Baker’s former defense attorney stands by claim of 'political wi - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Baker’s former defense attorney stands by claim of 'political witch hunt'


Former County Judge Joel Baker did not appear to want the public involved in discussions about school zone camera contracts, according to video from Smith County Commissioners Court executive sessions released today.

“But what I don’t want is for us to have, while we are still considering the legality, while we are still talking about contract issues, and we want to work through any logistics that we have… I don’t think we want to go into open session and have the public presentation,” Baker is heard saying in a July 8, 2014, closed meeting.

Information released Monday under a records request filed by JoAnn Fleming, director of Grassroots America- We the People, shows and tells what happened behind the closed doors during executive sessions for which Baker was indicted on Open Meeting Act violations: July 8, 2014; July 29, 2014; and August 12, 2014.

Late Monday, Joel Baker's defense attorney and law partner Joe Murphy spoke about the release of the videotapes and information, echoing a statement he made in court last August.

“When you are looking at this, in its totality, it shows that it is absolutely a political witch hunt,” Murphy said.

READ MORE: Suspended Smith Co. judge argues 'political motivation' in first hearing

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The investigator’s report also released Monday creates the foundation for charges later brought against Baker. In the report, Baker is found to have improperly held meetings at nine times, and official oppression is on the table. Baker was later indicted on three counts.

In June 2016, a Smith County grand jury handed Baker three indictments for the meetings violations. Two charges were dismissed under a plea agreement reached in December, on the same morning a jury was being selected in the trial. Baker pleaded no contest to the third charge, paid a $200 penalty and was given 30 days deferred adjudication.

“If Judge Baker is guilty of this, which he has never been found guilty of, but if he is guilty of this then the other four are equally as guilty,” Murphy said, referring to commissioners present in the meetings who later were given immunity.

Speaking of the videos, Murphy points out that there is little disagreement seen or heard from fellow commissioners.

At least one indictment is tied directly to a July 8, 2014, meeting. On that day, a scheduled presentation by representatives of American Traffic Solutions, Inc. scheduled for open meeting was instead held during executive session.

“Prior to the trial of this case, Judge Baker voluntarily resigned. So, I guess the only four other individuals who have completed, excuse me, who have done this willful violation of the public trust, still sit over there at the annex,” Murphy said. “That’s why it’s a political witch hunt.”

Baker resigned in September, with the commissioner’s court voting to accept his formal resignation in November 2016.

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