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PUBLIC SANCTIONS

FY 2015
The following are public sanctions (reproduced in their entirety) which were issued
by the Commission during fiscal year 2015. The public records for these cases are
available for inspection at the Commissions offices located at 300 W. 15th Street,
Suite 145, Austin, Texas.

BEFORE THE
STATE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT
CJC NOS. 14-0102-DI, 14-0165-DI, 14-0224-DI, 14-0403-DI,
14-0435-DI, 14-0468-DI, 14-0472-DI, 14-0473-DI, 14-0484-DI,
14-0508-DI, 14-0529-DI, 14-0654-DI & 14-0655-DI

PUBLIC REPRIMAND
HONORABLE DENISE V. PRATT
FORMER JUDGE, 311TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT
HOUSTON, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on August 13-15, 2014, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct
concluded a review of the allegations against the Honorable Denise V. Pratt, Former Judge of the
311th Judicial District Court, Houston, and Harris County, Texas. Judge Pratt appeared before the
Commission on August 14, 2014, and gave testimony.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Judge Pratt was elected to the 311th Judicial District Court bench1 in November 2010, and
assumed the bench on January 1, 2011. Starting in October 2013, the Commission began
receiving complaints filed by attorneys, litigants, and confidential sources alleging numerous
incidents of misconduct against Judge Pratt, including malfeasance by backdating court orders
and judgments, excessive and unreasonable delays in issuing decisions, a lack of diligence in
attending to the business of the court, and incompetence in performing the duties of office. Many
of the matters raised in the complaints became the subject of extensive local media attention in
the Houston area. In particular, it was disclosed in the press that allegations contained in the
complaint of attorney Greg Enos had become the subject of a criminal investigation by the Harris
County District Attorneys Office into the conduct of Judge Pratt.
In Enos criminal complaint, Judge Pratt was accused of backdating court orders and
renditions in order to cover up for the lengthy delays in her rulings in contested family law cases.
It was alleged that Judge Pratt backdated the orders to make it appear that she had issued rulings
1

The 311th District Court is one of ten family law courts in Harris County that hears divorce and child related
matters.

sooner than she actually did and that the judge was assisted by court staff, who rolled back the
clerks date stamp, then initialed and filed backdated orders knowing that Judge Pratt had not
signed the documents on the dates she claimed. Enos provided examples in six cases of orders
or renditions that appeared to have been signed by Judge Pratt months earlier but that were not
filed or provided to the parties or their attorneys until much later and well after the time to appeal
had expired. According to media reports, Judge Pratts lead clerk, Marilyn Epps, who had
twenty-five years of experience as a Harris County court clerk, resigned following an
investigation by the Harris County District Clerks office into the backdating allegations after
admitting to one instance of rolling back her date stamp to match what Judge Pratt had written as
the date she purportedly signed the rendition. However, there appeared to be no evidence to
support a finding that Epps engaged in this conduct at Judge Pratts request, direction, or
instruction. In December 2013, a grand jury investigating Enos complaint against Judge Pratt
declined to indict the judge. During this time, Judge Pratt filed to run for re-election and became
one of four candidates vying for election to the 311th District Court in the March 2014
Republican Primary.
In January 2014, additional complaints were filed with the Commission after Judge Pratt
issued dismissal orders disposing of more than approximately 600 pending cases on December
30-31, 2013. According to the complaints, without notice to the parties or their attorneys or an
opportunity to be heard, cases were dismissed for want of prosecution even though a substantial
number of the cases had recent activity; were awaiting the judges signature on orders following
trial, mediation, or arbitration; were set for trial in 2014; or had already been transferred to other
courts following Judge Pratts recusal. Enos filed a second criminal complaint with the Harris
County District Attorneys office concerning the en mass dismissals alleging that Judge Pratt
illegally purged her docket on the last two days of 2013 to cover up the growing backlog caused
by her failure or inability to timely handle the business of the court.
Although Judge Pratt received the most votes in the March 2014 Republican Primary, she
did not receive at least 50% of the votes and her name was placed on the ballot for the May 2014
Republican Primary Run-off election. However, on March 28, 2014, after Enos filed a third
criminal complaint against her with the Harris County District Attorneys Office, Judge Pratt
sent a letter to the Governor of Texas announcing that she was immediately resigning from
office. Despite her resignation, Judge Pratts name remained on the ballot for the May 2014 runoff election, which she lost.
In August 2014, the Commission concluded its investigation into the allegations filed
against Judge Pratt. After considering the evidence before it, the Commission entered the
following Findings and Conclusions.

FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Denise V. Pratt was Judge of the 311th
Judicial District Court in Houston, Harris County, Texas.

DELAYS IN RULING
The Bates Case
2.

Kevin Bates and Melissa Bates were divorced in July 2010.

3.

In the Agreed Final Decree of Divorce, Kevin was awarded a modified possession order
regarding the couples three children.

4.

On March 2, 2012, Kevin filed a Motion for Enforcement of Possession or Access,


alleging that Melissa interfered with his right to access and visitation regarding his 17
year-old daughter.

5.

Melissa had also filed motions for enforcement against Kevin. Both Kevins and
Melissas enforcement motions were scheduled to be heard on June 28, 2012.

6.

On June 28, 2012, Judge Pratt presided over a hearing concerning Kevins enforcement
motion, but did not conduct a hearing on Melissas pending motions.

7.

At the conclusion of the hearing on Kevins motion, Judge Pratt stated that she would
reserve her ruling until Melissas motions for enforcement were heard at a later date;
however, no hearings were ever held on Melissas motions for enforcement.

8.

On January 15, 2013, Kevin filed a Motion for Ruling and/or Judgment on his motion for
enforcement.

9.

On February 6, 2013, the amicus attorney appointed to the Bates Case filed a response to
Kevins motion.

10.

Kevins motion was set for a hearing on February 12, 2013 and again on February 28,
2013, but no hearings were conducted because Judge Pratt failed to appear on either of
those dates.

11.

In April 2013, Kevin filed a Petition for Writ of Mandamus to the 14th Court of Appeals
seeking to have that Court compel Judge Pratt to issue a ruling on his still pending
motion for enforcement.

12.

On May 14, 2013, the 14th Court of Appeals issued an opinion conditionally granting the
writ of mandamus and directing Judge Pratt to rule on Kevins motion for enforcement
within fifteen days.

13.

In its opinion, the 14th Court of Appeals noted the importance of prompt rulings in cases
concerning parental rights and the best interests of children and concluded that the delay
in the Bates Case was unreasonable. The Court went on to state:
In suits involving the parent-child relationship, [j]ustice demands a speedy resolution, and mandamus
may issue to protect the rights of parents and children. We hold that respondent has abused her discretion
in failing to timely render a decision on relators pending motion for enforcement of his right to possession
and access to his child.

14.

On May 15, 2013, a document entitled, Judges Rendition was faxed to the attorneys in
the Bates Case from Judge Pratts court. The document was not date stamped by a clerk,
nor was it imaged or entered in the courts computer docket.

15.

The document, dated August 1, 2012, was written entirely in Judge Pratts handwriting
and contained Judge Pratts handwritten ruling granting Kevins motion for enforcement.

16.

According to the rendition, Melissa had been found in contempt of court following the
June 28, 2012 enforcement hearing for denying visitation to Kevin and was ordered to

spend 180 days in jail unless she paid Kevins attorneys fees and no longer interfered
with his right to access and visitation.
17.

There was no mention in the rendition that Melissas motions for enforcement had been
considered or resolved by Judge Pratt prior to issuing her decision.

18.

Although none of the attorneys or litigants received a copy of the August 1, 2012
rendition prior to May 15, 2013, Judge Pratt testified before the Commission that she
issued her ruling and prepared the rendition or about August 1, 2012.

19.

Judge Pratt also testified that in response to the 14th Court of Appeals ruling, Deborah
Selden, the senior staff attorney for the Administrative Office of the Harris County
District Courts, sent a letter to the Court on behalf of Judge Pratt representing that Judge
Pratt had issued the courts rendition in the Bates Case on August 1, 2012, and had
signed an Order of Enforcement on May 21, 2013.

20.

However, Judge Pratt provided no explanation as to why Seldens letter came after the
Courts ruling and why it had not been sent in the weeks following the April 2013 filing
of the Petition for Writ of Mandamus.

21.

Additionally, Seldens letter to the Court contained no explanation as to why the August
1, 2012 rendition had not been filed or served on the parties or their attorneys until May
15, 2013.

22.

In her testimony before the Commission, however, Judge Pratt stated that on or about
August 1, 2012, she gave the signed rendition to a court clerk, who was supposed to file
it and forward a copy to the attorneys; however, according to Judge Pratt, the clerk failed
to file the rendition or provide a copy to the attorneys. Additionally, the judge contended
that court staff failed to notify her of Kevins subsequent efforts to obtain a ruling in the
matter.
The DuPont Case

23.

Judge Pratt presided over a divorce trial in the DuPont Case on February 4, 6, and 7,
2013. Judge Pratt did not immediately issue a ruling, announcing that she was taking the
matter under advisement.

24.

Throughout March 2013 and April 2013, the attorney representing Sandra DuPont began
regularly communicating with Judge Pratts court coordinator in an attempt to learn when
Judge Pratt would be making her ruling in the case.

25.

On May 15, 2013, Judge Pratt faxed a copy of a handwritten rendition, dated February
15, 2013, to Sandras attorney.

26.

The copy received by Sandras attorney was not a file-stamped copy; however, the
rendition that was imaged by the district clerks office on or after May 15, 2013, showed
a clerks date stamp of February 15, 2013.

27.

The February 15, 2013 date stamp included the initials ME, indicating that it had been
stamped by Marilyn Epps; however, according to Judge Pratts testimony, Epps did not
start working in her court until April 24, 2013.

28.

Therefore, Epps could not have stamped the document on February 15th as indicated by
the initials beside the date stamp.

29.

In her testimony before the Commission, Judge Pratt denied that she instructed Epps to
roll back the clerks date stamp on the rendition in the DuPont Case to match the date of
the judges signature.

30.

Judge Pratt testified that she signed the rendition on February 15th, and instructed court
staff to file it and forward a copy to the attorneys of record; however, according to the
judges testimony, court staff failed to do so and failed to advise her of the parties
subsequent efforts to obtain a ruling.
The Hernandez-Rivera Case

31.

On January 30 31, 2013, Judge Pratt presided over a hearing in the Hernandez-Rivera
Case, which was pending in the 310th District Court; however, Judge Lisa Millard, the
judge of the 310th District Court, was unavailable to hear the matter at that time.

32.

At the conclusion of the hearing on January 31, 2013, Judge Pratt announced that she was
taking the matter under advisement.

33.

Thereafter, on an almost weekly basis, the attorney for Aaron Hernandez contacted Judge
Pratts court staff to find out if a ruling had been made. Each time he spoke to court staff,
the attorney was told that Judge Pratt had not yet ruled.

34.

On April 9, 2013, Aarons attorney filed a Motion for Status Conference, which was set
to be heard on April 18, 2013; however, Judge Pratt failed to appear for the hearing.

35.

On May 24, 2013, the attorneys in the Hernandez-Rivera Case received a handwritten
rendition from Judge Pratt dated January 30, 2013.

36.

Although the rendition was not provided to the parties or entered into the computer
docket until May 24, 2013, the document that was imaged by the District Clerks office
was date-stamped January 30th; however, there were no initials placed beside the date
stamp indicating the identity of the clerk who processed the document.2

37.

In July 2013, as a result of the nearly four month delay in receiving notice of Judge
Pratts ruling, and other substantive conflicts within the order itself, Judge Millard
granted a new trial in the case.

38.

In her testimony before the Commission, Judge Pratt stated that she signed the rendition
in the Hernandez-Rivera Case after the hearing concluded on January 31, 2013; however,
because she had not changed the date on her calendar from the previous day, she
mistakenly stamped January 30th instead of January 31st as the date of entry.

39.

No explanation was provided as to why the clerks stamp also erroneously reflected
January 30, 2013, or why the parties did not receive a copy of the rendition until May 24,
2013; however, Judge Pratt testified before the Commission that any delays in filing her
rendition or providing a copy to the parties would have been the result of court clerk
errors and incompetence.

Marilyn Epps, who was Judge Pratts lead clerk starting on April 24, 2013, would have been the person
responsible for processing the judges signed orders and renditions from that point forward.

The Messier Case


40.

Luc and Katy Messier were granted a divorce in February 2011, which was appealed by
Katy.

41.

While the Messier Case was on appeal, Judge Pratt presided over several hearings
involving various post-trial motions.

42.

On June 26, 2012, Judge Pratt held a hearing on Katys motion for judgment nunc pro
tunc, but did not issue a ruling.

43.

On December 19, 2012, Judge Pratt presided over an enforcement motion hearing after
which she did issue an oral ruling from the bench, but did not reduce that ruling to
writing indicating that the attorneys were to prepare proposed orders for her signature.

44.

On March 25, 2013, the attorneys appeared in court for a hearing to enter orders
regarding the enforcement motion; however, after waiting for more than an hour, the
attorneys were advised by the court coordinator that Judge Pratt wanted the attorneys to
leave the courtroom and that she would consider the matter on submission. The attorneys
then left their proposed orders with the court coordinator for Judge Pratt to review.

45.

Throughout March 2013 and April 2013, the attorneys for the Messiers continued to
contact Judge Pratts court coordinator asking if the judge had ruled.

46.

During this time, the attorneys and the court coordinator inspected the court file, but only
found the unsigned proposed orders.

47.

