TEMPLE — Temple Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales was arrested Tuesday afternoon on misdemeanor charges she destroyed, removed or altered public information.
Conviction of the offense carries a potential fine of up to $4,000 and/or up to three months in jail, according to a news release issued by Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols.
Morales could not be reached for comment.
Temple Mayor Danny Dunn said in a statement printed in the Thursday’s Temple Daily Telegram that Morales “responded that she would resign if charges are brought against her.”
Morales turned herself in at 2:30 p.m. at Bell County Jail and bailed out after paying a $1,500 bond set by Bell County Justice of the Peace Ted Duffield, according to the arrest affidavit.
The mayor pro tem reportedly trashed emails and documents sought by a Telegram open records request in November.
Charges will not be pressed for a claim Morales used county equipment and staff at the Temple HELP Center to campaign in 2011 for her election to Temple City Council because the statute of limitations has run out, Nichols said.
The release said his office concluded “that there is convincing evidence that there was a violation of campaign or abuse of office statutes. However, as this conduct occurred in 2011 under Texas law, prosecution of this conduct is barred by the statute of limitations.”
Morales was first investigated after HELP Center employee Mari Paul reported to the department director, Steve Cook, that Morales had Paul do numerous tasks related to Morales’ election campaign.
A Nov. 9 phone conversation with Morales that Paul recorded included a Morales request to delete files from county computers. Morales also told Paul that Paul could provide Morales her password and Morales would delete the emails for her.
As director of the Temple HELP Center, Morales should have been disqualified from running for the City Council in 2011, according to Temple’s city charter regulations. Section 4.9 of the charter prevents people with tax-funded income from holding office and says any violations of that policy would cause a council member to forfeit the position.
A special prosecutor was appointed to review the material and decided that the proper charge for what Morales allegedly did was a misdemeanor, Nichols said.
Bell County District Attorney Henry Garza said in a Tuesday news release “the evidence indicates the intent was to avoid negative publicity and not to impair its availability as evidence.”
The special investigator, Dain Whitworth, an assistant district attorney from Calhoun County, was appointed by District Judge Gordon Adams on Feb. 12, after Garza recused himself because Morales previously served as foreman on a Bell County grand jury.
Sheriff Eddy Lange held a news conference Tuesday to answer questions about Morales’ arrest.
“I wish I didn’t have to do this press conference,” Lange said. “On a personal note, it is unfortunate we are all put in this situation. Unfortunately, it is possible she did make some mistakes and needed investigating.”
The Temple City Council met several times in executive session to discuss Morales — who took a voluntary leave of absence on Dec. 5 but returned on Feb. 20 — but didn’t come to any conclusion other than it needed to wait on the results of the investigation.
Morales filed for re-election on Feb. 19 and no one signed up to run against her.
Dunn said Tuesday he is trying to schedule a council workshop for Monday to discuss the situation, noting he can’t do it sooner because of the 72-hour open meetings policy. Although part of the workshop may be in executive session to meet with City Attorney Jonathan Graham, the workshop is scheduled to be open to the public.
“I’m sorry for Ms. Morales but, at the same time, I’m glad we have the opportunity to do what we said all along we’d do — make a decision after the investigation was complete and Nichols made a decision. We’re finally in a position to discuss what action to take,” Dunn said.
Paul is in the process of getting signatures on petitions to recall Dunn and council members Morales, Tim Davis, Perry Cloud and Russell Schneider.
Paul said Tuesday afternoon, “I have another 26 days and I’m committed to be here for that time period regardless of Morales’ arrest. All of the council’s actions leading up to Morales’ running are up for questions. The council members need to be held accountable, and they don’t even hold themselves accountable under the city charter.”