By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
A year after his public arrest in Coldspring on charges of burglary, forgery and tampering with a governmental document, former San Jacinto County Judge John Lovett is feeling vindicated. Montgomery County 9th State District Judge Phil Grant, on Tuesday, April 30, ordered a directed verdict of not guilty on all three counts, telling the jury there was simply not enough evidence to prosecute Lovett.
Grant was assigned as a visiting judge to the case after 411th State District Judge Kaycee Jones recused herself.
The charges against Lovett stem from a July 7, 2017, incident in which Lovett, using his master key to the courthouse, entered the county clerk’s office to use the timestamp on an agenda for an upcoming commissioners court meeting. His entry into the clerk’s office triggered an alarm, which alerted law enforcement to investigate. By then, Lovett said he had already called the sheriff’s office to let them know he had triggered the alarm.
After the alleged break-in, San Jacinto County Clerk Dawn Wright called for an investigation by the sheriff’s office. In April 2018, a San Jacinto County grand jury indicted Lovett, and he was arrested and led away from the courthouse in handcuffs by San Jacinto County Sheriff Greg Capers.
The directed verdict of not guilty was the best possible outcome for Lovett, who was represented by Houston attorney Chip Lewis.
Lovett contends that politics in San Jacinto were a major factor in charges ever being pressed against him.
“Politics is a blood sport in San Jacinto County. My arrest was three weeks before the election. That’s what this was all about,” said Lovett. At the time of his April 2018 arrest, Lovett was on the ballot for the May 2018 election as a candidate for justice of the peace.
Lewis agrees that politics played a part in Lovett’s prosecution.
“This has been a long and difficult journey for him. It’s unfortunate that the political retribution ended with him being charged, indicted, arrested and tried. It cost him the election as JP,” Lewis said. “We are very fortunate to have a wise jurist who understood the political natures of these charges, and consequently, directed verdicts on all counts.”
Lovett still has a couple more legal hurdles ahead. In April 2019, he was charged with impersonating a public servant after he allegedly used his government shield as former county judge to bypass courthouse security in Montgomery County. He was attending a hearing on the previous criminal charges at the time. At this time, he has not been indicted for that incident.
Lewis is hopeful that the new charge against Lovett will be dismissed before it goes to trial. He says the Texas Attorney General’s Office handled the prosecution of the charges in San Jacinto County and is involved in the most recent complaint.
“I am going to talk to the AG’s office soon. Today’s directed verdict is a crushing blow to the prosecutors who have been on this case for some time. At the right time, I will talk to them about the AG’s office moving on to other cases that better serve the public’s interest,” Lewis said.
As for Lovett, he is happy to have the case over and now plans to seek redress for the wages he lost when he was removed from office.
“They owe it to me. There was no violation and I should never have been removed. The suspension without pay should never have happened and I plan to address that with the county going forward,” Lovett said.