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San Jacinto News Times - Local News

Copyright 2017 - Polk County Publishing Company

 

County commissioners discuss hiring attorney in suit filed by County Judge

 

By Lark Jarvis
Reporter

County commissioners Laddie McAnally, Donny Marrs, Thomas Bonds and Mark Nettuno called a special court meeting on July 3 to authorize the hiring of an attorney to defend themselves. They have been named as defendants in a suit filed by County Judge John Lovett, Jr. Lovett's suit, which seeks non-monetary relief, alleges that the four commissioners have reduced his office space "to an amount which is unreasonable in light of his duties." The suit also stated that "defendants have created a hostile working environment for the plaintiffs, causing the resignation" of some of Lovett's staff. The County Judge's suit contends that the four commissioners have "since January 2017, indicated or telegraphed that they also intend to reduce the staff salaries and staffing levels in the Office of the County Judge" for the next fiscal year (2017-18). Lovett contends that this budget cut would be "unreasonable and ill-conceived in light of the judicial docket" he has, "on top of his other duties as County Judge, Director of Emergency Management and Chief Budget Officer" of the county. The dispute worsened in February, when Director of Community Supervision Teresa Milner requested "additional office space due to increase in staff." Lovett's suit said that Milner made a similar request in 2016, and that many other heads of county government have made similar requests. Lovett contends that he has "attempted to address the lack of space...but has been rebuffed by Defendants at every attempt." McAnally made a motion at the February 28 court meeting to "construct a wall across the Judge's office and give the front office to the probation department." Marrs seconded the motion, and it passed, with only Lovett opposing it. Lovett placed on the agenda for March 14's commissioners' court meeting an item regarding the approved wall. The meeting could not be held, because there was no quorum. Of the four commissioners, only Nettuno attended the meeting. The three non-attending commissioners scheduled a separate, non-regular court meeting to discuss the wall and other county business. Again, they voted to build the wall. When Lovett was away attending a judicial training, the wall was constructed. Lovett's suit claims that it is of shoddy construction and does not provide privacy needed to do county business. The scheduling of the July 3 meeting was criticized by some at the meeting. In response, Nettuno said its scheduling over a holiday weekend was to accommodate the July 10 response date named in the suit. The special meeting was contentious, with supporters of the commissioners handing out free "I Support my Commissioners" buttons. Jerry Hollins of the Texas State Republican Executive Committee said, "This is unbecoming of Conservatism. It is putting the taxpayers on the hook for doing government....I'm here to call on you, judge, to withdraw this lawsuit. Commissioner Laddie, I'm going to stand behind you." Citizen Jody Harvey, whose daughter was recently involved in a distracted driving accident involving Lovett said, "This man has failed us as voters. Why should we have to pay any legal defense on him?" Longtime county resident Lou Rogers, however, defended Lovett, he said, "I go to every Commissioners' Court meeting and watch those guys beat the hell outta him. You are going to open up a Pandora's box, past and present." Ike Eisenhower, also a longtime resident, said, "I have been sitting in a lot of court for a lot of years. I have seen a concerted effort to undermine the judge, intimidate his personnel, and get him to the point he can't fulfill his duties." Nettuno said that due to conflicts of interest, the county district attorney would not represent the commissioners. "Today is about hiring an attorney - Lyle Parker, PLLC, to be paid for by county contingency," he said. Later, Nettuno added, "I don't know who's going to pay for it - scratch the 'paid for by county contingency' part". McAnally made the motion to hire Parker, and Bonds seconded it. The motion passed, 4-0.

 

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