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Temple mayor pro tem arrested, charged with public information destruction

Temple Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales turned herself in Tuesday afternoon to the Bell County Jail and now faces charges of Destruction, Removal, or Alteration of Public Information, a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and/or county jail confinement of up to three months. She was later released on a $1,500 bond.

Judy Morales arrest documents-slide0
Bell County, Texas
Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange addresses media
Aex Anderson

Questions regarding Morales’ conduct surfaced in late 2013. In September, Morales’ city council status came into question after a city charter “conflict of interest” clause revealed her 2011 ineligibility to have run for the office thus rendering her more than two years of council service illegitimate.

More controversy followed when a Temple Daily Telegram-initiated Public Information Act request sought to learn if Morales, while working for Bell County as Director of Social Services at the county-managed HELP (Health, Education, Leadership, Progress) Center, violated county employee policies and/or state election laws by utilizing county employees and resources during her 2011 city council campaign.

In a news release, Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols said “there is convincing evidence that there was a violation of campaign or abuse of office statutes” but that “as this conduct occurred in 2011 under Texas law, prosecution of this conduct is barred by the statute of limitations.”

A review of Morales’ conduct for any possible violations of felony offenses, Nichols further explained, was conducted by an appointed special prosecutor – Dain Whitworth, an assistant District Attorney from Calhoun County. Nichols said the cited charge “fit the facts and intent on the part of Ms. Morales.”

At news conference today, Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange reminded that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. While apologizing for his office’s lengthy investigation, he said the computer forensics involved take time.

Crediting the work of Investigator Wayne Corley, Lange said, “We covered all of our bases and made sure that the facts presented to the county attorney’s office were truthful and, to the best of our ability, all of them that we could find to make this case a viable case that can proceed to trial.”

The Application and Affidavit for Arrest Warrant details information similar to that previously disclosed by Mari Paul, a Bell County employee who filed a complaint over Morales’ instruction to delete potentially compromising computer files.

In her complaint, Paul describes how Morales contacted her after a Nov. 7, 2013, city council meeting reporting that night’s “chatter” was of the Telegram looking into ‘misappropriation of funds’ during her 2011 election. Morales allegedly instructed Paul with regard to the reporter to “take a message” and further directed “do not answer any of his questions.”

Paul described how the next day Morales used her cell phone to call Paul asking for “my help in explaining to her how to transfer documents from her desktop to an external hard-drive,” a process Paul believed was happening as the two remained on the line.

She captured audio on both Saturday, Nov. 9, and Monday, Nov. 11, the county-observed Veterans Day holiday, that offers further Morales’ reaction to the paper’s request.

Nov. 9 clip:

MoralesCall131109

Nov. 11, 2013, voice mail (Judy Morales):

MoralesVMail131111

The mayor pro tem’s future as a council member is currently unknown. While Morales retired from her county position upon the charter clause being made public, a hastily-crafted plan to circumvent the conflict by transitioning her from regular employment to contract status was put on hold upon the misconduct allegations surfacing. Morales’ current term, the term for which she was ineligible to run, ends in May however she has filed for re-election.

A statement last week from Temple Mayor Danny Dunn included:

And, while I cannot speak for any other councilmember, I have asked Ms. Morales to resign from her office no fewer than four times, if she believes she is guilty of the allegations against her. The last time I asked her to resign she responded that she would resign if charges are brought against her.

Meanwhile, Paul has initiated a petition effort seeking recall of Morales, Dunn and the remaining three council members – Tim Davis, Perry Cloud and Russell Schneider. While the Morales’ controversy is a focal point of the effort, other issues related to Temple’s city government may also influence participation.

“This is a series of failures,” Paul said with regard to the petition effort and upon hearing of Morales’ arrest. “Judy failed me, Bell County failed me and then the city failed me. I had my initial reasons, but because of the concerns of the residents, the real size of this issue continues to become clear as many people have been here signing these petitions for a variety of their own reasons.”