It is time for Smith County Judge Joel Baker to resign. We have refrained from making that determination for some time, mostly in hopes that Baker himself would do the right thing and step down. That hasn't happened, despite ongoing investigations into the court and Baker by the Texas Attorney General's Office and the FBI, and now an investigation into Baker himself by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, a disciplinary body that he served on, over reports (confirmed by Baker) that he exchanged sexually explicit emails with a woman.

The last straw came on Tuesday, when he used the Smith County Commissioners Court rules of decorum to stifle criticism of him. By limiting public comment in such a manner, Baker continued a long pattern of being unable to hear any criticism. That's unacceptable in an elected leader.

The First Amendment guarantees each of us the right to petition our government for redress of grievances; Baker's refusal to hear criticism - indeed, his refusal to sign the agenda last week when Commissioner Cary Nix added an item to it to address the court's leadership - shows his insistence on putting his own self-preservation above public discourse and transparency.

It would have been preferable for him to allow someone else to preside over that portion of the meeting, and indeed to interpret the rules of decorum more broadly in a time of crisis. The court could have chosen, by a majority vote, to do just that.

It now appears that members of the public are the only ones who aren't allowed to question the integrity of the court or its members.

Baker's own actions and decisions have brought us to this point. And they have brought him to a place where he no longer has the authority to lead this body.

There are calls to let due process take its course. And we are confident that due process will reveal the truth in each of these investigations. But this is a question of leadership.

Baker's defense in the sexting scandal - that he was attempting to entrap a woman who was trying to entrap him - falls short of credibility. In a letter to the media, Baker claimed he did so with the knowledge and help of his wife. It would have been more believable if he had gone to the sheriff, or to the chief of police, or to any other neutral party with the assertion that he was being baited or entrapped by political foes.

Therefore we must join with members of the public and two commissioners - Nix and Terry Phillips - in expressing an overwhelming feeling of no confidence in this judge, and call for his immediate resignation.

The damage done to the court will outlast Baker's departure. It is time for the county to move forward - without him.

 

 
 

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