The court coordinator advised the attorneys that there was no ruling and they would be
notified as soon as one was issued.

48.

In late May 2013, the attorneys received a handwritten rendition from Judge Pratt, dated
March 25, 2013, with the judges decision regarding the motion heard on June 26, 2012;
however, the rendition had been date-stamped by Epps on May 25, 2013.

49.

On June 5, 2013, the attorneys learned for the first time that Judge Pratt had signed the
proposed order submitted by Katys attorney, which was dated March 25, 2013.

50.

The enforcement order purportedly was date-stamped and initialed by Epps on March 25,
2013, even though Epps did not start working in Judge Pratts court until April 24, 2013.

51.

The enforcement order was not entered into the computer docket by the District Clerks
office until June 4, 2013.

52.

Because the attorneys did not receive notice of the March 25, 2013 judgment until June
5, 2013, Judge Pratt granted Luc Messiers motion to extend the post-judgment deadlines
so that an appeal could be perfected.

53.

On June 24, 2013, and again on July 18, 2013, Lucs appellate attorney requested that
Judge Pratt issue findings of fact and conclusions of law in connection with the appeal.

54.

On August 1, 2013, Katys attorney filed proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of
Law in the Messier Case.3

According to District Clerks date stamp, this document was filed on August 13, 2013.

55.

On August 29, 2013, Lucs appellate attorney filed a motion to abate the appeal due to
the failure of Judge Pratt to issue the requested findings of fact and conclusions of law.

56.

On September 12, 2013, the 14th Court of Appeals abated the appeal and ordered Judge
Pratt to issue the requested findings of fact and conclusions of law.

57.

The following day, Judge Pratt filed findings of fact and conclusions of law that were
dated August 18, 2013; however, according to the District Clerks computer docket entry,
the document, which was not date stamped by a clerk, was signed on September 13,
2013.4

58.

In a letter dated September 19, 2013, sent directly to the 14th Court of Appeals, Judge
Pratt provided a chronology of events and confirmed that she signed the findings of fact
and conclusions of law on August 18, 2013, which the judge pointed out was before the
motion to abate was filed with the Court; however, no explanation was provided as to
why Judge Pratt waited to provide this information until after the Court ordered her to
issue the findings of fact.

59.

On October 25, 2013, Lucs trial counsel filed a motion to recuse Judge Pratt from
presiding over any other pending matters.

60.

On February 27, 2014, a nine hour recusal hearing took place before a visiting judge.
Judge Pratt was ordered removed from the Messier Case a few weeks later.

61.

In her testimony before the Commission, Judge Pratt attributed any delays in filing her
judgments, renditions, and findings of fact in the Messier Case to clerk errors and
incompetence.

62.

In support of her testimony regarding the alleged incompetence of the various court
clerks assigned to her court, Judge Pratt provided the Commission with numerous emails
dated from late September 2013 through January 2014, in which she complained to
supervisors in the Harris County District Clerks Office about the unusually high
turnover rate of clerks assigned to her court, and that the clerks were not properly trained,
could not locate court files and court records, and were generally negligent and derelict in
their duties.

63.

Judge Pratt provided no emails or records of other communications covering the period
from May 2013 through September 2013 expressing concerns about the delays in filing
orders, renditions, and findings of fact in the Bates, DuPont, Hernandez-Rivera, and
Messier Cases, which were all handled by her lead clerk, Epps.

64.

In one email, however, Judge Pratt acknowledged that she was ultimately responsible for
the management and operations of the 311th District Court.

65.

Witnesses who worked in the 311th District Court also confirmed that Judge Pratt was
often late to court or did not show up at all, frequently cancelled or failed to appear at

The District Clerks office later changed the computer docket entry to reflect that the document had been signed
on August 18, 2013. The delayed disclosure of the Findings of Fact negatively impacted Luc Messiers rights to
object to the Findings or ask for supplemental or additional findings. It also potentially harmed his position in the
appeal; however, the 14th Court of Appeals granted his request to extend the deadlines due to the discrepancy
between the date of the Findings of Fact and the date of its receipt by the parties and their attorneys.

preferential settings and scheduled hearings, and delayed signing orders in cases for
months at a time. As a result, Judge Pratt had the highest backlog of pending cases than
any other Harris County Family District Court.
66.

According to witnesses in the Harris County District Clerks Office, only experienced
employees were assigned to serve as lead clerks in Judge Pratts court and any delays in
processing Judge Pratts signed orders, renditions, and findings of fact were due to Judge
Pratts chronic failure to provide the documents to the clerks for processing.

DISMISSALS FOR WANT OF PROSECUTION


The Montgomery Case
67.

On December 18, 2013, attorney Matthew Waldrop obtained an Order of Recusal


removing Judge Pratt from eight cases, including the Montgomery Case, in which he was
lead counsel.

68.

On December 30, 2013, the Montgomery Case was assigned to Judge Sheri Dean in the
309th District Court.

69.

Also on December 30, 2013, without notice or an opportunity to be heard, Judge Pratt
signed an order dismissing the Montgomery Case for want of prosecution.

70.

On January 3, 2014, Judge Dean signed an order vacating and setting aside the dismissal
order as void, and the case was reinstated on the 309th District Court docket.

71.

In her testimony before the Commission, Judge Pratt acknowledged signing the order of
dismissal in the Montgomery Case after she had been recused from the matter, but
claimed that she did so because she had been advised that this was the mechanism for
removing the case from the 311th District Courts docket. Judge Pratt indicated that she
was not aware that her order actually dismissed the entire Montgomery Case.
The Canepa Case

72.

On May 18, 2012, Tanya Sampson Canepa filed for divorce from her husband, Francisco
Javier Canepa.

73.

After numerous delays, Judge Pratt conducted a trial on October 25, 2013.

74.

After several hours of testimony, Judge Pratt recessed for the day and ordered the parties
to return to resume testimony on October 29, 2013.

75.

On October 29, 2013, all parties, attorneys and witnesses appeared as ordered to resume
the trial only to learn that Judge Pratt had recused herself from the case.

76.

Thereafter, the Canepa Case was assigned to the 257th District Court and a new trial date
was set for May 21, 2014.

77.

On December 30, 2013, without notice or an opportunity to be heard, Judge Pratt signed
an order dismissing the Canepa Case for want of prosecution.

78.

In her testimony before the Commission, Judge Pratt acknowledged signing the order of
dismissal in the Canepa Case after she had been recused from the matter, but claimed
that she did so because she had been advised that this was the mechanism for removing a

case from the 311th District Courts docket. Judge Pratt indicated that she was not aware
that her order actually dismissed the entire Canepa Case.
79.

The Canepa Case was reinstated on April 1, 2014.

80.

On December 30-31, 2013, without notice or an opportunity to be heard, Judge Pratt


signed orders dismissing approximately 600 cases for want of prosecution.

81.

Many of the cases had remained active on the courts docket right up to the date of
dismissal.5 Some had already been tried or mediated and were simply awaiting Judge
Pratts signature on the final orders; others were set for trial in 2014; and some had
already been transferred to other courts following Judge Pratts recusal as described
above.

82.

In addition to the cases described above, one of the active cases dismissed by Judge Pratt
for want of prosecution was the Corvera Case, which had been tried in Associate Judge
Robert Neweys court on December 18, 2013.

83.

During the trial, Judge Newey determined that an amicus attorney needed to be appointed
per court policy because issues of child custody had been raised.

84.

Judge Newey recessed the trial and ordered the attorneys to prepare an order for the
appointment of an amicus attorney and obtain a new trial date from the court coordinator.

85.

That same day, the attorneys prepared an order for the amicus attorney appointment,
which required Judge Pratts signature, and secured a new trial date from the court
coordinator.

86.

The attorneys then left the proposed order with the court clerk to be presented to Judge
Pratt for her signature and the selection of the amicus attorney.

87.

Approximately one hour after leaving the courthouse on December 18, 2013, the
attorneys were notified by Judge Newey that Judge Pratt had dismissed the Corvera Case
for want of prosecution.

88.

According to the attorneys in the Corvera Case, they received no notice and were
afforded no opportunity to be heard before Judge Pratt dismissed the case.

89.

A motion to reinstate the Corvera Case was granted on January 14, 2014. Thereafter, in
March 2014, a motion to recuse was granted removing Judge Pratt from the case.

90.

In the Heck Case, the parties reached an agreement through mediation in August 2013
and filed their agreed judgment with the 311th District Court on December 6, 2013.

91.

On January 13, 2014, the parties filed a motion for hearing on the final orders.

92.

A few weeks later, the parties were notified that Judge Pratt had signed an order
dismissing the Heck Case for want of prosecution on December 31, 2013.

93.

On March 12, 2014, the Heck Case was reinstated following a motion by the parties.

According to media reports, Judge David Farr, the local presiding judge for the Harris County Family Law Courts,
told reporters that there were at least 260 active cases dismissed for want of prosecution by Judge Pratt in the last
days of 2013. Approximately 230 of these cases were reinstated before Judge Pratt resigned on March 28, 2014.

94.

Shortly thereafter, another judge signed the agreed order that had been submitted to
Judge Pratt on December 6, 2013.

95.

The parties in the Copeland Case began arbitration on October 29, 2013. The arbitration
concluded on December 10, 2013, and the arbitrator issued the Arbitration Decision and
Award on December 20, 2013.

96.

On December 23, 2013, one of the attorneys in the Copeland Case filed an Application to
Confirm Arbitration and Award in the 311th District Court.

97.

On December 30, 2013, while the Application was pending with the court, Judge Pratt
signed an order dismissing the Copeland case for want of prosecution.

98.

On January 14, 2014, the Copeland Case was reinstated upon motion by the parties.

99.

According to an attorney with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
(CPS), who prosecuted CPS cases assigned to the 311th District Court, Judge Pratt
dismissed approximately thirty (30) CPS cases for want of prosecution on December 3031, 2013. CPS attorneys received no notice and no opportunity to be heard regarding the
dismissal of any of these cases.

100.

According to witnesses, Judge Pratts dismissal of hundreds of active cases on December


30-31, 2013, required other judges and their staff to expend considerable time and
resources, at taxpayers expense, to locate signed orders that had not been provided to
clerks for processing and motions to reinstate that had been filed electronically but not
handled by Judge Pratt before she left office. They also tried to notify affected parties
who may not have received notice that their cases had been dismissed and attempted to
reinstate cases before the courts lost jurisdiction.

101.

Witnesses also stated that Judge Pratts dismissal of active cases created emotional and
financial hardships for many parties. In numerous cases, parties incurred the additional
expense of having their attorneys prepare motions to reinstate and appear in court to have
their motions heard. In some cases, parties took advantage of the dismissals by depleting
community assets and forcing themselves back into the marital home.

102.

Witnesses raised concerns that parties who were not represented by attorneys would be
particularly disadvantaged if they did not receive notice of the dismissal of their cases,
did not know how to have their cases reinstated, or missed the deadline for requesting
reinstatement.

103.

Witnesses also reported that in at least one case, Judge Pratt signed an order dismissing
the case and signed a final judgment in the case on the same date, forcing the parties to
resolve the conflict in court at their own expense.

104.

When asked to describe the process used to determine which cases to dismiss for want of
prosecution, Judge Pratt testified that she had instructed court staff to provide her with a
list of cases that were a year old or older.

105.

Judge Pratt testified that she checked the status of some, but not all, of the cases, and
relied on her memory in eliminating some active cases from the list.

106.

Ultimately, Judge Pratt signed orders of dismissal in approximately 600 cases based on
the list provided to her by court staff.
10

107.

Judge Pratt acknowledged that parties and/or their attorneys were not provided with a
separate notice of the courts intent to dismiss; however, she maintained that, in the
months leading up to the signing of the dismissal orders, a notice of trial setting had been
sent out to the parties or their attorneys in every case.

108.

Judge Pratt went on to explain that the front and back of the notice of trial setting
contained a warning that the case was subject to dismissal if certain conditions were not
met. The notices also stated that cases pending more than 5 months without a trial setting
would be set for a dismissal for want of prosecution (DWOP) hearing.

109.

Judge Pratt also represented that she held numerous DWOP hearings throughout the last
five months of 2013, and that she simply waited until December 30-31, 2013 to sign the
stack of dismissal orders provided to her by court staff, who assured her that DWOP
notices had gone out as required.

110.

A review of several dismissal orders provided to the Commission indicated that none of
the orders included the date of the DWOP hearing, which was left blank.

RELEVANT STANDARDS
1.

Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution provides that any judge may be disciplined
for willful or persistent violation of the rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of
Texas, willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, incompetence in performing the
duties of office, or willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper
performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of
justice.

2.

Section 33.001(b) of the Texas Government Code, provides that a willful, persistent, and
unjustifiable failure to timely execute the business of the court constitutes willful or
persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of the judges
duties.

3.

Canon 2A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides that, A judge shall comply
with the law

4.

Canon 3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides that, A judge shall
maintain professional competence in [the law].

5.

Canon 3B(8) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides that, A judge shall accord
to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, or that person's lawyer, the right
to be heard according to law.

7.

