Open Meetings Act trial for Montgomery County officials, consultant reset for March 27

Three Montgomery County elected officials and a political consultant facing charges of conspiring to circumvent the Texas Open Meetings Act will have to wait at least five more months to have their day in court.

Judge Randy Clapp of Wharton County set March 27, 2017 as the new trial date for Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, County Commissioners Charlie Riley and Jim Clark and political consultant Marc Davenport.

Clapp, a visiting judge, reset the trial date following a conference involving all parties in the case.

The trial, originally set to begin Monday, was pushed back in part due to scheduling issues among the attorneys and the large volume of evidence and grand jury testimony released to the defense late last week.

“These lawyers in this case are not transactional attorneys that sit behind a desk,” said Conroe attorney E. Tay Bond, who is representing Clark. “We are real trial lawyers that show up and pick juries and have settings for trials that are set out six months in advance.”

Davenport’s attorney, Steve Jackson, has filed a motion to dismiss Davenport’s case for lack of jurisdiction, but the judge did not rule on that motion Monday. According to the motion, Jackson stated his client is “not a member or part of a group of members of a governmental body, and as such the defendant cannot be prosecuted in a felony district court.”

The four were indicted last June following a six-month grand jury investigation that focused on communications about a $280 million road bond referendum that was later placed on the November, 2015 ballot and approved by voters.

The misdemeanor charge that each faces is punishable by a fine of $100 to $500, up to six months in jail; or both. County Attorney J D Lambright said that if the elected officials plead guilty or are convicted, they would have to resign from the commissioners court.

Emails produced in response to an August 2015 public records request by The Conroe Courier show dozens involving the Doyal, certain county commissioners, Davenport and others, including members of The Woodlands-based Texas Patriots PAC, regarding the framework of the road bond.

Many emails were exchanged between Aug. 11 and Aug. 21, 2015. Commissioners took no action at their last regular meeting, on, Aug. 11, before the Aug. 24 deadline to place a referendum on the ballot. However, on Aug. 21, Doyal and Riley announced they had reached a memorandum of understanding with the Patriots PAC that cleared the path for the November road bond referendum, which commissioners approved Aug. 24.

The bond package did not include the controversial Woodlands Parkway extension or the Robinson Road project in Oak Ridge North, two projects that had been part of a larger road bond package defeated by voters in May 2015.