TIMELINE

County Judge Joel Baker's voluntary resignation this week closes one chapter of investigations into his conduct, but other matters are ongoing. Here's a look at the history of how those issues developed.

2014

■ JULY 8 -Possible partnership between American Traffic Solutions first discussed at Commissioners Court.

■ JULY 29 - Commissioners continue ATS discussions.

■ AUG. 12 - Commissioners approve contract with ATS pursuant to authorization by legal counsel, purchasing and county auditor. The measure passes 4-0, with Commissioner Terry Phillips absent.

2015

■ JAN. 28 - Agreement inked between Smith County and American Traffic Solutions to place 10 unmanned speed cameras in county school zones. Baker,

Assistant District Attorney Phillip Smith and George Hittner, the general counsel for ATS, signed the agreement.

■ APRIL 20 - Tyler officials learn of the program when the county invited them to an informational lunch set for April 27.

■ APRIL 24 - Tyler Mayor Martin Heines sends a letter to Baker stating the city is opposed to the cameras.

■ APRIL 27 - Smith County issues a news release about the partnership with ATS. Members of the Commissioners Court said that’s when they learned the deal had been signed.

■ APRIL 28 - City of Tyler makes its opposition public, with Heines saying the city would refuse to process company’s tickets in the city’s municipal court. Shortly thereafter, Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said he also objected to the program, and asked for an attorney general opinion on the legality of the county’s plan to use the fire marshal’s office to review the camera footage.

■ MAY 5 - Smith County Commissioners delay the camera plan and call for more study and public input. County Tax Collector Gary Barber said his office will not be the enforcement arm of the program by denying vehicle registration to offenders.

■ MAY 6 - Grassroots America-We The People files a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office against Baker over the plan and requests a full investigation by the AG’s office.

■ MAY 12 - Grassroots files a formal complaint with Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham regarding the ATS contract.

■ MAY 21 - Bingham requests recusal from the matter and asks the AG’s office to appoint an outside attorney to investigate the case. He cites his office’s relationship to the Commissioners Court, including that Assistant District Attorney Phillip Smith serves as the Commissioners Court’s attorney and advises them on legal matters.

■ JUNE 2 - Baker said the ATS deal is on hold, but could move forward if schools become interested in the project over the 10-year lifespan of the contract.

■ JUNE 24 - The Texas Attorney General’s Office said it will investigate whether the Smith County Commissioners Court violated the Texas Open Meetings Act while negotiating the contract with ATS.

■ NOV. 10 - County commissioners approve contracts with three law firms - Potter Minton, the Dacus Law Firm and Flowers Davis - related to the attorney general’s investigation.

■ NOV. 24 - Two Smith County commissioners confirm there’s an ongoing FBI investigation into matters surrounding the ATS contract.

2016

■ MARCH 4- Baker sends letter to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct saying he plans to resign citing stress and concern for family.

■ MARCH 15 - Judicial Conduct Commission issues a statement indicating it will investigate Baker following allegations that he was exchanging explicit messages with a woman other than his wife.

■ APRIL 18 - Grassroots America-We The People files a lawsuit to have Baker removed from office. It lists two separate causes of action - incompetency, related to the ATS contract, and official misconduct, related to the sexting allegations. State District Judge Kerry Russell recuses himself from the lawsuit.

■ MAY 26 - Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said he will recuse himself from the Grassroots case, clearing the way for State District Judge David Peeples of San Antonio to appoint an outside attorney.

■ JUNE 14 - Peeples appoints Palestine attorney and former State Bar of Texas president Jim Parsons to serve as the attorney pro-tem in the case.

■ JUNE 16 - Smith County grand jury returns an indictment charging Baker with three counts of violating the Texas Open Meetings act, a misdemeanor, following an investigation handled by Texas Attorney General’s Office attorney Daniel Brody, who will serve as prosecutor in the case.

■ JUNE 17 - District Judge Christi Kennedy’s request for recusal from the AG’s case is granted by Administrative Judge Mary Murphy. Murphy appoints Sixth District Court of Appeals Judge Jack Carter, of Texarkana, to hear the case.

■ JUNE 17 - Joel Baker is booked into the Smith County jail for the misdemeanor Texas Open Meetings Act violations.

■ JUNE 21 - The State Commission on Judicial Conduct suspends Baker without pay. The order cites the three Open Meetings Act indictments as causes.

■ JULY 19 - The Smith County Commissioners Court unanimously approves the appointment of former Tyler city councilman and local attorney Nathaniel Moran to become the acting Smith County judge.

■ JULY 20 - Baker appeals the State Commission Judicial Conduct’s suspension. By law, he had 30 days to file an appeal.

■ JULY 22 – Nathaniel Moran takes the oath of office to become the acting Smith County judge in Baker’s absence.

■ AUG. 10 - Baker withdraws his request for a post suspension hearing in front of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, citing his confidence in Moran’s leadership.

■ AUG. 30 - Baker pleads not guilty to the open meetings violations in his first court appearance. The defense and prosecution argue over emails that will be used in the case’s discovery.

■ SEPT. 20 - An agreement is signed between the Commission on Judicial Conduct and Baker to settle its investigation into allegations that judge sent inappropriate or explicit messages to a woman while on official business.

- Compiled by Faith Harper

Source: Tyler Morning Telegraph archives

Recommended for you

Load comments