San Jacinto County has been thrown into an upheaval after the indictment and arrest of County Judge John Lovett. A grand jury indicted Lovett on three counts, two of which are felonies, in connection with an alleged burglary he committed in July of 2017.
Lovett was arrested on April 23 after a warrant was issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. He was handcuffed and escorted by the sheriff to jail for booking. He was bonded out later that day and has since been suspended without pay.
The felony charges which the grand jury handed down are burglary and tampering with a government record, both of which are state jail felonies. He was also charged with a Class A misdemeanor charge of forgery.
The alleged burglary took place last July, when Lovett reportedly entered County Clerk Dawn Wright’s office after hours and tampered with county documents. He triggered a silent alarm that alerted law enforcement and prompted an investigation.
Lovett contends that his position as county judge gives him the authority to enter county offices at will. Wright, and apparently the grand jury, disagree.
Soon after his arrest, Lovett was suspended without pay by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. His duties were temporarily assumed by County Commissioner Precinct 4 and Judge Pro-tem Mark Nettuno.
Mired in controversy, Lovett opted not to run for re-election in the 2018 Republican Primary, and instead ran for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1. He is currently in a runoff against Christina McGee. Lovett will likely remain on the ballot for the May 22 runoff. The Republican primary for county judge was won by former county judge Fritz Faulkner, who was ousted by Lovett in 2014.
“The recent events with the County Judge being arrested and removed from office are unfortunate for everyone involved. Most importantly these issues negatively impact the citizens,” said State Republican Executive Committeeman Terry Holcomb, who resides in San Jacinto County. “With this in mind, I call upon the San Jacinto County Commissioners Court to appoint Faulkner as the Interim County Judge.”
The commissioners court concurred with Holcomb, and appointed Faulkner to be interim county judge on April 30. Faulkner will face the Democrat nominee, Shepherd Mayor Earl Brown, in the general election.
In the meantime, the fallout is expected to continue. Wright has been placed under police escort in light of her role leading to the judge’s indictment. “Pretty sad state of affairs, when the San Jacinto County Clerk has to have police escort to the grocery store and home,” her husband Dwayne Wright, who is the County GOP Chairman, posted to Facebook.