Joe Cooksey, who has used the courts and other public forums to take on public officials he believes have acted wrongly, was arrested Wednesday on a charge of illegally disclosing a tape recording of a closed county commissioners meeting.
Cooksey is accused of illegally attaching a tape recording of the the April 10, 2006 closed meeting with a petition he filed seeking the removal from office of Brown County Judge Ray West, documents filed in the Brown County Clerk’s office state.
Cooksey claimed in the petition seeking West’s removal that the meeting had been illegal and that West had participated in it. A judge later dismissed the petition seeking West’s removal, as well as a petition Cooksey filed seeking Brownwood Mayor Bert Massey’s removal from office.
Cooksey, 53, turned himself in at the Brown County Jail, where he was booked on a charge of improper disclosure of certified agenda or tape recording of closed meeting, a Class A misdemeanor. Cooksey was released on a personal recognizance bond.
“No, I don’t want to talk to the Brownwood Bulletin,” Cooksey said while walking from the Brown County Courthouse to attorney John Lee Blagg’s office. “You won’t print the truth.”
Blagg said he accompanied Cooksey to the jail to turn himself in but said he is not representing him.
Brownwood attorney Rudy Taylor said Court-at-Law Judge Frank Griffin appointed him special prosecutor on the case against Cooksey.
“I reviewed the evidence. I found the evidence to be credible and substantial enough to show a crime was committed,” Taylor said.
Cooksey, a contractor, filed a petition on Jan. 30 seeking West’s removal for alleged incompetence and official misconduct.
The petition claimed West posted a notice on April 7 that an emergency meeting of the commissioners court would convene in executive session on April 10. The notice stated that the court would discuss “personnel matters and pending litigation.”
The meeting was illegal because the emergency meeting notice did not clearly identify the emergency or urgent public necessity in the notice, the petition claimed.
Such an “emergency meeting” did take place involving West, all four county commissioners, County Attorney Shane Britton, Sheriff Bobby Grubbs, County Auditor Nina Cox and County Clerk Margaret Wood. The meeting’s topic was the pending theft case against then-tax assessor-collector Linda Lewis Parker.
On Jan. 24, 2009, Cooksey stated in his petition, he received a cassette tape copy of that meeting, Cooksey also received a transcript of the tape recording made by someone “who wishes to remain a confidential informant … for fear of their own personal safety.”
On Jan. 30, Cooksey’s petition stated, he entered the public area of the Brown County Clerk’s office in the basement, retrieved the tape in a cardboard box on top of a file cabinet, and made his own personal copy on a digital recorder.
Cooksey also wrote in his petition that the tape of the closed meeting of April 10 “is not believed to be the certified tape recording” of the meeting as required by state law, but was “simply a tool made by (then-County Clerk Margaret Wood) in helping her prepare the certified agenda as required.”
On June 8, Brown County Attorney Shane Britton filed a motion for the appointment of a special prosecutor. Cooksey had attached a copy of the tape recording of the “alleged illegal closed meeting,” Britton wrote in his motion.
“Additionally, Mr. Cooksey references that tape recording and acknowledges in his petition that he had made a copy of the tape recording … Furthermore, a transcript of the meeting has appeared on a public Web site posted by a user identified as Joe Cooksey.”
On July 21, Senior Judge Jay Gibson of Odessa dismissed Cooksey’s petitions that sought the removal of West and Massey. Gibson could have issued an order of citation, meaning the petitions would have gone forward to civil jury trials.
Gibson ruled that the allegations against both officials could best be addressed at the ballot box, not in a judicial proceeding.
Cooksey had alleged in his petition against Massey that the mayor had improperly profited from properties the city has bought and sold, violating the city’s charter. Massey has said he did nothing wrong.