Rule 165a of the Texas Code of Civil Procedure provides that before a case can be
dismissed for want of prosecution, notice of the courts intention to dismiss and the date
and place of the dismissal hearing shall be sent by the clerk to each attorney of record,
and to each party not represented by an attorney

CONCLUSIONS
The Commission concludes from the evidence presented that Judge Pratt failed to be
diligent and failed to timely execute the business of the court in violation of Article V, section 1a(6)A of the Texas Constitution. Specifically, with regard to the delays in the Bates, DuPont,
11

Hernandez-Rivera, and Messier Cases, although it is possible that Judge Pratt signed the various
renditions, orders, and findings of fact on the dates noted beside her signature, the probability
that this occurred appears remote given the totality of the circumstances. Judge Pratts
reputation for not showing up for court, not signing orders for months at a time, not disposing of
cases in a timely manner, and having the largest backlog of pending cases of all the Harris
County Family District Courts was supported by witnesses who appeared in the 311th District
Court or worked with the judge on a regular basis and supports the conclusion that Judge Pratt
simply failed to sign orders, renditions, and findings of fact in a timely manner. Compounding
the problem was the fact that when the delays were initially brought to her attention, Judge Pratt
took no action; however, when the 14th Court of Appeals became involved, Judge Pratt was
suddenly able to produce the missing documents which she claimed to have signed months
earlier.
The Commission does not accept Judge Pratts contention that incompetent and untrained
clerks were responsible for the delays in processing her orders and providing them to the parties,
especially given the fact that Marilyn Epps, the clerk responsible for handling the orders,
renditions, and findings of fact in the Bates, DuPont, Hernandez-Rivera, and Messier Cases, was
a well-trained clerk with twenty-five years of experience. The evidence provided to the
Commission demonstrated that Epps could not have received orders dated January 30, 2013,
February 15, 2013, or March 25, 2013, until after she started working in Judge Pratts court on
April 24, 2013. As lead clerk, Epps would have processed the orders when she received them
from Judge Pratt, which means that the judge was responsible for the delays. This conclusion is
reinforced by the fact that following the May 15, 2013 order from the 14th Court of Appeals,
Judge Pratt took no steps to ensure that her decisions were timely processed and provided to the
parties, and continued to delay the signing of orders.
Based on the evidence before it, the Commission concludes that Judge Pratt did not issue
the orders, renditions, and findings of fact in the Bates, DuPont, Hernandez-Rivera, and Messier
Cases until the documents were finally provided to the parties. In light of this, the decisional
delays in those cases were unreasonable and unjustified. The Commission notes that Judge Pratt
provided no evidence that these cases involved particularly complex legal issues; however, it
was evident that Judge Pratt was carrying a particularly heavy caseload, and a very large
backlog, due to her own lack of diligence and neglect of her duties. Excluding the fact that Judge
Pratt was frequently late to court and often missed or canceled court hearings and trials, there
does not appear to be a legitimate justification for the pattern of delayed decision-making that
occurred during the last years of Judge Pratts tenure on the bench.
The Commission notes that the failure of a judge to promptly dispose of the business of
the court in the absence of a justifiable reason for the delay reflects adversely on the entire
judicial system. Prompt disposition of cases is critical to the parties appearing in court,
especially when vulnerable children are involved, and necessary to prevent backlogs that
interfere with the administration of justice. A judge who fails to show up for court hearings,
appears late to court, or delays making decisions and signing orders in cases involving the rights
of parents and the best interests of children, causes harm and a great disservice to parties,
lawyers, witnesses, jurors, and other judges. A judges unjustified decisional delays, tardiness,
and absenteeism are harmful to the parties, damage the publics respect for and trust in the
judiciary, and cannot be condoned.

12

With regard to the dismissal of more than 600 cases on December 30-31, 2013, the
evidence shows that in most if not all instances, DWOP notices had not been sent to the parties
or their attorneys and that DWOP hearings had not been held in violation of Rule 165a of the
Texas Code of Civil Procedure. It was also clear to the Commission that Judge Pratt failed to
take appropriate measures to ensure that active cases awaiting trial or the judges signature on
final orders were not included in the list of cases to be dismissed and that cases from which she
had already been recused were not included on the list. Finally, if Judge Pratts explanation is
credible for why she signed DWOP orders in the cases from which she had been recused, and
that she did so only to close the cases out of her courts docket and not with the intent to dismiss
the entire case, then Judge Pratt demonstrated great incompetence in the performance of her
duties. The Commission concludes that Judge Pratts conduct in dismissing active cases for want
of prosecution, including cases from which she was recused, violated Canons 2A, 3B(2), and
3B(8) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and Article V, section 1-a(6)A of the Texas
Constitution.

***************************
In condemnation of the above-recited conduct that violated Article V, 1-a (6) A of the
Texas Constitution, and Canons 2A, 3B (2), and 3B (8) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, it
is the Commissions decision to issue a PUBLIC REPRIMAND to the Honorable Denise V. Pratt,
Former Judge of the 311th Judicial District Court, Houston, Harris County, Texas.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a (8) of the Texas Constitution, it is
ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC REPRIMAND by the
Commission.
The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect public confidence
in the judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody the principles and
values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
Issued this the 4th day of September 2014.
ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
__________________________________________
Honorable Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct

13

BEFORE THE
STATE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT

CJC NOS. 11-1106-CC, 13-0083-CC, 13-0093-CC, 13-0097-CC, 13-0147-CC, 13-0152-CC, 13-0383CC, 13-0410-CC, 13-0458-CC, 13-0460-CC, 13-0557-CC, 13-0670-CC

PUBLIC REPRIMAND
HONORABLE CHRISTOPHER DUPUY
FORMER JUDGE, COUNTY COURT AT LAW NO. 3
GALVESTON, GALVESTON COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on October 15-16, 2014, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct
concluded a review of the allegations against the Honorable Christopher Dupuy, former Judge of the
County Court at Law No. 3, Galveston, Galveston County, Texas. Former Judge Dupuy was advised by
letter of the Commissions concerns. At his request, a hearing was scheduled to provide the former judge
with an opportunity to appear before the Commission and provide testify. Although Former Judge
Dupuy was notified of the date, time, and location of the hearing, he failed to appear.

BACKGROUND
Judge Dupuy was elected to the Galveston County Court at Law No. 3 bench in November 2010,
after defeating the incumbent judge who had been presiding over Judge Dupuys divorce from Adrienne
Viterna, and the couples child custody case. As of January 1, 2011, when he was sworn in, Judge
Dupuy was defending himself in a legal malpractice case, had already been the subject of public
discipline by the State Bar of Texas, was defending himself from post-judgment collection efforts in
another malpractice action as well as from a sanction for filing a frivolous lawsuit against his ex-wifes
attorney, and had filed for bankruptcy protection. Within two years, Judge Dupuy would again be
publicly sanctioned by the State Bar of Texas, sued by his uncle for failure to repay a $25,000 loan, sued
by another former client for legal malpractice, sued by his ex-wife to modify a 2010 arbitrated child
custody order, and would file for bankruptcy protection a second time, which stayed the pending
litigation and post-judgment collection efforts against him until December 2012.
Starting in August 2011, the Commission received complaints from lawyers and litigants
appearing in Judge Dupuys court who alleged that the judge failed to recuse from cases involving an

attorney with whom he had a special, close relationship, failed to follow proper procedures when asked
to recuse, and threatened and retaliated against attorneys and their clients who asked for his recusal
and/or who represented his ex-wife, Viterna, in pending litigation against the judge.
After Judge Dupuy sent an email to Galveston County public officials and attorneys
misrepresenting information he had obtained from the Commission in his quest to have Associate Judge
Suzanne Schwab-Radcliffe disqualified from representing family law clients in Galveston County, the
Commission asked Judge Dupuy to appear before it and answer questions relating to the pending
complaints. Judge Dupuy appeared before the Commission in December 2012, and provided testimony.
In the months that followed, the Commission dismissed some of the pending complaints based
on insufficient evidence, but notified the judge in writing and through his attorney that several of the
complaints remained pending. In addition, after learning that Judge Dupuy was misrepresenting to the
public that the Commission had dismissed all of the complaints pending against him, the Commission
again contacted the judge through his attorney to caution against making misleading statements
concerning the status of the pending complaints and advised that additional complaints had since been
filed against him requiring his response.
On May 21, 2013, Judge Dupuy was indicted on eight counts involving accusations that he
mistreated and retaliated against one of his ex-wifes attorneys, Lori Laird; mistreated and retaliated
against attorney Greg Enos; mistreated and retaliated against Associate Judge Suzanne Radcliffe; and
misused government property for the private benefit of his girlfriend, Tara Compton.1 The following
day, the Texas Attorney General filed a civil removal action against Judge Dupuy in Galveston County.
On May 24, 2013, the Commission suspended Judge Dupuy from office without pay as a result of the
indictments. On June 11, 2013, Judge Dupuy was indicted for Abuse of Official Capacity for having
engaged in the practice of law while a judge in order to assist Compton. Judge Dupuy appeared before
the Commission on June 14, 2013 to appeal the suspension, but did not prevail. On July 30, 2013, Judge
Dupuy was indicted on two counts of aggravated perjury relating to his testimony in a protective order
hearing before a visiting judge in June 2013. Thereafter, all but the two aggravated perjury charges and
two misdemeanor abuse of official capacity charges were dismissed by Harris County District Judge
Ryan Patrick, sitting by assignment in Galveston County in connection with the criminal case against
Judge Dupuy.
Also in June of 2013, Judge Dupuy temporarily lost custody of his two children during an
emergency protective order hearing after his ex-wife claimed that Judge Dupuy was plotting to have her
murdered, stage his own death in a boating accident, and flee with their children to New Zealand.
Although his former fiance, Tara Compton, provided prosecutors with an affidavit detailing the plot
and provided some testimony at the protective order hearing in support of the affidavit, Judge Dupuy
denied the allegations under oath. A protective order was not issued.
On August 28, 2013, Judge Patrick held Judge Dupuy in criminal contempt of court for violating
a July 25, 2013 order prohibiting the participants in the criminal case from discussing the matter
publicly, including on the internet and through social media. The finding of contempt was based on
evidence submitted to the court showing that Judge Dupuy had been posting long rants on his Facebook
page criticizing and personally attacking David Glickler, the Assistant Attorney General prosecuting his
case. Judge Dupuy was sentenced to serve 45 days in jail and ordered to undergo a psychiatric
evaluation to determine if he was competent to stand trial.
1

Pursuant to Sec. 25.00161 of the Texas Government Code, [t]he regular judge of a statutory county court shall diligently
discharge the duties of the office on a full-time basis and may not engage in the private practice of law.
Page 2

On September 19, 2013, prior to submitting to the psychiatric evaluation, Judge Dupuy entered
into an agreement with the prosecutor resulting in a plea of guilty to misdemeanor charges of perjury
and abuse of office, and the judges immediate resignation from the bench. Judge Dupuy was placed on
two years probation and agreed not to run for elected office during that time. The remaining criminal
charges were dismissed.
During sentencing, Judge Patrick addressed Judge Dupuy and stated, You brought an incredible
dishonor to yourself, your name and this professionAnybody who reads or knows about this case
makes our job as judges harder because of what you did. Judge Patrick added, You put yourself in
this positionYou just added one more reason we've all become the butt of jokes, particularly here in
Galveston. The judges criminal cases, suspension from office, child custody case, civil removal case,
contempt of court sentence, plea and resignation were all the subject of extensive media coverage, as
well as blogs, YouTube videos, and posts on various social media sites.
At the time of Judge Dupuys guilty plea and resignation from office, the above-referenced
complaints remained pending with the Commission. The investigation into these matters was concluded
and the cases were presented to the Commission at its August 13-15, 2014 meeting. After considering
the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following Findings and Conclusions.

FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Christopher Dupuy was Judge of County Court at
Law No. 3, in Galveston, Galveston County, Texas.
CJC Nos. 11-1106-CC, 13-0083-CC, 13-0152-CC

2.

Attorney Greg Hughes represented a father, Bryan Dean, in Case No. 07FD0090, styled In the

Interest of A.D. and P.D., Minor Children (the Dean Case.) In that case, the mother had filed
a Motion to Modify asking to be allowed to relocate to the San Antonio area with the couples
children.
3.

On May 25, 2011, Hughes filed an answer in the case, placing the court and opposing counsel on
notice that he was representing Bryan in the matter.

4.

The mother was represented by attorney Kathleen Collins, who, unbeknownst to Hughes or his
client, approached Judge Dupuy on June 15, 2011, and obtained an ex parte temporary
restraining order against Bryan preventing him from taking the children on a Hawaiian vacation
with his partner.

5.

Hughes first learned that a TRO had been issued against Bryan on June 21, 2011, when he
received a letter from Collins advising him that his client was in violation of the order.

6.

Prior to the show cause hearing regarding Bryans alleged violation of the ex parte TRO, Hughes
filed a motion to recuse Judge Dupuy.

7.

According to the motion to recuse, Judge Dupuy had an especially close relationship with
Collins, including an attorney-client relationship, which he failed to disclose.

8.

Judge Dupuy announced at the commencement of the show cause hearing that he was denying
the motion to recuse because it had absolutely no basis, either in fact or in law; however, the
judge stated that he would refer the matter to the Presiding Judge of the Second Administrative
Judicial Region for consideration.

Page 3

9.

Judge Dupuy then went forward with the show cause hearing and attempted to extend the TRO,
which was set to expire that day.

10.

When Hughes objected that Judge Dupuy could not act until the motion to recuse had been
resolved, Judge Dupuy became visibly angry and threatened Bryan with future punishment if he
violated the TRO.

11.

On August 3, 2011, Presiding Judge Olen Underwood held a recusal hearing in the Dean Case.

12.

At the recusal hearing, witnesses, including Judge Dupuys ex-wife, Adrienne Viterna, testified
about the nature of Judge Dupuys relationship with Collins.

13.

Judge Underwood granted Hughes motion and recused Judge Dupuy from the Dean Case.

