Judge Baker enters not guilty plea

Local News

Judge Joel Baker entered a not guilty plea Thursday morning in his first court appearance.

Baker turned himself in on June 17 for violating the Closed Meetings Act. He was booked into jail on three counts of the violation.

In his first appearance in the JECC Courtroom, Baker waived his arraignment and entered a not guilty plea.

During the hearing, Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said he asserted attorney-client privilege for 19 emails out of 150,000. Those emails are specifically related to American Traffic Solutions, a company Baker announced in 2015 that Smith County would partner with to launch a school safety program. The program was met with large pushback from the community and put on hold. 

Assistant Texas Attorney General Daniel Brody wanted access to all 150,000 emails, which Judge Jack Carter declined.  

“I know Mr. Brody and I understand, I really do, where he’s coming from but the problem is we can’t just hand that over and expose the county to lawsuits,” Bingham said.

Judge Carter gave guidelines to determine search terms on which the emails’ relevancy to this case will be determined. 

Baker’s attorney Joe Murphy asked Brody for emails regarding the case from the Texas Attorney General’s Office.  Brody said that might be difficult to locate such a large scope of emails. 

“I don’t know the capability of how we get this,” Brody said. “I don’t know how long it’s gonna take, I don’t know if they’re going to object to it and file a motion I mean this may take a lot of time.”

Pre-trial is scheduled for October 6 and trial for October 31. 

Judge Jack Carter presided over the hearing.

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