Commissioner Dockery to run county in Judge Oakley’s absence
The Burnet County Commissioners Court selected Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery to handle the responsibilities of county judge in the absence of Judge James Oakley, who was suspended from his duties without pay on March 15. The decision was made during a special meeting of the court on Thursday, March 23.
Dockery will run the court’s public meetings and handle the county’s day-to-day operations. Oakley was suspended by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct following his grand jury indictment on March 7 on three misdemeanor charges and one felony charge related to alleged abuses of official power and tampering with evidence.
Dockery was appointed with unanimous approval by his fellow commissioners during Thursday’s meeting. He is the senior member of the court, currently serving his 16th year as Precinct 4 commissioner. His pay will not change with the new duties.
“I feel very comfortable with (taking on the duties of judge),” Dockery told DailyTrib.com after the appointment, “especially with the support of the other commissioners. That’s a point that wasn’t touched on in the meeting today, but we will all work together to make sure that the county runs seamlessly.”
The county’s department heads will report to Dockery in Oakley’s absence, and he will sign documents on behalf of the county.
Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo made it clear to the Commissioners Court that Dockery would not be replacing Oakley under the current circumstances. Oakley is still the Burnet County judge; he is just suspended from his duties.
“(Oakley’s) suspension doesn’t mean that he is removed from office. He is just not able to do any of the functions of the office,” Arredondo explained.
The attorney told DailyTrib.com after the meeting that there is no catch-all response to a judge’s suspension and many factors affect how things are handled, such as resignations, proximity to elections, court proceedings, or removal from office. In this case, the Commissioners Court simply appointed a commissioner to handle the judge’s duties, but that could change as Oakley’s legal case develops.
“It’s not always the same answer in every situation,” Arredondo said. “We don’t know how things will play out. We’ll have to wait and see.”
No hard timeline exists for how long it could take for Oakley’s case to close or how long his suspension will last. According to Arredondo, it could be as quickly as a month or take years, depending on how the case is handled.