14.

The following day, Judge Dupuy made a threatening telephone call to Hughes in which the judge
expressed his anger that Hughes had called his ex-wife to testify and promised Hughes that when
he appeared in Judge Dupuys court again, the judge would remember what a sleaze Hughes
was.

15.

In late November 2011, Hughes filed a motion to recuse against Judge Dupuy in Case No.
11FD0574, styled In the Interest of H.E.P., a Minor Child (the Powers Case.) In that case,
Hughes represented the father, Chad Powers.

16.

According to the motion to recuse, Judge Dupuy and the childs mother, Amanda Taber, were
Facebook friends, who exchanged numerous ex parte communications during the pendency of
the case through various Facebook posts.

17.

Additionally, Hughes disclosed in the motion to recuse that he was now representing Adrienne
Viterna in a custody dispute against Judge Dupuy.

18.

Judge Dupuy recused himself from the Powers Case, as well as from subsequent cases in which
Hughes was the attorney of record.

19.

On August 29, 2012, a respondent, Jimmy Cox, appeared before Judge Dupuy for an
enforcement hearing.

20.

The day before the hearing, Cox hired Hughes to represent him and Hughes filed an answer and
a motion to recuse Judge Dupuy from presiding over the enforcement action.2

21.

When Judge Dupuy entered the courtroom, he called out Hughes name and excused him from
the courtroom, refusing to allow him to represent Cox in the enforcement action.

22.

After Hughes was forcibly escorted out of the courtroom by the bailiff, Cox advised Judge
Dupuy that he had hired Hughes to represent him in the enforcement action. Judge Dupuy then
advised Cox to fire Hughes and get his money back.

23.

Hughes also provided documentation to the Commission demonstrating that, while a judge,
Judge Dupuy engaged in a pattern of intentional discovery abuse and filed numerous frivolous
motions designed to delay the prosecution of a legal malpractice case3 filed against Judge Dupuy
by a former client, Mr. Margarita, LP.

Judge Dupuy had previously been recused from presiding over Coxs family law case; however, the enforcement action was
treated as a separate matter.
3
Kathleen Collins represented Judge Dupuy in this malpractice case, which was filed in 2009 and remains pending today.

Page 4

24.

In January 2012, Judge Dupuy and Collins were sanctioned by a visiting judge and ordered to
pay $7,500 to David Bryant, the attorney representing Mr. Margarita, LP, for their efforts to
delay the case by filing frivolous motions to recuse and failing to appear for several scheduled
depositions.

25.

Hughes also provided documentation that demonstrated that, while a judge, Judge Dupuy
engaged in a similar pattern of conduct while a defendant in another malpractice action filed
against him in 2009 by Cindi Mayville.

26.

In the Mayville Case, Judge Dupuy engaged in post-judgment discovery abuses, filed multiple
motions to have the various judges involved in the case recused, and filed for bankruptcy
protection4 to delay action in the Mayville, Mr. Margarita, and several other cases pending
against him.
13-0093-CC & 13-0147-CC

27.

Until February 2013, Suzanne Schwab-Radcliffe had been the part-time Associate Judge for the
306th District Court in Galveston County for 14 years. She also maintained a private law practice
during this time and shared office space with attorney Lori Laird.

28.

Per a standing policy promulgated by the 306th District Court and the County Courts at Law in
Galveston County, all cases assigned to the 306th District Court in which Radcliffe was the
attorney of record were automatically transferred to one of the three County Courts at Law.

29.

This policy, which had been in effect for more than ten years, also applied to any partners and
associates which she (Radcliffe) may have from time to time. Due to her close association with
Radcliffe, cases involving Laird as an attorney were also transferred out of the 306th District
Court.

30.

On July 6, 2012, Laird was hired to handle a modification in Case No. 02-FD-0367, In the
Interest of A.E.W. and B.A.W., Minor Children (the Wingate Case), a family law case pending
in the 306th District Court. Pursuant to county policy, the case was transferred to Judge Dupuys
court.

31.

However, on August 20, 2012, opposing counsel in the case, Greg Enos, filed a motion to
disqualify Laird, complaining that the county policy to automatically transfer cases out of the
306th District Court involving Laird or Radcliffe permitted litigants to forum shop by hiring
either one of these attorneys to handle their cases.

32.

On September 6, 2012, following a hearing, Judge Dupuy disqualified Laird from the Wingate
case, ordered her to refund her clients money, and transferred the matter back to the 306th
District Court.

33.

At the hearing, Laird objected that Judge Dupuy had prepared the 4-page disqualification order
prior to the commencement of the hearing and had made his decision before hearing any
evidence.

34.

According to Laird, Judge Dupuy was improperly influenced in his decision by a personal
relationship with Enos, as evidenced by the fact that Judge Dupuy had dated Enos daughter,

This was Judge Dupuys second bankruptcy filing, which was dismissed on December 6, 2012. Since that time, he has filed
for bankruptcy on two more occasions, and each has been dismissed.
Page 5

played poker and socialized with Enos, and had appeared at a party with Enos the very evening
of the September 6, 2012 hearing.5
35.

On September 14, 2012, Judge Janis Yarbrough of the 306th District Court vacated Judge
Dupuys entire order, save the transfer of the Wingate Case to Judge Yarbroughs court.

36.

Additionally, Judge Yarbrough informed Judge Dupuy in an email, Attached is the order that I
signed this morning. As this case is no longer in your court, please do not interfere with the
operations of the 306th.

37.

On October 3, 2012, Judge Dupuy issued an Order Disqualifying Suzanne Radcliffe in Case
Number 12-FD-2386, In the Matter of the Marriage of Cory L. Tucker and Jessica L. Tucker, as
well as in two other cases.

38.

In his order, Judge Dupuy contended that Radcliffes dual roles as an Associate Judge and as a
family law attorney created a clear conflict of interest.6

39.

Two of the disqualification orders, which were issued on the judges own motion and without a
hearing, were issued in cases wherein Radcliffe had filed motions to recuse Judge Dupuy.

40.

Judge Dupuy did not forward the recusal motions to the Presiding Judge of the Second
Administrative Judicial Region; instead, on October 10, 2012, Judge Dupuy entered an Order
Striking Disqualified Attorneys Motion and Finding the Associate Judge, Suzanne SchwabRadcliffe, in Contempt in each case in which Radcliffe had filed a motion to recuse.

41.

Judge Dupuys orders of contempt against Radcliffe, which did not include jail time or payment
of a fine, cautioned that any further contemptuous acts of the Associate Judge, including her
disruption of inactive or active cases, or the filing of impermissible, unprofessional pleadings,
may subject her to sanctions.

42.

On or about November 29, 2012, Laird was retained as co-counsel to represent Judge Dupuys
ex-wife, Adrienne Viterna, in an ongoing child custody dispute involving the couples young
children.7

43.

Soon thereafter, Laird sent a notice to Judge Dupuys attorney requiring him to appear in Lairds
office for his deposition.

44.

On December 21, 2012, Judge Dupuys orders disqualifying Radcliffe were overturned on
appeal.8

Enos had also served as the mediator and the arbitrator in Judge Dupuys 2010 divorce from Adrienne Viterna, wherein
Enos awarded primary custody of the children to Judge Dupuy.
6
In a September 17, 2012 email to the Chief Deputy District Clerk and the head of the County Legal Department, Judge
Dupuy accused Judge Yarbrough, Judge Radcliffe, and Laird of engaging in corrupt and unlawful conduct.
7

Among other things, Viterna was attempting to have the 2010 arbitration award giving Judge Dupuy full custody of their
children overturned through a Bill of Review.
8
However, without advising them that the issue was being litigated in the courts, Judge Dupuy sent his conflict of interest
concerns to the State Bar of Texas Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee seeking an advisory opinion. In January 2013, the
Committee issued Opinion No. 296, stating that a part-time family law associate judge, appointed by a court, could not
ethically represent family law clients before any of the other courts in that county, or in counties surrounding that county, if
those courts are subject to appellate jurisdiction of the court which he or she serves. In response to the opinion, Radcliffe
immediately resigned her position as Associate Judge for the 306th District Court.
Page 6

45.

In its decision granting mandamus relief to Radcliffe, the First Court of Appeals ruled that Judge
Dupuy had abused his discretion when he disqualified Radcliffe from representing clients in
family law cases in the County Court at Law No. 3 because he failed to provide Radcliffe or her
clients with notice, a hearing, or any other basic due process requirements.

46.

For the same reasons, the First Court of Appeals also found that Judge Dupuy abused his
discretion by finding Radcliffe in contempt of court for violating his disqualification orders.

47.

On December 28, 2012, after a judge denied his motion to quash the deposition, a visibly angry
Judge Dupuy appeared at Lairds office without his attorney, refused to answer questions, and
read a prepared statement to the court reporter as to why he could not be deposed.

48.

That same day, Judge Dupuy signed an order entitled, Order and Notice of Charge of Criminal
Contempt and Request for Judge to be Appointed to Determine Lori Lairds Guilt or Innocence
and to Determine Punishment, holding Laird in contempt of court in the Wishart Case, from
which Judge Dupuy had purportedly recused himself in November 2012.9

49.

In the 8-page Order, Judge Dupuy sought to punish Laird for out-of-court statements made on
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a website she created to disseminate comments about Judge
Dupuy.

50.

The Order included the recommended sanction of a $500 fine for each violation, incarceration in
the County Jail for a term not to exceed 180 days, 50 hours of Continuing Legal Education in the
field of Ethics, and the indefinite suspension of Lairds law license.

51.

On January 31, 2013, Judge Dupuy signed a Show Cause Order in the Wishart and Crowson
Cases and ordered Laird to appear before him to determine if she had committed contempt.

52.

On February 11, 2013, Judge Dupuy presided over the contempt hearing against Laird and, over
her objections, attempted to force her to explain, defend or apologize for each of the 37 counts
of contempt that Judge Dupuy had entered against her.

53.

On February 12, 2013, Judge Dupuy entered another Order holding Laird in criminal contempt in
the Crowson Case, assessing a $250 fine for each count and ordering Lairds confinement in the
County Jail for 110 days. Judge Dupuy then released Laird on her own recognizance pending
appeal in any subsequent guilt/innocence hearing.

54.

After entering his decision in the Crowson Case, Judge Dupuy called the Wishart Case and
attempted to have Laird respond to the contempt findings in that matter. Judge Dupuy then
entered the same Order holding Laird in contempt of court in the Wishart Case.

55.

Although Judge Dupuys court reporter, Lisa Fort, had been subpoenaed to appear and testify at
the Crowson contempt hearing, Judge Dupuy granted Forts Motion for Protective Order
releasing her from the subpoena and scheduled a hearing for February 28, 2013, to determine if
sanctions are appropriate for the filing of the subpoenas served on Ms. Fort.10

On January 16, 2013, Judge Dupuy entered a similar order against Laird in the Crowson Case, in which she had also filed a
motion to recuse. Prior to this, on October 11, 2012, Judge Dupuy had issued an Order Striking Motion to Recuse and
Finding Lori Laird in Contempt of Court. Both of these orders were issued without notice or hearing.
10
Fort had previously been subpoenaed to testify at a November 14, 2012 recusal hearing in the Wishart Case, based on a
rumor that Judge Dupuy and Fort were engaged in, or had been engaged in, an intimate relationship. According to Laird,
upon learning that Fort had been subpoenaed to testify in the Wishart recusal hearing, Judge Dupuy contacted Presiding
Judge Olen Underwood and agreed to voluntarily recuse himself. Judge Underwood canceled the hearing based on Judge
Page 7

56.

On February 12, 2013, following the contempt of court hearing in Judge Dupuys court, the
hearings on Lairds motions to recuse Judge Dupuy from the Crowson and Wishart Cases were
held by visiting judge Sharolyn Wood.

57.

After Judge Wood refused to grant Lisa Forts Motion for Protective Order, indicating that she
would have to testify, Judge Dupuy signed orders voluntarily recusing himself from the Crowson
and Wishart Cases.11

58.

Thereafter, at Lairds request, Judge Olen Underwood scheduled a de novo contempt hearing for
April 10, 2013.

59.

Without authority, Judge Dupuy appointed a Houston attorney, S. Gardner Eastland, to serve as
the prosecuting attorney in the contempt proceedings, and thereafter sought a continuance in the
case.

60.

Judge Underwood granted the continuance and rescheduled the contempt hearings to June 4,
2013.12

61.

As a result of Judge Dupuys actions against her, Laird filed a criminal complaint against the
judge with the Galveston County District Attorneys Office, which referred the matter to the
Texas Attorney Generals Office.

62.

Following his indictments and as part of his plea agreement with the State, Judge Dupuy made a
voluntary statement admitting guilt in connection with his treatment of Laird.

63.

Specifically, Judge Dupuy stated,


I, Christopher Michael Dupuy, am under indictment in Cause No. 13-CR-1366 for official oppression of Lori
Laird. I hereby admit and confess that on or about February 12, 2013, I did then and there intentionally subject
Lori Laird to mistreatment, that I knew was unlawful, and that I was then and there acting under the color of my
office as Judge, Galveston County Court-at-Law No. 3.

64.

On several dates between May 22 June 18, 2013, an emergency hearing was held before a
visiting judge upon the application by Viterna for a protective order and temporary orders
pertaining to the custody of the Dupuy children.

65.

In connection with the protective order hearing, Judge Dupuys former fiance, Tara Compton,
provided an affidavit in which she described an alleged plot by Judge Dupuy to have Adrienne
Viterna killed, and then fake his death and flee to New Zealand with his children.

