Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Hood County Republican chair sues county judge: Free speech, decorum at meetings at issue


Hood County Republican Party Chair Steve Biggers has filed a federal lawsuit accusing County Judge Ron Massingill of violating his First Amendment rights to share his viewpoint and petition his government during open public meetings of the Hood County Commissioners Court.

The lawsuit was filed April 14 in the United States District Court Northern District of Texas-Fort Worth Division.

The action followed a demand letter dated Feb. 13, to which Massingill reportedly did not respond. The letter cited several occasions when Massingill allegedly displayed “open hostility” toward Biggers and treated him differently from others.

Clashes between Biggers and Massingill have led to raised voices and the two speaking over each other.

Editor’s Note: Below are clips from two meetings of the Hood County Commissioners Court showing exchanges between Hood County Republican Party Chair Steve Biggers and County Judge Ron Massingill.

Incidents cited in the petition include the Commissioners Court meeting on April 26, 2022, when Massingill asked Sheriff Roger Deeds to escort Biggers from the meeting while Biggers was speaking at the podium and the meeting on Jan.10 when Massingill threatened to do so again.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, Biggers attempted to play a recording of a private conversation made by County Clerk Katie Lang prior to the start of the regular Commissioners Court meeting on Nov. 8. In that private conversation, which involved Massingill, a local pastor, and Precinct 3 Commissioner Jack Wilson, Massingill criticized Biggers and spoke of starting a new Republican organization.

The lawsuit was addressed at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Commissioners Court. Precinct 4 Commissioner Dave Eagle placed an item on the agenda to discuss and take appropriate action to determine whether Hood County government had a duty to defend Massingill or pay any expenses, including any deductible to the Texas Association of Counties related to the judge’s defense in the lawsuit.

The judge, who presides over Commissioners Court meetings, opened the discussion by disputing Biggers’ claims and saying that he had distributed to the four commissioners a copy of the law requiring that legal representation be provided to any county official acting in their official capacity.

“Every allegation that he does make in that complaint stems from my interactions with Mr. Biggers in this court,” Massingill said.

He also noted that Biggers’ motion for an ex parte injunction had been denied by the federal court. An ex parte injunction is when a case is heard without the other party being present or having an opportunity to respond.

Eagle said that in his view Massingill had “exceeded his scope” in his dealings with Biggers and that the lawsuit could have been avoided if the judge had apologized.

Eagle also said that “time and time again” people who oppose him politically are allowed to speak at Commissioners Court.

“They impugn my integrity every time they come up here, and he does nothing,” he stated of the judge.

Following Eagle’s remarks, Massingill asked whether there would be a motion.

“No, sir. Not from me,” Eagle replied.

No motion to take action was offered by Precinct 1 Commissioner Kevin Andrews, Precinct 2 Commissioner Nannette Samuelson, or Precinct 3 Commissioner Jack Wilson.