Legal action seeks to oust Smith County district clerk over alleged dereliction of duty, including failure to compensate jurors

TYLER, Texas (AIEXPRESS)  – A lawsuit has been filed with the intention of removing Penny Clarkston, the District Clerk of Smith County, from her position.

JoAnn Fleming, a former county commissioner and the executive director of Grassroots America: We The People, a constitutional conservative political action committee, filed a petition. Fleming, through her attorney, accuses Clarkston of neglecting her official duties and violating the Texas Penal Code.

The lawsuit claims that Clarkston has consistently disregarded her responsibilities as the district clerk of Smith County for most of her time in office.

Clarkston, the administrator of the county’s jury system, is facing allegations of failing to pay jurors as required by law. These allegations were discussed during a Council of Judges meeting at the Smith County Courthouse on October 18, 2023.

During the meeting, Judge Austin Reeve Jackson of the 114th District Court expressed concern over the recent problem of jurors not being compensated for their service.

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He highlighted instances where jurors were being turned away at the courthouse doors without receiving payment. Furthermore, he mentioned that the district clerk’s employees were intercepting jurors in the parking garage and instructing them to go home before they even had the chance to enter the courthouse.

This situation raises serious questions about the administration of justice and the fair treatment of jurors. During the meeting, Jackson shared a story with the other judges about an encounter he had with Clarkston and a prospective juror.

The incident took place on the first floor of the courthouse, where a deputy clerk was assisting a woman with disabilities as she was leaving the central jury room.

“And I inquired, ‘Did you inform her that she had the right to receive payment?'”, Jackson recounted. “Ms. Clarkston replied, ‘She didn’t want to be paid.’ So, I pressed further, ‘Ma’am, did you yourself want to be paid?’ And she admitted, ‘Yes, I did. They told me I couldn’t receive any payment.'”

During the meeting, Clarkston refuted the accusations of failing to compensate the jurors.

Other allegations made against Clarkston in the court filing

    • Failing to issue warrants in a timely manner
    • Failing to issue warrants without proper authority – resulting in illegal arrests
    • Refusing to summon jury panels when requested
    • Refusing to cancel jury panels when told they’re not needed
    • Falsifying filings and destroying filed documents
    • Issuing subpoenas outside her legal authority

The lawsuit is seeking the removal of Clarkston from office due to her behavior that demonstrates a “gross ignorance of her official duties” and “incompetency.”

Fleming has requested the judge to suspend Clarkston without pay and designate another individual to assume the position until the jury trial concludes.

According to a court order, Judge Deborah Oakes Evans, who is a senior judge of the 87th District Court, has been assigned to the case.

Clarkston responds

KLTV contacted Clarkston for comment and she expressed that she perceived the situation as not just a personal attack on herself, but also on her office.

“I have dedicated five years of my life to serving the citizens of Smith County, working tirelessly for 15-to-20-hour days,” she expressed. “And I am committed to continuing this service in the future.” Clarkston took office on January 1, 2019.

 

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