Kissing Asphalt

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Former Angelina County Judge Don Lymbery should immediately appeal his conviction by a judge on a misdemeanor violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

We watched the whole trial, and it smells of a cheap political ploy to change votes on commissioners court to thwart the will of the voters.

We think the DA is wasting money with political nonsense when crime victims are waiting for justice from real criminals. This is a case of KISSING ASPHALT!

“Hey Ms. Cassels, was it worth all the time and money just for this?” asked Wayne Dolcefino.

The District Attorney was silent, but Angelina County taxpayers deserve an explanation. For two full days in late June, Janet Cassels did what she had almost never done in the three years she’s been the D.A.; Personally prosecute a criminal case hard.

And it wasn’t a dangerous, violent criminal. No, this was a misdemeanor prosecution of that former County Judge Don Lymbery, the retired military veteran who had never been charged with a crime in his entire life until last year, accused of talking county business with two other commissioners outside of a public meeting.

“They spent lots of money to prosecute me,” stated Don Lymbery.

If you read the headlines after the trial was over, you already knew that Judge Travis Kitchens ruled Lymbery was guilty of one misdemeanor violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

“I did not do what I’m being accused of. I maintained that from the start, and I still maintain it,” continues Lymbery.

But Lymbery took little solace in the fact that 15 other misdemeanor charges the D.A. had piled on him with those blaring headlines. They were either dismissed or he was found not guilty.

“I hate that it was so embarrassing for the county and for myself and my family,” expressed Lymbery.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” expressed Tracy Pinkerton.

Tracy Pinkerton watched all the testimony and she’s the head of the Angelina County Transparency Group, We The Watchdogs. What did she learn?

“That their corruption is more important than taking care of your citizens and the people that are in jail and the victims and their families,” continued Pinkerton.

But she wasn’t talking about Don Lymbery. She thinks he was driven out of office unfairly. She was talking about the D.A. and County Commissioner Terry Pitts, whose complaints appear to be behind a lot of the political prosecutions.

“I don’t know nothing about asphalt,” claimed Terry Pitts.

You’ve heard that nonsense before. Pitts has been involved in road work in this county for a long time. And he was clearly against Angelina County doing what the voters wanted them to do, what a lot of counties do: remove the power to control asphalt and who gets it from guys like Terry Pitts, hiring an engineer instead to fix the horrible roads without all the politics.

And then there’s Janet Cassels.

Lymbery and Rodney Paulette, another Commissioner indicted for that same get together, had been her harshest critics on commissioners court fighting her budget. We’ve long said that made prosecuting these cases for Cassels a classic conflict.

“I think everyone thinks this is really just bogus what’s going on,” said Brittany Tarkington.

Petty retaliation. That was apparently the gossip behind closed doors in the D.A.’s office about this whole open meetings act case.

Brittany Tarkington manned the front desk at the D.A.’s office and did paralegal work. She messaged us on Facebook after our last report.

“I mean I’m going to be honest with you. I’m scared of retaliation,” expressed Tarkington.

Tarkington told us the misdemeanor prosecution of Don Lymbery was so important employees were ordered to sign waivers of silence on the case and that case only. We’ve asked the D.A. to see the documents.

“She is very paranoid. We had to go around and sign waivers that we wouldn’t talk to anyone about the case,” recalled Tarkington.

So, what was this really all about? A security video without audio showed Lymbery and two commissioners in his office after a public agenda was posted.

It was a planned vote on hiring engineer Chuck Walker. It was the County Attorney, Cary Kirby, who saw the video and said, I need the Rangers and the D.A. Not sure why because in Texas, a quorum of commissioners in the same office is not illegal.

Steve Smith had been sworn in just a few hours before and he was brand new. The third vote to do what the voters wanted.

A long-time employee of that county says she heard Smith ask if he could question Walker before the vote, and she said she heard Lymbery say yes, but that’s all she heard.

Commissioner Steve Smith was the star witness, as we said he’d be.

Smith had denied county business was discussed, but in court, after being promised immunity, he said he had lied to a lot of people. Even to his friends, to the sheriff, even to the Texas Rangers at first.

Smith testified the trio in that room talked about who would make the motion to hire Walker.

“Disappointed, but I’m sure that Steve did what he felt like was the best for Steve Smith. And I just don’t I don’t roll that way. I’m sorry,” expressed Lymbery.

