Smith County, Texas Judge Joel Patrick Baker was suspended without pay on June 21, 2016 after being arrested the previous week on three misdemeanor counts of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Baker, who has denied any wrongdoing, is accused of improperly entering into a 10-year agreement with red-light camera operator American Traffic Solutions, Inc. (ATS) to provide services throughout Smith County. The controversial cameras, which are used to issue tickets to traffic violators, are banned in Texas municipalities; critics say the often unreliable devices are simply money-making machines for the companies that provide them and the jurisdictions that use them.
Baker’s backdoor dealings came to light when activist group Grassroots America We the People filed a complaint calling for an inquiry into a closed executive session of the County Commissioners Court held in August 2014. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton opened an investigation and a grand jury determined charges were warranted.
The judge surrendered for booking at the Smith County Sheriff’s Office and was released an hour later on $2,000 bond.
“I am not guilty of these charges. At no time did I or any member of the court knowingly violate the Texas Open Meetings Act,” Baker said in a statement. “I maintain this was not a mission to find the truth, rather a political witch hunt.”
Separately, Judge Baker has been accused of inappropriate conduct for “sexting” with a woman while on the job, including when he attended meetings of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct as the Commission’s vice chair.
Sources: www.techdirt.com, www.foxnews.com, www.kltv.com
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