Burnet County Judge James Oakley is seeking reimbursement from the county for his legal fees and missed salary after he was found not guilty of a misdemeanor charge of misuse of government property and his suspension from duties was lifted. He added his requests in two agenda items for the first meeting of the Commissioners Court over which he will preside since he was suspended on March 15 by the State Commission of Judicial Conduct.
The meeting is at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12, in the second-floor courtroom of the Burnet County Courthouse, 220 S. Pierce St. in Burnet.
The only charge to go to trial was a class B misdemeanor for misuse of government property. Oakley was charged with using a county-owned vehicle to attend meetings of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board of Directors, on which he serves. A Blanco County jury found him not guilty on Aug. 31. His suspension as Burnet County judge was lifted on Sept. 1.
Oakley is legally allowed to request reimbursement of legal fees and missed salary, Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo told DailyTrib.com.
“Whether or not they do it is up to the commissioners,” Arredondo said.
Oakley will have to abstain from voting on the two agenda items, leaving the decision up to the four commissioners.
LGC 157.901 states that a county commissioners court may pay for a county official’s legal defense if they are criminally charged in their capacity as an official.
AG opinion KP-0037 gives a clear indication that Oakley’s legal fees could be covered if commissioners choose to do so:
“Under the common law, a county commissioners court has discretion to reimburse legal expenses incurred by a county commissioner in the defense of a criminal matter which results in a finding of not guilty if the prosecution was for actions that were within scope of official duties and defense is primarily for a county purpose and not a personal interest.”
Both 157.901 and KP-0037 hinge upon the Burnet County Commissioners Court determining whether Oakley’s legal defense was in greater service to the county than to himself.
DailyTrib.com asked Oakley what his legal fees amounted to, but he said he’d rather save it for Tuesday’s meeting.
“I’d rather not hype it up,” he said.
Commissioners Joe Don Dockery and Damon Beierle told DailyTrib.com that they would have to look into the matter further and they are unable to discuss it among themselves outside of the court.
Dockery did note that he could see Oakley’s point of view regarding reimbursement of his salary.
“The payment of his salary is in our budget, and if someone accuses you of a crime and you’re found not guilty, wouldn’t you want reimbursement?” he said.