All About McCulloch County's Dirty County Judge
BRADY, TX — The State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC) sanctioned McCulloch County Judge Danny Neal after a citizen complained of his conduct as a probate judge in Brady.
County judges in Texas are elected to serve as the chief administrators of their respective counties, similar to a city manager or mayor of a city. But county judges are also officers of the county’s judicial system. The smaller the population of the county, the more involved the county judge is in judicial matters.
In McColloch County, County Judge Danny Neal serves as the probate judge, a position usually reserved for a county court-at-law judge in more populated counties.
Judge Neal’s administration of the probate process for the estate of one deceased man, Billy Jackson, caught the SCJC’s eye as improper.
Jackson died in 2012, according to documents obtained through a private investigator in Brady. Judge Neal probated the dead man’s estate. According to our investigator, before the estate was probated, Judge Neal had purchased two of the dead man’s real estate properties in Brady, 1705 and 1707 Bradley. The total appraised value of the properties was $88,000.
Today, the property is owned by a Texas Limited Liability Company, WHT Properties, LLC, where the judge serves at the registered agent. According to the McColloch County Appraisal District, Judge Neal’s WHT Properties, LLC owns 18 properties in Brady.
The Jackson transaction is problematic because, according to the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, purchasing property of the same estate the buyer is also the probate judge is a conflict of interest.
“A judge shall refrain from financial and business dealings that tend to reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality, interfere with the proper performance of the judicial duties, exploit his or her judicial position, or involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to come before the court on which the judge serves,” the Code states.
The transaction is also akin to insider trading. The county judge is using his judicial position to gain knowledge before the general public is notified of estate properties that are available for sale.
The SCJC decided to privately sanction Judge Neal. With a private sanction, by Texas law, the SCJC is prohibited from releasing any information about the hearing or ruling. It cannot even identify the name of the county judge who was disciplined.
In a personal and confidential letter sent to a Mr. Michael Bradle of Lampasas, who filed the original complaint with the SCJC against the judge, the SCJC admits the only complaint that “rose to the level of sanctionable misconduct” was the Jackson estate probate case. Bradle submitted three of the county judge’s real estate transactions in his complaint.
What exactly Judge Neal’s private sanction involves is a secret of the State.
We reached out to Judge Neal’s office for comment and he has not returned our call to date.
County judges in Texas occupy elected positions. Judge Neal, who has served in his position since 2009, should come clean to the citizens of McCulloch County who elected him about his insider deals made during probate hearings he benches. Monday at 6 p.m. is the filing deadline for the primary election in March for county judge.