Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Smith County Judge was sexting during State Commission on Judicial Conduct meeting

Smith County Judge Joel Baker recently resigned from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct after it was revealed he'd been sexting with a woman not his wife including, allegedly, during commission meetings in which they were evaluating alleged judicial misconduct by others.

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."

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.
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

It's rare for any elected official from that county to get into trouble. They are a very tight group.

Anonymous said...

Judge Baker is also over the Probate Court and does hear those type of cases. If he was not an attorney he could not hear contested cases, but since he is also an attorney, he hears contested probate matters as well.

Anonymous said...

Grits recently lamented the incompetence of Texas Rangers in holding Texas public officials accountable. Now it also appears the State Commission on Judicial Conduct is not holding judges accountable. Is it fair to conclude that Texas institutions designed to hold public officials accountable have collapsed? I think Texas is a perfect example of how public corruption can get out of hand when one political party (in this case Republicans) dominates for such an extended period of time. This common phenomenon in third world countries has apparently found its way into the Lone Star State

Anonymous said...


Joorie Doodie said...

Love ya, Grits, but you must have been absent that day in Civics class when they went over this: Judge Joel Baker does in fact have judicial duties. Ten of the largest counties in Texas have statutory probate courts that hear mental health and probate matters. In each of the 244 other counties, the county judge is responsible for probate, mental health, and adult guardianship hearings. In some counties, some of those responsibilities are turned over to associate judges. but not in Smith County: Baker wants his salary supplement from the state, claiming he spends at least 40% of his time on judicial matters. More on Judge Joel Baker's problems and general incompetence found here:


Many county judges are not lawyers, which causes problems when more complex cases are handled in these "constitutional county courts." You're right--this is an arcane system that needs to be changed. The role of being "mayor of the county" really should be separated from judicial duties, which should be handled by "real" judges, e.g. county courts at law.

Again, love ya, Grits! Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

A few of questions on this sexting thing: 1) Isn't sexting against the law, and 2) Isn't that a teenager thing, and 3) don't courts make people register as sex offenders for that? Forgive my ignorance, I could be wrong about this but if that is the case shouldn't this Judge have to register as a sex offender? If it is a crime and people do have to register and this Judge does not---what's up with that?

DEWEY said...

Is he going to have to register as a sextext offender ????

Anonymous said...

FBI Investigation in ongoing...according to reports. He should resign from position of county judge. Horrible watching him order his bailiffs to remove a woman from his court room who asked for his resignation because she wasn't following the rules. She was one of three calling for him to step down. He then continued to lecture about the grace of God and some self righteous people. Very sad for the county.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Joorie Doodie, I added a correction in the post. Blame Tyler public schools.

@8:42, the answers are no, yes, and no. Among consenting adults, sexting is free speech. Voters, OTOH, may have other opinions.

Anonymous said...

What is sexting while on the Gov't payroll at the State Commission on Judicial Conduct? Consensual or not, if it's on official time, it should meet one of the conditions for removal. I would like to hear a lawyer weigh in on this as far engaging in this conduct during official state business. Civil violation ?

Anonymous said...

He is still receiving his paycheck for position of county judge. In any other job, someone caught doing this on the job would be fired.

editor said...

The process and costs for his mental health commitments are so prohibitive that it appears that Smith County has no mental health problems, if you use commitments as a data set for that figure. He uses his authority to bully other agencies into getting what he wants. I laugh at the comment that Smith Co leaders look out for each other because most take an adversarial stance with Joel Baker, probably due to his narcissistic and bullying mannerisms.

Anonymous said...

Moving along, next Bingham, Skeen, Clark.

Joorie Doodie said...

@editor: And for doing next to nothing all week baker takes home a salary of something like $130,000 per year, plus a $5,000 "travel allowance" for which he does not have to provide any receipts or proof that he used it for legitimate business. Bake is an inferior public servant, and "Sextinggate" proves it--sitting in meetings while being paid by Smith County on trips paid for by state taxpayers...Sexting and trying to get in some strange woman's pants, WHILE HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN WORKING. I'd have no problem if he were doing it on his own time, with his own equipment. But the fact that he seems interested in everything but doing real work for his constituents is certainly illuminate by this scandal!

Oh, and Grits, don't feel so bad about not understanding the role of county judges in smaller counties. I knew NOTHING about county government until a few years ago. Again, product of public schooling.

Anonymous said...

They look out for each other in that nothing comes to light there. This incident was exposed by a PRIVATE investigator. Officials in Smith County are rarely questioned because of fear.

editor said...