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Burnet County Judge Oakley found not guilty of misuse of government property

Burnet County Judge James Oakley confers with attorney John Carsey

Burnet County Judge James Oakley confers with attorney John Carsey after hearing the 'not guilty' verdict from the jury in his misdemeanor trial. Oakley was charged with misuse of government property for driving his county-issued truck to meetings of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors, on which he serves. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

A six-person jury on Thursday, Aug. 31, took a little over an hour to come back with a “not guilty” verdict in the case of the State of Texas v. James Oakley, who was charged with misuse of government property. The jury was asked to decide whether Oakley knowingly and willfully intended to gain personal benefit by driving a Burnet County-owned vehicle to meetings of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors. He is both the Burnet County judge and a PEC director. 

“Currently, I think there was just a lack of evidence,” Oakley’s attorney John Carsey told after the verdict was announced just before noon on Thursday, the third day of the trial in the 33rd Judicial District Courtroom in Johnson City. “I didn’t feel the state proved what they had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Both Carsey and District Attorney Wiley “Sonny” McAfee said they planned to talk with jurors who agreed to stick around after they were released from duty by presiding District Judge Dib Waldrip. 

“They may have a little more insight,” Carsey said.

McAfee said he had no idea what swayed the jury, but wanted to thank jurors for their service as well as ask them about their decision. He also said this was not the end of Oakley’s legal troubles.

“We have the other three cases on appeal,” he said. “They have gone up to the Third Court of Appeals, and we are going to complete that process.” 

Oakley originally faced four charges in a grand jury indictment handed down March 7. Judge Waldrip approved a motion to quash all but the charge that Oakley was just acquitted of. McAfee appealed the decision on the other charges. One of the three charges now before the appeals court is a third-degree felony. Oakley is accused of tampering with physical evidence with an intent to impair after moving a bumper from the road following an April 2021 vehicle accident in Spicewood in which he was involved.

The county judge was suspended without pay by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on March 15. When asked if he could now go back to work, Oakley said Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo would need to find that out from the commission.

“I have great respect for the judicial commission,” Oakley said as he was leaving the District Court in Johnson City. “I’ve waited this long, I can wait two more hours.”  

Arredondo was in his car on the way back to Burnet after sitting through 2½ days of the trial. The county attorney planned to call the state commission as soon as he could, Oakley told 

“I am relieved that this part of the legal proceedings against me is finally over, and I hope to get back to serving Burnet County as soon as possible,” the county judge said in a media statement. “The allegation and subsequent court proceedings have weighed heavy on my heart, but through the patience and support of my family, I have remained confident that eventually the truth would prevail — and it did. I appreciate the citizens of Blanco County, who selflessly served on my jury, sought the truth, and by their verdict of not guilty, vindicated me of these baseless charges.”