66.

In her affidavit and in statements to law enforcement, Compton stated that Judge Dupuy told her
that he had purchased a gun and a silencer; had shown her the gun; and had shown her a picture
of the silencer he had purchased for the gun. She also stated that she thought the murder plot was
real and that Judge Dupuy posed a danger to Viterna and their children.

Dupuys representation that he would sign an order of recusal; however, Judge Underwood rescheduled the recusal hearing
after Judge Dupuy failed to sign a recusal order as promised.
11

Previously, Judge Dupuy had signed several orders and amended orders regarding the pending recusal motions in the
Crowson and Wishart cases, but none explicitly stated that Judge Dupuy had recused himself, which caused undue confusion,
uncertainty, and delay.
12

The de novo contempt hearing never took place due to Judge Dupuys indictment, suspension from office, and subsequent
guilty plea to abuse of office and perjury.
Page 8

67.

At the hearing held on May 28, 2013, Compton testified in support of the affidavit; however,
when called back as a witness in the days that followed, Compton changed some of her
testimony and, at one point, refused to answer questions asserting her Fifth Amendment right
against self-incrimination.

68.

When questioned on the stand on June 6, 2013, about whether he had purchased a silencer, Judge
Dupuy denied the allegation and testified several times that he had not purchased a silencer.

69.

On June 18, 2013, Viternas application for protective order was denied.

70.

Thereafter, Judge Dupuys then-fiance, Courtney Nixon, provided Laird with documents,
including receipts, evidencing that Judge Dupuy had in fact purchased a silencer on February 16,
2013.13
CJC Nos. 13-0383-CC, 13-0410-CC, 13-0557-CC

71.

In 2012, Judge Dupuy was dating Tara Compton, a respondent in a child custody case pending in
the 306th District Court.

72.

On or about November 29, 2012, Associate Judge Radcliffe disqualified Comptons attorney
from representing her in the case.

73.

On December 6, 2012, Judge Radcliffe restricted Comptons access and visitation with her 8year-old daughter.

74.

Attorney Greg Enos represented the childs father, Greg Russell.

75.

On December 19, 2012, Enos started receiving pleadings and motions that purported to be from
Compton, acting pro se; however, the documents, which included motions to recuse Judge
Yarbrough and Judge Radcliffe, arrived via fax from Judge Dupuy and appeared to have been
prepared by him.

76.

In fact, evidence confirmed that Judge Dupuy had sent the motions from the fax machine in his
chambers during regular court business hours.

77.

Russell noted that in addition to Judge Dupuys preparation of pleadings and other legal
documents on Comptons behalf, the judge further assisted Compton by contacting and
attempting to interview potential witnesses in the case.

78.

On December 27, 2012, as a result of Judge Dupuys efforts to assist Compton in her child
custody case, Enos filed a criminal complaint against Judge Dupuy with the Galveston County
District Attorneys Office.14

79.

On January 30, 2013, Enos filed a motion to recuse Judge Dupuy in the Swenson Case, and
attached a copy of the criminal complaint he had filed against Judge Dupuy and a newsletter
publicizing the fact that a criminal investigation had begun.

13

Nixon also provided Laird with Judge Dupuys cell phone, which contained numerous text message purportedly exchanged
between the judge and his attorneys and/or their legal staff during the course of the protective order hearing. Specifically, the
phone contained text messages suggesting that Judge Dupuys attorney(s) had met with Compton following her initial
testimony about the murder and flee plot. In the texts, the attorneys and/or their staff and Judge Dupuy appeared to be
bragging about how easy it was to convince Compton to change her testimony.
14

The Galveston County District Attorneys Office referred the matter to the Texas Attorney Generals Office in part because
Russells wife worked for the District Attorney as a prosecutor.
Page 9

80.

On February 6, 2013, Judge Dupuy declined to recuse himself from the Swenson Case and
ordered the clerk to serve Enos with an Order to Show Cause requiring him to appear before
Judge Dupuy on February 28, 2013 to demonstrate why he should not be held in criminal
contempt of court for filing the motion to recuse. In the Show Cause notice, Judge Dupuy makes
specific reference to the section of Enos motion pertaining to Enos filing of a criminal
complaint.

81.

At the February 12, 2013 recusal hearing in the Wishart and Crowson Cases, Tara Compton
testified that she and Judge Dupuy were engaged and confirmed that he had been assisting her in
her child custody case.

82.

On February 13, 2013, Judge Underwood signed an order recusing Judge Dupuy from the
Swenson Case, which was transferred to the County Court at Law No. 1. The judge of that court
later vacated Judge Dupuys Order to Show Cause against Enos.

83.

On February 15, 2013, the Houston Chronicle published an article regarding the criminal
complaint filed against Judge Dupuy by Enos. Other media outlets in the Galveston and Houston
areas also published similar articles during this time.

84.

In his testimony at the June 11, 2013 protective order hearing, Judge Dupuy represented that he
did not learn that Enos had filed a criminal complaint against him until May 22, 2013; therefore,
according to Judge Dupuy, it would have been impossible for him to have retaliated against Enos
as alleged in the criminal case.

85.

As part of his plea agreement with the State, Judge Dupuy made the following voluntary
statement regarding his testimony on June 11, 2013:
I, Christopher Michael Dupuy, am under indictment in Cause No. 13-CR-2027 for aggravated perjury. I
hereby admit and confess that on the 11th day of June 2013, I did then and there make a false statement under
oath and that statement was required or authorized to be made under oath, and I made the statement with the
intent to deceive and with knowledge of the statements meaning, and the statement was that I first learned that
Greg Enos filed a criminal complaint against me on May 22, 2013, when in fact, I first learned Greg Enos filed
a criminal complaint against me in January 2013.

CJC No. 13-0679-CC


86.

Terri Jacobs was a witness in a child custody dispute (the Virgin Case) that was heard by
Judge Dupuy on January 31, 2013 and March 1, 2013.

87.

According to Jacobs, it appeared that Judge Dupuys personal legal troubles and his own custody
battle improperly influenced his 23-page decision in favor of the father, which was issued a mere
15 minutes after the trial recessed.

88.

After Judge Dupuy gave sole possession of the child to the father, the mother, Julie Virgin,
appealed the decision, retaining attorney Greg Enos to represent her on appeal.

89.

According to Jacobs, on March 29, 2013, Enos filed a motion for new trial and a motion to
recuse Judge Dupuy claiming the judge had failed to listen to all of the evidence before rendering
a decision.

90.

Judge Dupuy denied the motion to recuse on April 3, 2013, but did not forward the motion to the
Presiding Judge of the Second Administrative Judicial Region as required by law.

Page 10

91.

On April 29, 2013, Enos notified Presiding Judge Underwood of the motion to recuse and filed a
motion requesting the local presiding judge of the county courts at law to refer the motion to
recuse to Judge Underwood.

92.

On April 30, 2013, Judge Dupuy notified Enos that a hearing was set on May 3, 2013 for
Disqualification and Sanctions against Mr. Enos for continued unethical pleadings.

93.

On May 2, 2013, Judge Barbara Roberts, the local presiding judge of the county courts at law,
transferred the Virgin Case to County Court at Law No. 1 because Judge Dupuy had failed to
forward the motion to recuse to the Presiding Judge.

94.

That same day, although a motion to recuse had been filed against him, Judge Dupuy entered an
order voiding and striking Judge Roberts transfer order.

95.

The following day, Judge Dupuy denied Enos motion for new trial.

96.

On May 6, 2013, without conducting a hearing, Judge Dupuy entered a 9-page order
disqualifying Enos, imposing $25,000 in monetary sanctions against him, and referring a
grievance against him to the State Bar of Texas.

97.

According to Judge Dupuys order, Enos was being sanctioned for out-of-court statements and
conduct that allegedly occurred in other cases, as well as for his pleadings in the Virgin Case.

98.

The following day, Judge Roberts entered an Order of Referral, referring Enos motion to recuse
Judge Dupuy to the Presiding Judge.

99.

On May 15, 2013, Judge Dupuy entered another order imposing further sanctions against Enos
by striking pleadings that Enos had filed a day earlier.

100.

According to Jacobs, Judge Dupuy treated Julie Virgin like a Tyrant by taking away her right
to be represented on appeal by Enos.
CJC Nos. 13-0097-CC & 13-0458-CC

101.

According to Judge Janis Yarbrough, on July 25 31, 2012, Judge Dupuy used county email and
his official title to contact the District Clerks office in an attempt to have an enforcement action
filed against him in his personal family law case sealed and threatened the District Clerk with
contempt of court and a possible financial penalty if she did not seal these records.

102.

Judge Yarbrough provided additional documentation to demonstrate how Judge Dupuy, who was
represented by counsel in his personal family law matter, used his position and county email
account on more than one occasion to request special consideration and accommodations in the
case.

103.

Judge Yarbrough and Bonita Quiroga, the Galveston County Director of Justice Administration,
contended that Judge Dupuy became hostile and retaliatory toward Quiroga after she refused to
authorize the judges hiring of a new court coordinator and reported the judge for financial
improprieties and misuse of county equipment for personal use.

104.

According to documentation provided to the Commission, Judge Dupuy used his position in a
series of emails from his county email account to try to intimidate Quiroga by inquiring as to
how she was appointed, who appointed her, and when her contract was going to expire.

Page 11

CJC No. 13-0460-CC


105.

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry provided sworn statements describing how the lawsuits,
ethics complaints, recusal motions, contempt orders, criminal investigation, and other actions
involving Judge Dupuy have been extremely disruptive to judicial administration in Galveston
County.

106.

In his sworn complaint, Judge Henry described Judge Dupuys actions on behalf of his court
reporter, Lisa Fort, with whom Judge Henry believed Judge Dupuy had a personal relationship
outside of the courtroom.

107.

According to Judge Henry, Fort had been issued a subpoena to appear and testify at the February
12, 2013 contempt hearing against Lori Laird. The basis for her testimony was personal and
unrelated to her work as a court reporter, which prompted Judge Dupuy to send emails to the
County Legal Department15 demanding that the office represent Fort, issue Motions to Quash &
Protection, or reimburse her for her legal fees if it would not represent her.

108.

Judge Henry noted that it was a violation of the law and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct for
Judge Dupuy to give legal assistance and advice to Fort.

109.

After Fort was advised that County Legal would not represent her or reimburse her for her legal
fees in connection with the subpoena, Judge Dupuy immediately posted derogatory comments
about Judge Henry on his Facebook page.
RELEVANT STANDARDS

1.

Article V, Section 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution provides that a judge may be disciplined for
willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, or willful or persistent conduct that is clearly
inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary
or administration of justice.

2.

Canon 2A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A judge shall
comply with the law

3.

Canon 2B of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A judge shall not
allow any relationship to influence judicial conduct or judgment.

4.

Canon 3B(1) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, A judge shall hear and decide
matters assigned to the judge except those in which disqualification is required or recusal is
appropriate.

5.

Canon 3B(4) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A judge shall be
patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the
judge deals in an official capacity.

6.

Canon 3B(5) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, A judge shall perform judicial
duties without bias or prejudice.

15

Judge Henry pointed out that the County Legal Department represents the Galveston County Commissioners Court, not
county employees.

Page 12

7.

Canon 3B(8) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A judge shall
accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, or that person's lawyer, the right
to be heard according to law.

8.

Canon 4G of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A judge shall not
practice law except as permitted by statute or this Code.
CONCLUSIONS

The Commission concludes from the evidence presented that Judge Dupuy failed to comply with
the law and engaged in willful and persistent conduct that was clearly inconsistent with the proper
performance of his judicial duties and cast public discredit upon the judiciary and the administration of
justice when he used his position and authority to bully, retaliate against, and punish attorneys Lori
Laird, Greg Enos, Greg Hughes, and Suzanne Radcliffe for filing motions to recuse, grievances,
criminal complaints, and removal actions against him, and for their representation of the judges ex-wife
or involvement in litigation involving the judges then-girlfriend. Judge Dupuy allowed his adverse
relationship with these attorneys and his ex-wife, as well as his personal and intimate relationship with
Tara Compton and others, to improperly influence his conduct and judgment.
As a result of those intimate and personal relationships, Judge Dupuy (a) engaged in the
improper practice of law, (b) misused government resources, (c) injected himself into personal litigation
involving other peoples children, (d) failed to disclose the relationships or to recuse from cases
involving those with whom he had a close, personal relationship, (e) lied under oath, (f) engaged in
witness tampering, (g) harassed, bullied, and maligned County Officials, including Judge Henry, Bonnie
Quiroga, and Judge Yarbrough, who he believed were thwarting his efforts to assist these individuals,
(h) treated the attorneys and their clients without patience, dignity or courtesy when they appeared in
court, (i) subjected attorneys and their clients to biased, unfair, discriminatory, and partial treatment
through his rulings and procedures, (j) abused his discretion, and (k) failed to afford these attorneys or
their clients with notice, the right to be heard, and other due process safeguards.
The Commission also concludes that Judge Dupuy engaged in criminal conduct in his treatment
of Laird, as well as during his testimony at the protective order hearing, as evidenced by the judges
voluntary statements admitting criminal liability. Moreover, the Commission concludes based on the
evidence before it that Judge Dupuy also testified falsely when he stated under oath at the protective
order hearing that he had never purchased a silencer for his gun when, in fact, he had purchased a
silencer on February 16, 2013, and when he stated that the Commission had dismissed all pending
complaints against him when, in fact, the Commission had notified him twice through his lawyer that
several complaints remained pending and that new complaints had been filed against him. There is no
dispute that Judge Dupuys conduct was egregious and detracted greatly from public confidence in the
integrity of the judiciary. In fact, it is unlikely that anything could be more prejudicial to the
administration of justice than testifying falsely under oath.
The record before the Commission clearly demonstrated that Judge Dupuy exhibited bad faith in
many of the rulings described above. Moreover, this was not a case of a judge committing an error of
judgment or lacking diligence. On the contrary, Judge Dupuy clearly knew the law on recusal and the
procedures that were to be followed when a motion to recuse was filed, having filed several motions to
recuse in his own personal litigation, all of which recited the law and procedures he expected those
judges to follow. Moreover, based on his Order and Notice of Charge of Criminal Contempt and
Request for Judge to be Appointed to Determine Lori Lairds Guilt or Innocence and to Determine