The D.A. had to try and clean up more than Smith’s lies. Just as he got his immunity deal with the D.A., the two small residential streets around his house were paved.

Of all the hundreds of streets in his precinct, they picked those, ignoring other streets that were clearly horrible.

“You all know the front of Steve Smith’s house is Euel Street. And the back of his house is Harrell Street. The two streets were the only two streets completed,” stated Carole Miller, an Angelina County resident, at a Commissioners Court meeting.

It looks curious, but it was all just a big coincidence, these two county road officials testified in court. You really buy that?

“You really want folks to believe this is all just a coincidence?” Dolcefino asked.

“My job is work on roads. That’s what I do,” replied reoad official James Dykes.

A Texas Ranger, Ryan Clendennen, did the investigation of Don Lymbery, but he did another investigation that quite frankly reeks of favoritism.

Before Terry Pitts’ complaints got Chuck Walker indicted, the road engineer discovered that Pitts had used all the asphalt he got from taxpayer money, but only paved half the roads promised.

The county claimed records detailing the roadwork were nonexistent for a long time. Then they suddenly appear.

“You can accuse anybody of something but like I said I got court to do and I don’t have time to fool with you,” said Terry Pitts.

Ranger Clendennen spent only a few weeks on his limited cursory evaluation of the Pitts asphalt mystery before deciding the map didn’t matter.

The Rangers won’t tell us who was actually even questioned, but on that alleged open meetings violation, a bunch of folks were questioned.

In the end, Lymbery will pay just a small fine and can get the conviction erased from his record after a month.

Prosecutions of open meeting violations in Texas are exceedingly rare, with only a handful of indictments.

In Montgomery County, officials were accused years ago of negotiating an actual bond deal in secret. The charges were thrown out by the Texas Supreme Court.

So, Don Lymbery appears to be the only public official in Texas in at least two decades who will stand convicted for allegedly simply talking about county business in a quorum. That’s based on news articles and court records we looked at.

And Lymbery still insists this was really all about the fight over control of the roads, political retaliation.

The misdemeanor indictment was used to remove Lymbery from office immediately. It paved the way for the vote to fire the engineer who was uncovering questionable asphalt road work. He’s still suing.

“I was the proponent and supported the new road system for Angelina County and I’m still a supporter and proponent of the new road system for Angelina County,” stated Lymbery.

It’s time for Cassels to think about the time and cost of another misdemeanor trial over this same meeting. Commissioner Rodney Paulette will want a jury this time.

“Ms. Cassels, was it worth all the time and money just for this?” asked Wayne Dolcefino.

The D.A. doesn’t talk to us. It kind of runs in the family.

Jimmy Cassels did divorce cases in the Angelina County courthouse.

Then Judge Clyde Herrington, who heard lawsuits involving Cassels, once rented office space in his building.

We heard multiple complaints about their relationship.

“Don’t you think folks have a right to know,” asked Wayne Dolcefino. “Well if they do they can come visit with me,” replied Herrington.

Herrington didn’t run for re-election, but his buddy Jimmy Cassels did.

He’s now the judge and we got a glimpse of his judicial temperament two years ago.

And Clyde Herrington is now an assistant D.A. for Janet Cassels. Part of the prosecution team in the Lymbery case.

How long will the judge stay with the D.A.? Who knows, but nearly fifty employees have either resigned or have been fired by Janet Cassels in just three years.

Including Brittany Tarkington, not a fan of the D.A.

“A bitch. Hard to please. Paranoid. Just crazy. Thows fits all the time,” described Tarkington.

Tarkington said she was fired for bad work performance last November to make room for employees of Jimmy Cassels law firm who needed jobs.

“She took in all of his girls and my position was immediately filled,” continued Tarkington.

But that’s not the main reason Brittany reached out.

“I thought it was really important to just back up what you were saying,” expressed Tarkington.

We’ve been exposing the backlog of criminal prosecutions in Angelina County.

Accused criminals languishing in jail awaiting their day in court. Sometimes for years. But the victims of crime are being denied justice too.

The D.A. employees assigned to help them have also left in growing numbers.

“She would say to our victim assistance coordinator not to talk to the families that our victims were in a ditch,” recalled Tarkington.

A shocking allegation, that Cassels actually restricted communications with family members of crime victims.

“You want other employees to come forward. There are a lot of people that are very unhappy right” asked Dolcefino. Brittany Tarkington replied, “Yeah, it’s been enough. Everyone’s unhappy.”

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