County Judge-Elect Responds To Criticism From Current Judge

Smith County Judge-elect Joel Baker drew criticism from current Judge Becky Dempsey when he turned down a nomination for the new jail planning committee.  Baker told KLTV 7 News he has no regrets about his decision.

"It's unfortunate that Judge Dempsey does not respect my decision to decline to serve as a member of this committee," said Baker.

On Wednesday, Baker informed commissioners via e-mail that he would not serve on the jail committee. The reasons he cited: business and family obligations and not having had any input on the committee.

"I have not been asked for my input regarding this committee, the members, the process itself. This was not my decision and this is not how I would go about it," said Baker.

Yesterday, Judge Dempsey expressed outrage over her successor's decision. "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," she said.   "To me, this is almost a slap in the face at the court."

"I don't know how to respond to that. I've never intended any disrespect toward the court," Baker responded.

Baker said if Judge Dempsey "vacated" her position before January 1st, when he's set to take office, he would gladly take over the County Judge seat and move the jail project forward.

"I'm not the leader of county government at this point. I'm not the county judge. When I step into that role, that will be my responsibility," said Baker.

Judge Dempsey says she was elected to serve a four-year term and that's exactly what she plans to do. Until then, both Baker and Dempsey hope the new committee will give the court the direction it needs to build a new jail.

Baker says he has not spoken with any of the commissioners regarding his decision since he sent out the letter. But he says that other committee members have been understanding.

Oralia Ortega, Reporting.