Page 13

Punishment, there is no dispute that Judge Dupuy knew that Laird was entitled to have his finding of
criminal contempt heard by another judge and that it was improper for him to conduct the show cause
hearing against Laird on February 11-12, 2013. Therefore, the Commission concludes that Judge Dupuy
intentionally misused the judicial office to cause harm to Laird, Radcliffe, Hughes, Enos, their clients,
and others connected with them.
Texas jurisprudence in the context of judicial disciplinary actions has defined willful conduct
to require a showing of intentional or grossly indifferent misuse of judicial office, involving more than
an error of judgment or lack of diligence. In re Davis, 82 S.W.3d 140, 148 (Tex.Spec.Ct.Rev. 2002),
citing In re Bell, 894 S.W.2d 119, 126 (Tex.Spec.Ct.Rev. 1995)(willful conduct requires a showing of
bad faith, including a specific intent to use the powers of office to accomplish an end which the judge
knew or should have known was beyond the legitimate exercise of authority.) The term has also been
defined as the improper or wrongful use of the power of his office by a judge acting intentionally, or
with gross indifference to his conduct. In re Barr, 13 S.W.3d 525, 534 (Tex.Rev.Trib. 1998), citing In re
Thoma, 873 S.W.2d 477, 489-90 (Tex.Rev.Trib. 1994)(willfulnessnecessarily encompasses conduct
involving moral turpitude, dishonesty, corruption, misuse of office, or bad faith generally, whatever the
motive.) Based on the record in this matter, the Commission concludes that there is sufficient evidence
of bad faith and a lack of proper judicial temperament in Judge Dupuys conduct toward Laird,
Radcliffe, Hughes, Enos, and those individuals that the judge perceived were acting on his ex-wifes
behalf or against his girlfriend in her personal litigation.
The Commission concludes that Judge Dupuys conduct, as described herein, constituted willful
or persistent violations of Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution, and Canons 2A, 2B, 3B(1),
3B(4), 3B(5), 3B(8) and 4G of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
*****************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 2A, 2B, 3B(1), 3B(4),
3B(5), 3B(8), and 4G of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, and Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas
Constitution, it is the Commissions decision to issue a PUBLIC REPRIMAND to the Honorable
Christopher Dupuy, former Judge of County Court at Law No. 3, Galveston, Galveston County, Texas.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution, it is ordered
that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC REPRIMAND by the Commission.
The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect public confidence in the
judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody the principles and values set
forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
Issued this 23rd day of October, 2014.
ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
_________________________________________
Honorable Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct

Page 14

BEFORE THE STATE COMMISSION


ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT

CJC NOS. 14-0106-JP & 14-0264-JP

PUBLIC REPRIMAND
AND
ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION
HONORABLE BOBBY R. NICHOLDS
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE, PRECINCT 3
TRINITY, TRINITY COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on October 15-16, 2014, the State Commission on Judicial
Conduct concluded a review of allegations against the Honorable Bobby R. Nicholds,
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, Trinity, Trinity County, Texas. Judge Nicholds was
advised by letter of the Commissions concerns and provided written responses. After
considering the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following Findings and
Conclusion:

FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

2.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Bobby R. Nicholds was Justice of the
Peace, Precinct 3, Trinity, Trinity County, Texas.1
The Toy Drive
Prior to the Christmas holidays in 2013, Judge Nicholds prepared the following
flyer:
Help me help little ones have a good Christmas. We will be having a toy
drive at Judge Nicholds Office. Anything would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for the help. Judge Nicholds.

Judge Nicholds current term as justice of the peace ends on December 31, 2014. Although Judge Nicholds
did not seek reelection to that bench, he is currently serving as the municipal court judge for the City of
Trinity, Texas.

3.

The flyer contained the phone number for the court, as well as Judge Nicholds
personal phone number.

4.

Although witnesses claimed that the flyer was posted at the courthouse and other
county buildings, Judge Nicholds averred that the flyer was only posted at private
businesses in the City of Trinity.

5.

The toy drive referred to in the flyer was affiliated with Judge Nicholds church,
and was part of the churchs Toy Program, for which Judge Nicholds had served
as the administrator for the past ten years.

6.

Judge Nicholds estimated that approximately 100 toys were collected during the
2013 toy drive, which were brought to the courthouse, the church, and his home.
The toys were then distributed to underprivileged children in the community at
another location.

7.

In his written response to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Nicholds stated that he
participated in the toy drive for the sole purpose of assisting underprivileged
children in the community.

8.

According to Judge Nicholds, he did not use the toy drive as a means to obtain
political gain and/or to further any of his own private interests.
Dismissing Cases without a Motion from the State

9.

On or about October 10, 2011, a defendant appeared in Judge Nicholds court to


enter a plea to a speeding citation.

10.

During the appearance, the defendant provided Judge Nicholds with paperwork
indicating that his car had tire damage, which the defendant alleged affected his
cars speedometer and therefore caused him to be unaware of his actual speed.

11.

After reviewing the paperwork and listening to the defendants claims, Judge
Nicholds concluded that it was not the defendants fault that he had been
speeding, and thereafter dismissed the citation, in exchange for a $20.00 dismissal
fee.

12.

The State did not request and/or file a motion to dismiss the citation; was not present
at the defendants court appearance; and was never involved in any of the
proceedings.

13.

When asked to describe the typical procedures that he follows when dismissing
criminal cases, Judge Nicholds indicated that he typically weigh[s] the evidence
presented to him and considers the circumstances involved in each case to
determine if a dismissal is appropriate.

14.

Judge Nicholds acknowledged that he makes the determination without any


involvement or input from the State, and instead dismisses criminal cases based
solely on his own independent review of the evidence submitted to him by the
defendant.

15.

Judge Nicholds denied that he dismissed a case as a favor to a friend, and stated
that in every instance in which he dismissed a case he did so after making a finding
that there was good cause for the dismissal.
2

16.

The records provided by the court indicate that Judge Nicholds routinely charges
defendants a $20.00 dismissal fee in virtually every case in which he issues a
dismissal.

RELEVANT STANDARDS
1.

Canon 2A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in relevant part, that,
A judge shall comply with the law

2.

Canon 2B of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in relevant part, that,
A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests
of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the
impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.

3.

Canon 3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in relevant part, that,
A judge shall maintain professional competence in [the law].

CONCLUSION
The Commission concludes, based on the facts and evidence before it, that Judge
Nicholds allowed his name, judicial title, and court facilities to be used to promote the
private interests of his local church. Although the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct
generally permits, and even encourages, judges to be involved in charitable and other
community-based activities that do not reflect adversely on the judges impartiality or
interfere in the performance of judicial duties, Canon 2B prohibits a judge from lending
the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others while
engaging in such extrajudicial conduct. Because Judge Nicholds used his name and judicial
title in the flyers promoting the churchs toy drive; utilized the courthouse to collect toys
on behalf of the church; and allowed the courts phone number to be used as a point of
contact for the churchs toy drive, Judge Nicholds advanced the private interests of the
church in a manner that was incompatible with the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
The Commission further concludes, based on the facts and evidence before it, that
Judge Nicholds routinely and persistently failed to comply with the law and displayed a
lack of professional competence in the law when he dismissed traffic citations without a
motion from the State, in exchange for a $20.00 dismissal fee. A judge does not have the
authority to dismiss traffic citations without a motion from the State except in certain
specified cases, as delineated by the Texas Transportation Code. Citations issued for
speeding or other non-compliance violations are not among the types of cases that the
Transportation Code authorizes a judge to dismiss.2
The Commission concludes that Judge Nicholds conduct in the above-described
matters constituted willful and/or persistent violations of Canons 2A, 2B, and 3B(2) of the
Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. In reaching this decision, the Commission took into
account a prior public sanction issued to Judge Nicholds as an aggravating factor.
2
The Texas Transportation Code allows a judge to dismiss certain citations, commonly referred to as
compliances cases, upon receipt of proof that the defendant has corrected or remedied a defect, including
citations issued for an expired inspection sticker or a failure to properly display a license plate. In such cases,
the maximum fee that can be assessed when dismissing a compliance case ranges from $10.00 to $20.00
depending on the nature of the citation.

***************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 2A, 2B and
3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, it is the Commissions decision to issue a
PUBLIC REPRIMAND AND ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION to the Honorable Bobby
R. Nicholds, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, Trinity, Trinity County, Texas.
Pursuant to this Order, Judge Nicholds must obtain two (2) hours of instruction
with a mentor, in addition to his required judicial education for Fiscal Year 2015. In
particular, the Commission desires that Judge Nicholds receive this additional education in
the following areas: 1) avoiding lending the prestige of judicial office to advance the
private interests of the judge or others; 2) the permitted circumstances in which a judge
may dismiss a criminal case; and 3) the proper assessment of dismissal fees when
dismissing compliance cases in accordance with the Texas Transportation Code.
Pursuant to the authority contained in 33.036 of the Texas Government Code, the
Commission authorizes the disclosure of certain information relating to this matter to the
Texas Justice Court Training Center or the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center to
the extent necessary to enable those entities to assign the appropriate mentor for Judge
Nicholds in this case.
Judge Nicholds shall complete the additional two (2) hours of instruction recited
above within sixty (60) days from the date of written notification of the assignment of a
mentor. It is Judge Nicholds responsibility to contact the assigned mentor and schedule
the additional education.
Upon the completion of the two (2) hours of instruction described herein, Judge
Nicholds shall sign and return the Respondent Judge Survey indicating compliance with
this Order. Failure to complete, or report the completion of, the required additional
education in a timely manner may result in further Commission action.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution,
it is ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC REPRIMAND
AND ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION by the Commission.
The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect the public
confidence in the judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody
the principles and values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial
Conduct.
Issued this the 18th day of November, 2014.

ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
__________________________________________
Honorable Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct

BEFORE THE STATE COMMISSION


ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT
CJC No. 14-0823-JP

PUBLIC REPRIMAND
AND
ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION
HONORABLE ESEQUIEL (CHEQUE) DE LA PAZ
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE, PRECINCT 4
KINGSVILLE, KLEBERG COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on October 15-16, 2014, the State Commission on Judicial
Conduct concluded a review of allegations against the Honorable Esequiel (Cheque) De
La Paz, Justice of the Peace for Precinct 4, Kingsville, Kleberg County, Texas. Judge De La
Paz was advised by letter of the Commissions concerns and provided written responses.
After considering the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following Findings
and Conclusion:
FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Esequiel (Cheque) De La Paz, was Justice
of the Peace for Precinct 4, Kingsville, Kleberg County, Texas.

2.

In March of 2014, Judge De La Paz met privately with an electrician who informed the
judge that he had not been paid by the contractor for electrical work performed at a
building site.

3.

After meeting with the electrician, Judge De La Paz met with a Kingsville building
inspector to determine if the electricians work had been completed and whether the
building inspector had issued a green tag at the building site, which would have
permitted the contractor to turn on the electricity at the property.

4.

Shortly thereafter, on or about April 3, 2014, Judge De La Paz telephoned the home of
the contractor. In a conversation with the contractors teenage son, Judge De La Paz
identified himself and advised the son that his father owed money to the electrician; his
father needed to pay the electrician; the judge was trying to save his father court fees;
and the father needed to call the court about the balance that was being claimed by
the electrician.
1

5.

Shortly thereafter, the contractor called Judge De La Paz to discuss the electricians
claims.

6.

During this call, Judge De La Paz advised the contractor that it would be best for [him]
to pay the electrician to avoid the costs associated with going to court and insisted that
the contractor should pay the electrician.

7.

In addition, Judge De La Paz informed the contractor that he had already spoken to the
citys building inspector and had learned that a green tag had been issued to the
contractor. The judge also advised the contractor that the building inspector might need
to be summoned to court to testify if the electrician filed a lawsuit against him.

8.

At the time of the above-described events, there was no case pending in Judge De La
Pazs court relating to the dispute between the contractor and the electrician.

9.

On or about May 15, 2014, the electrician filed a lawsuit against the contractor in Judge
De La Pazs court claiming that the contractor had breached the parties contract.

10.

The contractor retained an attorney and subsequently filed a counterclaim, in which he


alleged that the electrician had breached the parties contract by failing to satisfactorily
perform his job. In particular, the counterclaim alleged that the contractor had been
required to retain the services of another electrician to correct the defective work and
to complete the job as contemplated by the parties contract.

11.

The contractor also filed a Motion to Recuse Judge, based on Judge De La Pazs
previous communications with the parties in the case, as well as with the citys building
inspector. In the motion, the contractor alleged that Judge De La Pazs conduct had
caused him to have personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts in this case and
to develop a bias in the case in favor of the electrician.

12.

Judge De La Paz agreed to recuse himself and transferred the case to another justice of
the peace in the county, who held a trial on July 29, 2014.

