Will Jones

McLennan County Commissioner Will Jones leaves court last month after pleading guilty, in exchange for deferred adjudication probation, to making an improper offer during his primary campaign. Jones offered to personally refund his opponent’s $1,250 filing fee if his opponent would drop out of the Republican primary race.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson, file

A former McLennan County justice of the peace who lost his job through redistricting obtained two felony warrants Thursday for the arrest of McLennan County Commissioner Will Jones.

R.S. Gates obtained two second-degree felony warrants that charge Jones with engaging in organized criminal activity. Gates filled out sworn probable cause affidavits and convinced Caldwell County Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Ben Brady, of Maxwell, near Lockhart, to issue the warrants.

Gates, who according to the complaint is a licensed master peace officer, said he went to Brady to get the warrants because he knows him from his past law enforcement days and because he thought McLennan County officials likely would recuse themselves in matters involving Jones.

The warrants charge that Jones lied when he signed his oath of office and an anti-bribery statement in January because he knew he was under investigation for bribery at the time by Texas Rangers.

Jones said Friday he was shocked to learn of the warrants and said the issue of whether he offered to refund the filing fee to his primary opponent if his challenger, Ben Matus, dropped out of the race was resolved by his guilty plea last month.

“I have no idea what is going on,” Jones said. “I have never been to Caldwell County before except to drive through and eat lunch at Lockhart. I have no idea why somebody would do this. I really have no reason for it. We don’t know what it is about. I certainly have never participated in any organized crime. That is for certain. You can obviously get a judge to do anything, but I have done nothing. I am serving my time on probation.”

Gates said he sought the warrants because he was not satisfied with how the case was handled by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which took over after McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna recused his office from the case.

Put on probation

Jones pleaded guilty in an agreement with the AG’s office to Class A misdemeanor offering a gift to a public servant. A visiting judge put him on deferred adjudication probation for one year, fined him $4,000 and ordered Jones to perform 80 hours of community service.

Texas law requires officeholders convicted of crimes involving official misconduct to resign from office, but Jones will not have a conviction if he completes his deferred adjudication probation.

After his plea hearing, Jones admitted he made a mistake.

“I was wrong to offer to refund my opponent’s filing fee back,” Jones said last month. “Ignorance of the law is not a defense. Therefore, I accept the consequences of my actions. I have been open and honest from the beginning. I am honored that the voters re-elected me despite the negative coverage in the news media about my actions. I look forward to continuing my work as county commissioner and will serve the citizens of Precinct 3 and all of McLennan County to the best of my ability.”

Jim Dunnam, one of Jones’ attorneys, said Friday it is highly unusual for someone other than a law enforcement officer to obtain an arrest warrant, even one with a law enforcement background like Gates.

“This is crazy. I suppose anybody can go get a warrant, but this is ridiculous, and you can put ridiculous in all caps,” Dunnam said. “The matter is over. It was dealt with appropriately, and if someone is just going to find a JP somewhere in the state of Texas to open up something that is already resolved, it is improper.”

Dunnam said Jones will cooperate with authorities if the warrant is served.

Gates said he dropped off a copy of the warrants at Texas Rangers headquarters in Waco on Thursday evening. Texas Ranger Patrick Pena, who investigated Jones’ case, said Friday morning that he was not aware of the new warrants.

As part of their oaths of office, county and state officials are required to file what is known as an anti-bribery statement. It says, in part, that they have not “directly or indirectly paid, offered, promised to pay, contributed or promised to contribute any money or thing of value, or promised any public office or employment for the giving or withholding of a vote at the election at which I was elected or as a reward to secure my appointment or confirmation.”

Brady, who has been a JP for 29 months, said he spoke to Gates by phone about the warrants before Gates drove to Maxwell, about 135 miles from Waco. He said he also spoke to him for about an hour Thursday before issuing the warrants.

“Yes, it did strike me as a bit unusual for him to come down here and get the warrants,” Brady said. “However, Mr. Gates gave me what appeared to be a credible description of the facts, and understanding the politics and idiosyncrasies of small county governments, especially up there in McLennan County with all the business that is going on up there, I was willing to sign the warrants. Mr. Gates appeared to me to be a very credible person, and the complaint seemed to be a very credible complaint. We talked at length.”

Jones admitted in January 2016 he made the offer to Matus, his primary opponent. He called it “a simple business transaction.” Matus taped his phone conversations with Jones and saved text messages, which he shared with the Tribune-Herald.

Gates, the self-styled “minister of irritance,” won a JP post in Moody in 2006 but never took office after county commissioners redrew precinct lines and eliminated the position. Since then, Gates, a former sheriff’s office investigator, has peppered county offices with open records requests and is a regular open critic of county government at commissioners’ meetings.

First Amendment

Gates, who was removed from a public hearing on the county budget in 2015, said McLennan County officials do not hold the First Amendment in high regard.

“Think of the First Amendment right to petition government for redress of grievances,” Gates said, explaining why he sought the warrants against Jones. “It is nothing more. I have filed a petition, and the judge determined there was a violation of the law. He had a responsibility at that point to issue a warrant.”

Jones defeated Matus, a Texas State Technical College auto repair instructor, in the primary with 56 percent of the vote. Jones won 83 percent of the vote in the November general election against Libertarian challenger David Reichert.

Brady, the Caldwell County JP, was rebuked last year by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct after he tried to stop a motorist he deemed to be reckless and then threatened her with jail time in an incident in San Marcos.

The commission gave Brady a public warning and ordered him “to receive additional instruction on maintaining the appropriate separation between the roles of a judge and law enforcement,” the Austin American-Statesman reported last year.

“According to the agency’s order, Brady followed motorist Vicki Cook — who he believed had been driving recklessly — for more than seven miles, flashing his headlights and gesturing for her to pull over. Cook eventually stopped when a San Marcos officer, responding to a phone call from Brady, pulled her over,” the Statesman reported.

“Cook told investigators that she had been afraid to stop because the man following her was not in uniform or driving a police vehicle.”

The commission’s order also required instruction for Brady on his contempt-of-court powers. He had threatened to jail Cook for contempt of court and told her, “If I see you again, I’m going to make sure that the county sheriff takes you to jail,” the Statesman reported.

In a written response to the commission, Brady “acknowledged that he did not have the authority to stop Cook but defended his actions based on language in the Texas Constitution that describes judges as ‘conservators of the peace.’

“Brady also said he believed he could hold Cook in contempt of court for interrupting while he was trying to speak with her. Legally, however, a judge cannot make a contempt finding outside of a courtroom when no judicial proceedings are taking place,” the Statesman reported.

“In this instance, it appears that Judge Brady became personally affronted by Cook’s conduct toward him and confused an offense to his sensibilities with obstruction to the administration of justice,” according to the commission’s order. “This is something that courts have routinely warned against when addressing a judge’s exercise of contempt powers.”

Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

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