6/21/2016Texas Judge Arrested Over Illegal Speed Camera Contract
Smith County, Texas judge arrested for holding a secret meeting to sign a speed camera contract.
Smith County, Texas Judge Joel Patrick Baker was arrested Friday for arranging a deal with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) to install speed cameras during a meeting held in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton secured the indictment on Thursday.
During a closed-session, August 12, 2014 meeting, Judge Baker discussed the ten-year speed camera contract that included an "exclusivity" clause prohibiting the county from doing business with any firm that competes with ATS. In response, the group Grassroots America last year filed the open meetings complaint that landed Baker in hot water.
"Citizens have a reasonable expectation that elected officials will obey the law -- all of the law, all of the time – when conducting the people's business," Grassroots America said in a statement Friday. "A community is known for what it tolerates. In Smith County, Texas, we should never accept disrespect for citizens, abuse of the public trust, and selective application of the rule of law."
Under Texas law, no municipality may implement a speed camera system. The state legislature banned speed cameras in 2007 in response to the speed trap towns of Rhome and Marble Falls, which had decided to set up automated speed traps on their own authority. Baker decided that a "county" is not a municipality, so the speed camera prohibition would not apply to him. Baker will not provide further details on his indictment.
"In order to protect the integrity of the judicial process I will not be trying this case in the media," Baker said in a statement. "I will prove my innocence and not allow a certain political faction to label me as a criminal for adhering to advice of legal counsel."
Baker was released on a $2000 bond. Grassroots America is also suing to remove Baker from his position as county judge. In addition to the speed camera meeting charge, the group accuses him of sending sexually explicit text messages from the bench. Baker resigned as vice chairman of the State Commission for Judicial Conduct after the scandal broke.
Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly implied Smith County commissioners were unaware of the initial contract approval.