Judge Dempsey Disappointed In Successor's Decision, Baker Responds

Smith County Judge Becky Dempsey is outraged over a decision from her successor. Wednesday night, incoming Smith County Judge-elect Joel Baker announced he would not take part in a jail planning committee. Baker was one of 17 members nominated by County Commissioners on Monday. KLTV spoke with Judge Dempsey, who says the committee will move forward, with or without Baker's help.

"I think that Mr. Baker is going to have to learn that he needs to start getting along with the court that he's going to be working with in January," said Judge Dempsey.   "I think it has the potential of putting a strain because it really is a slap in the face."

In a letter sent via e-mail to Commissioners Court yesterday, Baker declined to take part in the Facilities Planning Committee. Part of the letter read: "I was not asked for my input concerning the makeup of this committee, nor was I asked or given an opportunity to give input regarding the process the commissioners court selected."

Judge Dempsey said, "I think it's unfortunate because Mr. Baker has an opportunity for input that is absolutely going to affect him in January."

KLTV 7 News spoke with Smith County Judge-elect Joel Baker, Thursday night, to get his reaction on Judge Becky Dempsey's comments.  Baker addressed Judge Dempsey's remark that declining the post is a "slap in the face" to commissioners court. 

"I've never intended any disrespect toward the court. I've said for months I am always willing to assist in any way I can," he said.  "It was a difficult decision.   I will assist in any way I can but I have to devote my time to my law practice, my current job, until I take office. And I didn't think it was fair for me to become a member of the committee and serve on the committee when I know I would not give it the full attention that it deserves," said Baker.

Baker was not the only nominee that declined to take part in the Facilities Planning Committee.  Commissioner-elect Bill McGinnis also decided to turn it down. Although he declined an on-camera interview, McGinnis said it would be inappropriate for him to be on the committee.

Baker's letter also read, "During my campaign, I committed to being a full-time county judge as I believe the business of this county deserves full-time attention, and when I am sworn in as County Judge I will fulfill that commitment. However, I will not take office until January 1, 2007 unless the position is vacated."

Judge Dempsey's response to the prospect of leaving her position, "My goodness, no! I was elected to serve four years. I was overwhelmingly elected to serve four years and I will serve out my term."

Judge Dempsey is confident the committee will serve its purpose, despite the next county judge, not being there for the process. Baker says he plans to attend as many meetings as he can.

The Facilities Planning Committee is set to hold its first meeting tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. at the Smith County Courthouse Annex. Baker says he plans to be there.

Oralia Ortega, Reporting.  ortega@kltv.com