District Judge Denies Search Warrant for Hearne Council Executive Session Tapes

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ROBERTSON COUNTY - A Robertson County district judge denied the district attorney access to executive session tapes from the city of Hearne's council meeting. A hearing was held Wednesday at the Robertson County Courthouse in Franklin Wednesday.

The hearing took place one day after investigators from Coty Siegert's office obtained two Hearne city council, executive session tapes from a September 8th council meeting. Executive sessions are strictly private meetings between council members. Siegert believed the tapes were relevant to investigate allegations that city employees in Hearne misused funds to pay for personal items not related to city business. It's also alleged that the city is paying for a city employee currently in jail for driving his personal vehicle while drunk.

During the September 8th closed meeting, it was on the agenda that the city discussed approving the use of taxpayer dollars to pay city worker, Natividad Rodriguez, while he's being jailed on a third drunk driving offense. Afterwards during a public meeting, council members voted 3 to 2 approve paying him.

Rodriguez was arrested January 29, 2015 and remained incarcerated for Felony DWI. He is currently in a substance abuse punishment facility. According to the city, he received a regular paycheck through May 2015, an action that was approved by City Manager Pee Wee Drake. Siegert says this action violates Hearne's Policy Manual. Rodriguez was paid in excess of his maximum allowed and accrued sick time and/or vacation pay. Hearne citizen tax dollars were used to pay him while he was in jail.

The hearing was in District Judge Robert Stem's court in Franklin. News 3's camera's weren't allowed inside the courtroom. Hearne city attorney Bryan Russ, who was hired back last week after resigning in May, filed a motion to withdraw the ordered search warrant saying the court can't release the executive session tapes to the "public" without a court order. Siegert countered back saying the statute does not apply because the DA's office is not the "Public" when it acts on a valid search warrant by the court.Judge Robert Stem was the only one who listened to tapes and ruled that the DA can't have them because it contains attorney/client communications and isn't relevant to Siegert's investigation.

Former city manager Pee Wee Drake and council members Hazel Embra and Joyce Rattler had no reaction to Wednesday's hearing. Siegert says he couldn't comment on the hearing because the investigation is ongoing.