13.

Following trial, the other justice of the peace concluded that the electrician had not
satisfactorily performed his work in accordance with the parties contract, and that the
contractor had incurred additional expenses in correcting the defective work performed
by the electrician.

14.

The other justice of the peace issued a judgment in favor of the contractor on his
counterclaim, and further ordered the electrician to pay the contractors attorneys fees.
RELEVANT STANDARDS

1.

Canon 2A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in relevant part: A judge
shall comply with the law ...

2.

Canon 2B of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in relevant part: A judge
shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge
or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they
are in a special position to influence the judge.

3.

Canon 3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct states, in relevant part, that: A
judge should be faithful to the law and shall maintain professional competence in it.
2

CONCLUSION
The Commission concludes based on the facts and evidence before it that Judge De La
Paz failed to comply with the law and demonstrated a lack of professional competence in the
law by intervening in a private dispute between the contractor and the electrician when no case
was pending in his court. Further, Judge De La Paz exceeded his authority when he conducted
an independent investigation into the merits of the electricians claims by meeting with a
witness and the parties to the dispute. As a result of his independent investigation, Judge De
La Paz obtained information from an extra judicial source and used that information to form
an opinion that the contractor was indebted to the electrician. In all of his actions on behalf of
the electrician, Judge De La Paz lent the prestige of his judicial office to advance the
electricians private interests and gave the impression that the electrician was in a special
position to influence the judge. By attempting to assist the electrician in recovering payment
from the contractor, Judge De La Paz abandoned his judicial role as a neutral and independent
arbiter of the facts, which necessitated his recusal from the case once the matter was filed in
his court. In light of the above, the Commission concludes that Judge De La Paz engaged in
willful and persistent violations of Canons 2A, 2B and 3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial
Conduct. In reaching this decision, the Commission considered as an aggravating factor the
fact that it had recently issued a public sanction against Judge De La Paz for substantially
similar conduct.

***************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 2A, 2B, and
3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, it is the Commission's decision to issue a
PUBLIC REPRIMAND AND ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION to
Judge Esequiel (Cheque) De La Paz, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, Kingsville,
Kleberg County, Texas.
Pursuant to this Order, Judge De La Paz must obtain two (2) hours of instruction with
a mentor judge, in addition to his required judicial education in Fiscal Year 2015. In
particular, the Commission desires that Judge De La Paz receive this additional
instruction in the area of (1) the limits of a judges authority to intervene in or mediate disputes
that are not pending in his court; (2) avoiding the use of the prestige of judicial office to advance
the private interests of the judge or others; and (3) maintaining impartiality by avoiding
independent investigations into the merits of matters that may come before the court.
Judge De La Paz shall complete the additional two (2) hours of instruction described
above within sixty (60) days from the date of written notification from the Commission of the
assignment of a mentor. Upon receipt of such notice, it is Judge De La Pazs responsibility to
contact the assigned mentor and schedule the additional education.
Upon the completion of the two (2) hours of instruction described above, Judge De La
Paz shall sign and return the Respondent Judge Survey indicating compliance with this Order.
Failure to complete, or report the completion of, the required additional education in a timely
manner may result in further Commission action.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, l-a(8) of the Texas Constitution,
it is ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC
REPRIMAND AND ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION by the Commission.
3

The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect the public
confidence in the judicial system and to assist the state's judiciary in its efforts to embody the
principles and values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
Issued this the 19th day of December, 2014.

ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
Honorable Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct

BEFORE THE STATE COMMISSION


ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT

CJC NO. 14-0745-DI

PUBLIC WARNING
HONORABLE CARLOS CORTEZ
FORMER JUDGE, 44TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT
DALLAS, DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on February 18-20, 2015, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct
concluded a review of allegations against the Honorable Carlos Cortez, Former Judge of the 44th
District Court, Dallas, Dallas County, Texas.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION
Judge Cortez was elected to the 44th District Court bench in November 2006, and assumed
the bench on January 1, 2007. Beginning in late 2013 and continuing into 2014, coinciding with
the primary election period during which the judge was running for re-election, Judge Cortez was
the subject of numerous disparaging media stories concerning, among other things, allegations of
criminal conduct. The media reports were widespread, including local, state and national
publications.
Because the conduct described in these media reports, if true, would have constituted
willful and/or persistent judicial misconduct, including criminal conduct in some instances, the
Commission initiated the above-referenced complaint against Judge Cortez in order to investigate
four main areas of potential misconduct asserted in the media coverage: (1) allegations that the
judge used illegal drugs and hired prostitutes; 1 (2) allegations that the judge violated the Texas
Election Code and/or the Texas Penal Code regarding the use of officeholder funds and campaign
contributions, and regarding the reporting of travel reimbursement and other expenditures; (3)
allegations surrounding the judges December 2013, arrest for allegedly assaulting his then1

These allegations came to the Commissions attention as the result of media attention surrounding the court-ordered
release of certain documents Judge Cortez sought to have sealed following the dismissal of the defamation lawsuit he
filed against a Dallas attorney. The Commission determined that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding
that the judge engaged in this conduct.

girlfriend; 2 and (4) allegations surrounding a criminal investigation by the Dallas Police
Department into a report that the judge sexually assaulted a woman at his home in November
2013. 3
With regard to the allegations surrounding Judge Cortezs December 2013 arrest and the
decision of the grand jury not to indict him, the Commission focused on information that came to
light as a result of the judges subsequent release to the media of audio and video recordings
respecting the complaining witness in the alleged assault case. The judges actions prompted his
former girlfriend to hold a press conference with her attorney and to release her own recordings of
conversations between herself and the judge, many of which depicted the judge engaging in lewd,
profane and derogatory language toward his girlfriend; descriptions of physical violence allegedly
committed by the judge against the girlfriend; discussions as to the complaining witnesss
contention the judge posted nude photos of her on the Internet; and discussions of numerous trips
the two had taken together while they were dating. These recordings, which were transcribed and
published in the media, would raise questions about whether Judge Cortez properly reported these
travel expenses in his campaign finance reports and/or whether he properly reimbursed himself for
the travel expenses using officeholder/campaign funds.
Judge Cortez was advised by letter of the Commissions concerns and provided written
responses. Judge Cortez appeared with counsel before the Commission on February 20, 2015, and
gave testimony. Based on the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following Findings
and Conclusion:

FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Carlos Cortez was Judge of the 44th District
Court in Dallas, Dallas County, Texas.

2.

On or about August 7, 2013, Judge Cortez filed a political expenditure report with the
Texas Ethics Commission for travel expenses incurred in the amount of $6,267.62, for
which he reimbursed himself from campaign funds.

3.

On or about November 19, 2013, Judge Cortez filed political expenditure reports with the
Texas Ethics Commission for travel expenses incurred in the amounts of $3,437.10,
$1,932.622, and $3,562.31, for which he reimbursed himself from campaign funds.

4.

These campaign finance reports, which were signed by Judge Cortez, failed to comply with
the reporting requirements set forth in Texas Ethics Commission Rule 20.63.(d), in that
the judge failed to disclose details of the travel expenses for which he had been reimbursed.

5.

In his written responses to the Commissions inquiries and in his testimony before the
Commission, Judge Cortez was unable to provide records to substantiate that he was
entitled to reimbursement for travel in the amounts reported to the Texas Ethics
Commission.

That criminal investigation ended in March 2014, with a Dallas County grand jury failing to issue a true bill of
indictment.
3

That criminal investigation concluded in July 2014, with no charges being filed against the judge.

6.

Judge Cortez testified that any failure to properly report political expenditures was due to
the failure of an attorney hired by the judge to maintain his financial records and complete
the reports.

7.

Judge Cortez testified that the attorney was unable or unwilling to provide assistance in
recovering financial records that would support the reported expenditures.

8.

Judge Cortez acknowledged that he reviewed the campaign finance reports prepared by his
attorney and signed them, thereby swearing that the information contained in the reports
was accurate.

9.

Judge Cortez testified that he no longer used the attorney to prepare and file his campaign
finance reports, and that the judge prepared and filed the most recent report filed with the
Texas Ethics Commission in January 2015; however, when questioned about a $51,000
political expenditure incurred at a restaurant in October 2014, Judge Cortez testified that
this information was incorrect and was the result of a typo.

10.

Judge Cortez testified that he intended to correct the typo in the January 2015 report and
file amended reports with the Texas Ethics Commission that either (a) accounted for the
full amounts for which he had been reimbursed, or (b) reflected any offset between what
the campaign owed him and for what he may have reimbursed himself that he cannot
support with receipts or other financial records.

11.

Pursuant to Texas Ethics Commission Rule 20.63(e), a candidates or officeholders


failure to comply with subsection (d) may not be cured by filing a corrected report after the
report deadline has passed.

12.

Moreover, a candidate or officeholder who violates 20.63(d) is deemed to have converted


political funds to personal use, in violation of Texas Election Code 253.035.

13.

Audio recordings of conversations between Judge Cortez and his then-girlfriend that were
publicized in the media contained numerous statements by the judge that cast public
discredit upon the judiciary.

14.

When questioned about the accuracy of the information contained in the published
recordings, specifically in connection with the allegation that the judge had retaliated
against his then-girlfriend following a fight by posting nude photos of her on the Internet,
Judge Cortez refused to admit or deny the claim, stating that he would not respond because
he intended to file a civil lawsuit against her.

RELEVANT STANDARDS
1.

Canon 2A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct states, in pertinent part: A judge shall
comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence
in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

2.

Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution states, in pertinent part, that a judge may be
disciplined for willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper
performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of
justice.

CONCLUSION
The Commission concludes based on the facts and evidence before it that Judge Cortez
failed to comply with the law when he reimbursed himself from campaign funds for travel
expenses that were not properly reported to the Texas Ethics Commission. The judges acceptance
of travel reimbursements that were not supported by complete and accurate disclosures to the
public as required through these reports constituted conversion of public funds to his personal use
in violation of the Texas Election Code. The fact that the reports were prepared and filed by the
judges attorney does not mitigate Judge Cortezs responsibility as the officeholder/candidate to
ensure the accuracy of the reports before signing them. The Commission concludes that Judge
Cortezs conduct, as described above, constitutes willful and/or persistent violations of Canon 2A
of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
The Commission also concludes based on the facts and evidence before it that Judge Cortez
engaged in willful conduct that resulted in the negative attention and criticism levied against him
in the press during 2013 and 2014, therefore casting public discredit not just on the judge, but on
the rest of the judiciary in Dallas County and across the State. While the judge contends that the
Dallas County media was biased against him and motivated by a conspiracy of relationships with
local attorneys who were adversarial to the judge, there is no question that Judge Cortez, through
his own personal conduct, provided any person, including political enemies, and the press with
sufficient information that could be used against him. The Commission concludes that Judge
Cortezs conduct, as described above, violated Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution.

***************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canon 2A of the Texas Code
of Judicial Conduct and Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution, it is the Commissions
decision to issue a PUBLIC WARNING to the Honorable Carlos Cortez, Former Judge of the 44th
District Court, Dallas, Dallas County, Texas.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution, it is
ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC WARNING by the
Commission.
The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect the public
confidence in the judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody the
principles and values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
Issued this the 9th day of March, 2015.

ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
__________________________________________
Hon. Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct

BEFORE THE STATE COMMISSION


ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT

CJC NO. 14-1037-AP

PUBLIC ADMONITION
HONORABLE NORA LONGORIA
JUSTICE, THIRTEENTH COURT OF APPEALS
EDINBURG, HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on February 18-20, 2015, the State Commission on Judicial
Conduct concluded a review of allegations against the Honorable Nora Longoria, Justice
on the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in Edinburg, Hidalgo County, Texas. Judge Longoria
was advised by letter of the Commissions concerns and provided written responses. After
considering the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following Findings and
Conclusion:

FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Nora Longoria was a Justice on the
Thirteenth Court of Appeals in Edinburg, Hidalgo County, Texas.

2.

On or about July 12, 2014, Justice Longoria was stopped by a McAllen police
officer for allegedly driving 69 mph in a posted 55 mph zone.

3.

During the traffic stop, the officer asked the judge to exit her vehicle and perform
a field sobriety test because he detected the odor of alcohol emitting from the
judges breath and observed that her speech was slurred.

4.

When the officer inquired if she had been drinking any alcoholic beverages that
evening, Justice Longoria advised him that she had consumed about five beers.

5.

After being informed that she had failed the field sobriety test, Justice Longoria
was placed under arrest.

6.

When the officer attempted to place her handcuffs, however, Justice Longoria
became emotional and uncooperative, demanding that a supervisor come to the
scene.

7.

Justice Longoria was eventually handcuffed and transported to the McAllen Police
Department, where she was charged with driving while intoxicated and released on
a $2,000 recognizance bond.

8.

Justice Longorias arrest for allegedly driving while intoxicated received local
media attention.

9.

On November 20, 2014, Justice Longoria entered a plea of no contest to a speeding


charge and paid a $500 fine; the driving while intoxicated charge was dismissed.

10.

The dismissal of the charge against the judge received widespread local and
national media attention, which included the release of the police officers dash
cam video recording of the judges traffic stop and arrest on the Internet.

11.

The McAllen Police Department provided a copy of the dash cam video recording
to the Commission, which revealed, among other things, that Justice Longoria (a)
repeatedly identified herself as a judge and offered to show her judicial badge to
the officers without being asked for that information; (b) repeatedly pleaded with
the officer not to arrest her, to issue her a warning, and to let her go home; and (c)
stated that the officer was ruining her life and career.
RELEVANT STANDARDS

1.

