A federal lawsuit involving Hood County Judge Ron Massingill and Hood County Republican Party Chair Steve Biggers has been “DISMISSED with prejudice,” according to an order by United States District Judge Mark T. Pittman on Sept. 8.
On April 14, Biggers filed a lawsuit against Massingill accusing the county judge of violating Biggers’ First Amendment rights to share his viewpoint and petition his government during open public meetings of the Hood County Commissioners Court.
According to the case file from the United States District Court, Biggers has spoken at the Hood County Commissioners Court “from time to time since 2022.”
The case file states that Biggers’ speeches have “drawn the ire of Defendant Massingill,” and stated that the county judge has "illegally abused his position” and “illegally forced Plaintiff to leave public meetings” due to the content of his speeches “which at worst can be characterized as mildly critical of individuals.”
The file states that Biggers was seeking “damages under 42 U.S. §,” and an “injunction against (Massingill’s) misapplication of the court’s meeting rules, in which (Massingill) allows those he agrees with to speak freely, but denies critics a voice, and even has them removed from public meetings.”
Incidents cited in the file include the Hood County Commissioners Court meeting on March 22, 2022, when Biggers spoke about an agenda item relating to septic tanks. After Biggers concluded his remarks, the “Defendant (Massingill) began bantering with Plaintiff (Biggers).” Biggers eventually asked the court to take a vote, spurring Massingill to respond to Biggers, telling him that he “came close to being out of order,” and that “You can’t tell us when to vote. We will vote at the proper time.”
On April 26, the file states that Biggers “referred to former Commissioner Ron Cotton by name while speaking about a specific agenda item.” The case file states that Massingill then interrupted Biggers and “accused him of attacking Cotton,” and then “directed Sheriff Roger Deeds to escort him out of the meeting,” leaving Biggers unable to finish his remarks within the remaining time. It was also stated that during this same meeting, another speaker criticized Precinct 4 Commissioner Dave Eagle, “alleging a violent attack,” but Massingill "allowed the critical speech.”
Another incident recorded in the case file includes another Hood County Commissioners Court meeting held on Oct. 25, in which Massingill was said to have “singled out” Biggers from the audience in order to “criticize him for the way he ran the Hood County Republican Party meetings, despite no agenda items pertaining to that issue.”
The case file states that Massingill was also recorded with others on a “hot mic” in the minutes preceding the opening of the Nov. 8, 2022 meeting of the Hood County Commissioners Court, where he was recorded to have made “demeaning” statements about Biggers and his church, and how he “bragged” about throwing Biggers out of the court. This incident was also further referred to as the “November Recording” in the document.
According to the case file, Biggers made two attempts to speak on the “November Recording” incident but was “threatened with removal” on Dec. 13, 2022, and was removed from the meeting on Jan. 10.
The file states that Massingill’s “enforcement actions do not appear to be supported by the Public Comment Rule,” which is also outlined in the document that states:
“It is not the intention of the Hood County Commissioners’ Court to provide a public forum for the demeaning of any individual or group. Neither is it the intention of the Court to allow a member (or members) of the public to insult the honesty and/or integrity of the Court, as a body, or any member or members of the Court, individually or collectively. Accordingly, profane, insulting or threatening language directed toward the Court and/or any person in the Court’s presence and/or racial, ethnic, or gender slurs or epithets will not be tolerated. These Rules do not prohibit public criticism of the Commissioners’ Court, including criticism of any act, omission, policy, procedure, program, or service.”
The document states that Biggers “did not demean any individual or group, or use profane, insulting, or threatening language, or any sort of racial, ethnic, or gender slurs or epithets.”
In addition, the file states that Biggers’ speech “has been chilled” and he “reasonably fears that he will be held in contempt and jailed” as his “freedom of speech and right to petition has been infringed” by Massingill.
In the Causes of Action section outlined in the document, it was stated that Biggers “should have been allowed to publicly criticize the Commissioners Court, including the actions of (Massingill), so long as he followed basic rules of civility in his speech.”
Under Application for Injunctive Relief in the document, Biggers requested an “immediate temporary restraining order (“TRO”), then a preliminary injunction hearing, and permanent injunction following a trial, to prevent (Massingill) from enforcing arbitrary rules at government meetings that constitute prior restraint on speech by (Massingill) in his efforts to stop (Biggers) from playing the November Recording.”
The final judgment from Mark T. Pittman, United States District Judge, states that the case against Biggers vs. Massingill is now “DISMISSED with prejudice,” essentially stating that the decision is final and can’t be retried in the future.
“The federal judge’s order is very clear,” Massingill stated in a text to the HCN on Thursday, Sept. 14. “Steve Biggers' lawsuit was DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. I did not violate his constitutional rights, and contrary to his allegations, all actions I took were appropriate and within the law, including having him removed from Commissioners Court.”
Biggers stated in a text to the HCN on Monday, Sept. 18, “Unfortunately at this time, I cannot comment on the ongoing litigation.”
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