Baker is County Judge - which is essentially a mayor-like position on the county commissioners court, not a judge presiding over cases - but for reasons of historical anachronism, there is a county judge's position on the SCJC and he's that representative. A lot of the press coverage so far seems to have been written by reporters who don't understand what the County Judge or Commissioners Court does - Baker is not presiding over cases. (CORRECTION: A commenter informs me Baker, who is an attorney, does preside over some probate cases.)
Reported a local station, KLTV:
The woman said Baker sent her a friend request on Facebook last year. She said she's never met the judge and didn't know him personally.
"[Baker] has always been sexual with me, and he’s made comments and [at first] I never reacted to them," the woman said. "Then in October when me and my boyfriend broke up is when it got really explicit."
After posting about the breakup on her page, she said she got a private message from Baker.
"He messaged me and said something along the lines like, 'hey how are you. I would love to come drink a glass of wine with you,' is how it started. That’s how our initial contact was."Calls are already coming for Baker to step down from his county judge post, as well, and it's a near certainty these allegations would sink any future reelection campaign in Smith County.
A friend recommended she contact McLemee to verify whether the messages originated from Baker or an imposter. Together, McLemee and the woman put together an aggressive plan to keep accelerating the online relationship.
The time stamps on the Facebook messages coincide with county business hours, taxpayer funded out-of-town conferences and judicial conduct hearings in Austin.
In one message sent on February 10 at 2:37 p.m., Baker explains that he’s at a state committee meeting in Austin, looking “at complaints about judges.” Dozens of sexually-charged messages follow.
"Had Joel Baker simply said 'I am in a very important court hearing. I cannot talk right now. I will contact you after I get off work today,'" McLemee said. "I would have had the utmost respect for that response."
In addition to the messages, the woman says she received nude photos of Baker exposing his genitals. The woman admits she consented to the sexual conversations and requested the photos, even sending some explicit photos of her own.
One also can't help thinking that this news casts a different light on older allegations that Baker had been videotaping a neighbor-girl inappropriately through her bedroom window.
Baker's one of those politicians who touts his Christianity as though God Himself had endorsed him, so these allegations, if true, raise particularly delicious ironies.
One also wonders, though, if they raise issues about the effectiveness of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, whose members apparently didn't notice that a colleague was more focused on inappropriate texting than their work, or if they noticed, didn't say anything.
Grits considers the SCJC essentially toothless, and hasn't really looked to the agency for redress vs. bad judges since they declined to publicly go after Verla Sue Holland, the former Court of Criminal Appeals judge who slept with a prosecutor as a trial judge while presiding over a capital case in which he was first chair. If that judicial conduct doesn't merit public sanction, what does?
According to SCJC annual reports, out of more than 4,400 complaints against judges over the last four years, the commission only disciplined judges 249 times, and in 79 percent of those cases (196), the results were never made public. When a Texas judge engages in misconduct, the chances are vanishingly scarce that the public will ever learn of it from the SCJC, even when the agency finds the complaint had merit.
In that light, perhaps the ennui associated with a do-nothing job contributed to Judge Baker's inability to control his sexting during SCJC meetings. When most of the work you do is fruitless and irrelevant, it's hard to keep paying attention, although there are plenty of time killing phone games this writer would recommend over sexting.
None of this is to diminish the efforts of SCJC staff, who in my observation are acting in good faith and trying to do a good job. But judging by outcomes, the political appointees on the commission do not seem particularly interested in holding Texas judges accountable in any meaningful way. And now we learn that, at least in the case of this one commissioner, that could be because his attention was focused on his own alleged misconduct, which he surely, and understandably, believed would never be brought to light.