SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) – Some residents are concerned that the Hays County judge is trying to silence them. This comes after two weeks of outbursts from Judge Bert Cobb during and after public comment.
“All that we are asking is for a free and transparent election process and you are denying Hays County Citizens that right and it’s disgusting and it’s shameful,” said Hays County resident Ashley Whittenberger at a commissioners court meeting last Tuesday.
For months now, a number of Hays County residents have been attending commissioners court meetings asking questions regarding the fairness of recent elections.
Last Tuesday, Whittenberger had finished her public comment and while walking out of the court room she said, “Statement of fact, he was issued an incorrect ballot.”
At that, Judge Bert Cobb responded, “that’s enough, you’re out of order.” Cobb then demanded a deputy to follow Whittenberger and tell her to “not do that again.”
After watching the meeting online, Hays County resident Sam Brannon chose to address his concerns with the judge on Tuesday. “Instances like that make people not want to come down and talk to them,” said Brannon.
The county rule is that a resident gets three minutes to speak uninterrupted. However, when Brannon was before the judge he was only 56 seconds into his speech when interrupted.
“Judge, you can’t do that to people that come in here and take time out of their day,” said Brannon during public comment. “We get three minutes and then as they make their comment on the way out the door, you send a man with a badge and a gun to follow them out the door. That is official oppression in my opinion sir.”
That’s when Cobb interrupted. “Would you please escort Mr. Sam Brannon out of the courtroom?” he said.
“I will leave under arrest; you can cuff my wrists and take me with you,” replied Brannon
“If you are arrested sir, you cannot come back in this courtroom,” said Cobb.
Brannon told commissioners that he would not resist if deputies chose to arrest him, he then continued and finished his three minute speech with only one other interruption from the judge telling him that he could file a charge at any time.
Judge Cobb did not respond to KXAN’s request for an interview. However, Commissioner Will Conley says those speaking during public comment are trying to pick a fight and caught Cobb at a bad time.
“Our county judge, who has chronic back pain, was not feeling very well, he has good days and bad days and yesterday he was not feeling well and frankly took the bait,” said Conley.
Conley says Judge Cobb’s actions were out of line and the only time residents can be kicked out of commissioner’s court is if they are a physical threat or being disruptive. He says these actions should not deter any resident from speaking in the future.
According to Hays County rules, if any person looks to speak during public comment they must sign up before 9 a.m. Under state law, the Court may not deliberate on items not on its agenda, but can listen to the comments, and individual Court members can respond to questions.
The rules also state that it is not the intention of the Court to provide a public forum for demeaning any individual or group. Profane, insulting, or derogatory language directed toward the Court and/or any person in the Court’s presence will not be tolerated and will be subject to sanction by the presiding officer. Violation of these rules may result in the cancellation of the speaker’s remaining time, removal from the courtroom, or a contempt of court citation.
Commissioner Conley says Brannon’s actions on Tuesday did not merit Cobb’s behavior to remove him from court.
“Elected officials sometimes start to believe that they have a different place in society than everyone else, it’s our job to remind them that they are one of us. We hired them and we pay them to do a job, not for this other stuff that happens,” said Brannon.