(CN) — A Texas judge was suspended without pay this week after being arrested on felony burglary and tampering with government records charges, an indictment he calls a “ridiculous” political attack meant to damage his candidacy in a runoff election.
The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct suspended San Jacinto County Judge John Lovett, 51, on Monday after a grand jury indicted him for entering County Clerk Dawn Wright’s office after hours in July last year and using Wright’s timestamp to approve a commissioners court agenda.
The suspension order was made public on Thursday. If convicted, he faces up to 3½ years in state prison and a fine of up to $18,000.
As the county judge, Lovett served in administrative and judicial roles. He led the commissioners court, the county’s executive board, and also presided over criminal, civil and probate cases at the county seat Coldspring, 60 miles north of Houston.
A phone call to his office Thursday was not answered.
Voters elected Lovett, a Republican, in November 2014, though he is not a licensed attorney. A layman can be a county judge in Texas. His term expires in December.
Lovett has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&M University and worked in the financial services industry for more than 20 years before his election.
He placed second, with 226 votes, in the March Republican primary for San Jacinto County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, and qualified for the May 22 runoff election.
Arrested Monday, Lovett posted bail and told local media he thinks the charges are political gamesmanship.
“In the full measure of time, I will be found not guilty of these ridiculous charges. I find it suspect the timing of this indictment. An incident that supposedly happened close to a year ago and they wait a month before a runoff election to bring it before a grand jury,” he told KTRK-TV, Houston’s ABC affiliate.
Lovett said that as county judge he is free to enter Wright’s office any time. Though he got into the office with his master key, he set off a silent alarm that alerted law enforcement. Wright asked the sheriff’s office to investigate, local newspapers reported.
Lovett, who also was charged with misdemeanor forgery, said he will be vindicated.
“The clerk of the court is subservient to the court,” Lovett told KTRK. “If I need to go into the office of the court, I think I have every right to do so. The sheriff’s office is investigating the alarm call. I don’t believe they are investigating any crimes. I don’t believe there was any crime committed.”
San Jacinto County, pop. 28,000, is named for the Battle of San Jacinto, a clash in 1836 near present-day Houston in which Anglo and Tejano soldiers under the command of Gen. Sam Houston routed Gen. Antonio López de Santa Ana’s troops.