A San Jacinto County grand jury has indicted County Judge John Lovett Jr. on three counts, two of them felonies, in connection with a break-in at the County Clerk’s office and the forgery of a meeting notice certification last July.
Lovett’s indictment follows a tumultuous first and last term in office that includes his filing suit alleging collusion against his four-member County Commission, citations for having caused an injury accident while uninsured and his house in Shepherd burning to the ground.
Having chosen not to run for a second four-year term, Lovett, who is free on a personal recognizance bond and is suspended without pay, is in a runoff for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 1 on May 22.
Commission member Mark Nettuno, the county’s judge pro tem, told The Texas Monitor Tuesday he will take Lovett’s place for the regularly scheduled meeting next Wednesday of the Commissioner’s Court, in this sparsely populated county north of Houston. Selecting an interim judge is not on that agenda, Nettuno said.
“I think we all need to take a little time to think about what went on here,” Nettuno said.
Repeated calls to Lovett’s office phone went unreturned. Messages left with assistants asking for comment from commissioners Thomas Bonds, Donny Marrs and Laddie McAnally were also not returned.
What happened Monday in response to evidence presented by a special prosecutor with the state Attorney General’s Office was an indictment of Lovett on felony counts of burglary and forgery and a misdemeanor count of tampering, according to a Breitbart story today.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct ordered Lovett suspended without pay, according to the story, although the order has not yet been posted on the commission website.
The indictment comes 10 months after the San Jacinto Sheriff’s Department responded to a silent burglar alarm that went off July 7 less than 15 minutes after County Clerk Dawn Wright left her office, according to a KTRK-TV story reported at the time.
Lovett told a KTRK reporter he used a master key to enter the empty office. He also acknowledged using Wright’s time stamp on a commissioners court agenda for the following week, an approval that according to law is supposed to come from Wright.
“The clerk’s office exists to serve the court and the court needed her,” Lovett told the reporter. “She’s being derelict in her duty to not only the court but to our taxpayers and our citizens. If I need to go into the office of the court, I think I have every right to do so.”
Lovett told the television station the situation had been blown out of proportion by “small town politics at their worst.”
Small town politics played a big role in Lovett filing a civil suit against County Commissioners Nettuno, Bonds, Marrs and McAnally just a few weeks before the break-in at the clerk’s office.
Lovett sued after commissioners backed away from their approval of more office space for the probation department, which is headed by the county judge, according to a Houston Chronicle story at the time. The suit called the actions of the commissioners over several meetings “politically motivated.”
The suit has since been dismissed. Nettuno said Tuesday, “I think the thing with the county clerk’s office was a totally separate thing from the suit.”
Nettuno denied any political motivation in the dispute over office space. “I don’t think there was any acting in bad faith either way,” he said. “I consider myself a soother, or a pacifier. I think my relationship with the judge is still good, even though he sued us.”
A month before the lawsuit was filed, a Department of Public Safety trooper ticketed Lovett for driving on the wrong side of the road after a collision outside of Shepherd left a 16-year-old girl with minor injuries. He got a second ticket for failing to have insurance on his pickup truck.
Lovett told reporters at the time he had been conducting county business on a cellphone and had gotten distracted when he back-ended the girl’s car. Lovett called news coverage of the collision “a hit job by political opponents.”
Just a week later, while at a meeting in Beaumont, fire officials told Lovett a trailer and cabin he had been living in while he was remodeling a house in Shepherd burned to the ground.
“There was an attempt to light it on fire the week before,” Lovett told a Chronicle reporter. “When I came home one night, there was an oily residue on the steps and entrance to the house. Whoever did it took the entrance gate off the hinge and set it aside. I don’t think this was an accident. I am convinced it was arson.”
When asked by the reporter, Lovett said he was not accusing county commissioners of involvement with the fire. Instead, he blamed “a heated political climate.”
Lovett announced at the end of last year he would not run again for county judge, but instead for justice of the peace. When asked about the decision, Lovett never mentioned the political climate to a Chronicle reporter who asked.
“I want to bring my experience and knowledge and love to the county,” he said.
In the same March 6 primary that saw Nettuno reelected with 63.3 percent of the vote and Marrs with 88.5 percent in their commission races, Lovett finished second out of six JP candidates with 19.1 percent of the vote, just behind Christina McGee with 21.7 percent of the vote.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].