase “stupid crap.” Judge Lacy continued speaking quietly to her, and twice she told him he needed to talk to the Sheriff, and then, “I’m doing my job.”
After the Court was re-convened, Sheriff Prince stated that he had never had to remove someone from Commissioners Court before, and had sought legal advice from Ms. Dalby. He said she showed him a statute requiring a majority vote of the Court for citing someone in contempt. Ms. Dalby continued the discussion, and stated that not only was a majority vote required, but that it would have to be placed on the agenda of a special meeting, with the public being given 72 hours notice.
Let’s summarize that, because it’s pretty unusual: Ms. Dalby told the Court that if they wanted to remove someone and find them in contempt on Monday, they would have to vote to do so – on the following Thursday.
Looking online, I didn’t find the statute Ms. Dalby showed to Sheriff Prince, but I did find that in December 2012, the Kendall County Commissioners Court adopted rules of procedure, conduct and decorum which state that if someone violates these rules, they would be ordered to leave the courtroom by either the Presiding Officer (the County Judge or, in his absence, the Judge Pro-Tem) or Bailiff (the county sheriff or his designee). Refusing to leave, or violating the rules in the first place, could result in being held in Contempt of Court. Their rules state that another member of the Court can call for a vote as to whether the person would be held in contempt, but no there is no mention of doing so at least 72 hours later. I’ll try to find a definitive answer to that.
The Court voted, with the same split as above, to fire the two part-time employees. As I walked downstairs from the courtroom, I saw the morning receptionist taking her personal items to her car.
I asked Judge Lacy if he was going to post the full-time receptionist position, and he replied, “No, that would just be spiteful.”