Article V, Section 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution provides that any Texas justice
or judge may be disciplined for willful or persistent conduct that is clearly
inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon
the judiciary or administration of justice.

2.

Canon 2B of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct states, in relevant part, that: A
judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of
the judge or others.

CONCLUSION
The Commission concludes based on the facts and evidence before it that Justice
Longoria repeatedly identified herself to police officers as being a judge, offered to show
the officers her judicial badge, and attempted to use her position as a judge to obtain
favorable treatment and escape the consequences of her conduct, in willful and persistent
violation of Canon 2B of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. Furthermore, the judges
conduct during the traffic stop, her arrest for driving while intoxicated, and her subsequent
plea of no contest to a speeding charge received widespread media attention which cast
public discredit upon the judiciary and the administration of justice, in violation of Article
V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution.

***************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canon 2B of the
Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution, it is
the Commissions decision to issue a PUBLIC ADMONITION to the Honorable Nora
Longoria, Justice on the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in Edinburg, Hidalgo County, Texas.

Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution,


it is ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC ADMONITION
by the Commission.
The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect public
confidence in the judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody
the principles and values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial
Conduct.
Issued this the 13th day of March, 2015.

ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
__________________________________________
Honorable Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct

BEFORE THE STATE COMMISSION


ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT

CJC NOS. 13-0772-JP AND 14-0510-JP

PUBLIC REPRIMAND
AND

ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION


HONORABLE TERESA M. MELENDREZ
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE, PRECINCT 4, PLACE 1
EAGLE PASS, MAVERICK COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on February 18-20, 2015, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded
a review of allegations against the Honorable Teresa M. Melendrez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4, Place
1, Eagle Pass, Maverick County, Texas. Judge Melendrez was advised by letter of the Commissions
concerns and provided written responses. After considering the evidence before it, the Commission
entered the following Findings and Conclusion:

FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Teresa M. Melendrez was Justice of the Peace, Precinct
4, Place 1, in Eagle Pass, Maverick County, Texas.
CJC No. 13-0772-JP

2.

On July 11, 2012, Hector Pea filed a small claims action against Perla Pardo regarding the sale
of a vehicle. The case was filed in Judge Melendrezs court and Pardo was served with citation
that same day.

3.

Thereafter, Pardo was summoned to appear in Judge Melendrezs court on August 1, 2012. When
Pardo appeared, Pea was also present, and both parties proceeded to explain the facts of the case
to Judge Melendrez.

4.

At the conclusion of the proceedings, according to a docket sheet entry, Judge Melendrez ordered
Pardo to return the vehicle to Pea.

5.

According to Pardo, she was advised to return to the court on August 16, 2012, at which time
Judge Melendrez again entered no written judgment, but stated that she was going to refer the
matter to the Eagle Pass Police Department for an investigation.

6.

In January 2013, Judge Melendrez asked Pardo to return to court for another hearing in the matter.

7.

Concerned about Judge Melendrezs earlier statement that she was going to refer the matter to law
enforcement, Pardo contacted a detective at the Eagle Pass Police Department, who verified that
there was no criminal case pending.

8.

Pardo appeared in court on January 16, 2013, and agreed to pay Pea a total of $5,000 in monthly
payments of $400.

9.

Although this agreement was memorialized in a handwritten notation on the courts docket sheet,
which both Pardo and Pea signed, no written judgment was issued by the court. 1

10.

According to Pardo, she entered into the agreement after Judge Melendrez threatened her with
criminal charges and jail.

11.

In December 2013, Judge Melendrez issued a criminal summons styled State of Texas vs. Perla
Pardo. The summons, which contained no case number, was served on Pardo by a law enforcement
officer. The summons ordered Pardo to appear in Judge Melendrezs court on December 18, 2013
pertaining to allegations of an offense against the laws of said State, to wit: Civil Matter

12.

On December 18, 2013, Judge Melendrez signed a handwritten note that stated, Start payments
in January 15, 2014 payments of $100.00 dlls till balance is pay in full. Bal. $4,350.00 dlls, This
document did not reference a case number nor did it identify the parties to the agreement.

13.

In her written responses to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Melendrez denied threatening Pardo
with jail.

14.

Judge Melendrez further explained that all of the court appearances of Pardo and Pea were
informal in nature and were intended to be more like mediations than formal judicial hearings.
CJC No. 14-0510-JP

15.

On December 12, 2013, Moises Cantu III filed a petition for divorce against Antonia Perez in the
293rd Judicial District Court in Maverick County, Texas.

16.

On that same day, Judge Melendrez issued a criminal summons in a case styled State of Texas vs.
Antonia Perez. The summons, which contained no case number, was served on Perez by law
enforcement officers. The summons ordered Perez to appear in Judge Melendrezs court on
December 18, 2013 pertaining to allegations of an offense against the laws of said State, to wit:
Civil Matter

17.

On the evening of December 17, 2013, law enforcement officers escorted Perez out of a local
restaurant, served her with the criminal summons, and took a photograph of her vehicle, a 2008
Jeep Wrangler, which was then emailed to Judge Melendrezs court clerk.

In response to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Melendrez provided the Commission with an unsigned copy of a written
judgment in the case.

18.

When Perez appeared before Judge Melendrez the following evening, she learned that Judge
Melendrez was intending to order her to return the Jeep to Cantu.

19.

Perez attempted to explain to Judge Melendrez that the Jeep was community property purchased
during the marriage; that the value of the Jeep exceeded the courts $10,000 jurisdiction; that a
divorce proceeding was currently pending in the district court; and that the district court would
determine ownership and possession of the Jeep and other property belonging to the couple.

20.

In response, Judge Melendrez advised Perez that the courts $10,000 jurisdictional limit would not
affect her decision because they were only discussing possession, not ownership.

21.

Thereafter, Judge Melendrez issued a judgment in case number S13-031JP4, styled Moises Cantu
III vs. Antonia Perez, ordering Perez to return possession of the Jeep to Cantu.

22.

When Perez asked about her appellate remedies, Judge Melendrez advised her that she could not
appeal the decision, but could fight for the vehicle in the district court divorce proceedings.

23.

In response to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Melendrez provided a copy of the court file in
connection with the Perez case, which contained no complaint or pleadings filed by Cantu and no
evidence that Perez had been served with citation or notice of any pending lawsuit filed in Judge
Melendrezs court.

24.

Although the copy of the criminal summons and the judgment provided by Judge Melendrez
indicated that case number S13-031JP4 had been written by hand across the top of the documents,
the copies provided to Perez did not contain this information.

25.

In addition, the court file contained no entries on the court docket sheet other than the date
December 18, 2013.

26.

Although Judge Melendrez provided affidavits from law enforcement officers indicating that Perez
had been avoiding service of the criminal summons prior to December 17, 2013, the Peace
Officers Return from the Maverick County Constables Office reflected that there had been no
prior attempts at service.

27.

Perez and her aunt advised the Commission that Cantus mother had previously threatened to have
Judge Melendrez intervene in the dispute over the Jeep, and had represented that she was in a
special relationship to influence the judge.

28.

When asked by Perezs aunt if the judge and Cantus mother knew each other, Judge Melendrez
laughed at her and stated, I know everybody in town.

29.

In response to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Melendrez specifically denied meeting with any
party in the case before the hearing on December 18, 2013.

30.

Judge Melendrez admitted that she signed a criminal summons, but explained that it was
mistakenly used and that she mistakenly signed it.

31.

Although Perez was summoned to appear before Judge Melendrez for a formal hearing in the case,
Judge Melendrez averred that she merely conducted an informal mediated settlement with the
parties.

32.

Because she wanted to speak informally with the parties to see if an agreement could be reached,
Judge Melendrez explained that she refused to allow any family members to enter the court room
or attend the proceedings.

33.

Judge Melendrez also claimed that she did not understand that the [Jeep] was marital property
that was the subject of the divorce proceeding; however, an audio recording of the proceedings
confirmed that Perez attempted to bring this information to the judges attention on several
occasions.

34.

The audio recording also reflected that when Judge Melendrez discovered certain items had been
removed from the Jeep, she urged Cantu to file a theft report with law enforcement, stating Okay
[inaudible] need for you to do police report. Go to the police department, or the sheriffs
department, or whatever, maybe the sheriffs department...I just need a report number and we can
file it later.

RELEVANT STANDARDS
1.

Canon 2A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A judge shall comply
with the law

2.

Canon 3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A judge shall
maintain professional competence in [the law.]

3.

Canon 6C(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A justice of the
peace shall not directly or indirectly initiate, permit, nor consider ex parte or other
communications concerning the merits of a pending judicial proceeding.

CONCLUSION
The Commission concludes based on the facts and evidence before it that Judge Melendrez failed
to comply with the law and demonstrated a lack of professional competence in the law by (a) entering a
judgment in the Perez case in the absence of pleadings, without serving Perez with citation, and without
providing Perez adequate notice of the hearing; (b) issuing criminal summonses in civil cases; (c) failing
to reduce her rulings in the Pardo case to final written, appealable judgments; (d) failing to afford Pardo
or Perez the right to appeal the courts judgment; (e) presiding over a matter over which the court lacked
jurisdiction; (f) maintaining incomplete and/or inaccurate court records; and (g) conducting informal
private mediations of disputes without proper notice to the parties, while excluding individuals from
entering the courtroom to observe the proceedings in violation of the open courts doctrine. Based on the
audio recording, the Commission also concludes that at the time of the December 18, 2013 hearing in the
Perez matter, Judge Melendrez demonstrated an awareness of certain facts and evidence that appeared to
have been provided to the judge from an ex parte or extra-judicial source. The Commission concludes
that Judge Melendrezs conduct, as described above, constituted willful and/or persistent violations of
Canons 2A, 3B(2), and 6C(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.

***************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 2A, 3B(2) and 6C(2) of the
Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, it is the Commissions decision to issue a PUBLIC REPRIMAND AND
ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION to the Honorable Teresa M. Melendrez, Justice of the Peace,
Precinct 4, Place 1, Eagle Pass, Maverick County, Texas.
Pursuant to this Order, Judge Melendrez must obtain eight (8) hours of instruction with a mentor,
in addition to her required judicial education for Fiscal Year 2015. In particular, the commission desires
that Judge Melendrez receive this additional education in the following areas: (1) the proper use of

criminal and civil summonses; (2) the proper role of the judge as a neutral, fair and impartial arbitrator
when hearing and deciding civil cases; (3) the open courts doctrine; (4) alternative dispute resolution
procedures under Rule 503.5 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure; (5) avoiding both the appearance and
the reality of improper ex parte communications; (6) proper record-keeping procedures, including but not
limited the requirement to reduce judgments and orders to writing; (7) rules and procedures governing a
litigants right to appeal a judgment; and (8) trial settings and notice requirements under Rule 503.3 of the
Texas Rules of Civil Procedure.
Pursuant to the authority contained in 33.036 of the Texas Government Code, the Commission
authorizes the disclosure of certain information relating to this matter to the Texas Justice Court Training
Center to the extent necessary to enable that entity to assign the appropriate mentor for Judge Melendrez
in this case.
Judge Melendrez shall complete the additional eight (8) hours of instruction recited within sixty
(60) days from the date of written notification of the assignment of a mentor. It is Judge Melendrezs
responsibility to contact the assigned mentor and schedule the additional education.
Upon the completion of the eight (8) hours of education described herein, Judge Melendrez shall
sign and return the Respondent Judge Survey indicating compliance with this Order. Failure to complete,
or report the completion of, the required additional education in a timely manner may result in further
Commission action.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution, it is ordered
that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC REPRIMAND AND ORDER OF
ADDITIONAL EDUCATION by the Commission.
The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect the public confidence in the
judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody the principles and values set forth
in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
Issued this the 19th day of March, 2015.

ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
__________________________________________
Hon. Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct

BEFORE THE
STATE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT
CJC NOS. 12-0737-DI; 12-1143-DI; 13-0027-DI; 13-0235-DI; 13-0373-DI; 15-0129-DI;
15-0374

PUBLIC REPRIMAND
AND
ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION

HONORABLE MICHAEL THOMAS SEILER


435TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT
CONROE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on April 8-9, 2015, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct
concluded a review of allegations against the Honorable Michael Thomas Seiler, Judge of the
435th Judicial District Court, Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas. Judge Seiler was advised by
letter of the Commissions concerns and provided written responses. Judge Seiler appeared
before the Commission with counsel on April 8, 2015, and gave testimony. After considering
the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following Findings and Conclusions.

FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all relevant times, the Honorable Michael Thomas Seiler was Judge of the 435th
Judicial District Court, Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas.

2.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature created the 435th Judicial District Court to hear virtually
all cases filed under Chapter 841 of the Texas Health and Safety Code for the purpose of
determining whether repeat sexual offenders should be deemed sexually violent
predators subject to involuntary civil commitment upon their release from prison.

3.

After an offender is determined to be a predator, the 435th Judicial District Court has
continuing jurisdiction over the predator. The court must conduct biennial reviews and
adjudicate motions to modify the terms of the predators civil commitment. However, the

duties imposed under Chapter 841 are suspended for the duration of any predators
confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).1
4.

During the 2007 Session, the Legislature also created the State Counsel for Offenders
(SCFO) office, which is responsible for providing representation to indigent offenders
and predators during these civil commitment proceedings.

5.

In March of 2012, Barbara Corley was a section chief in the SCFO office.2 Corley
represented offenders and predators subject to civil commitment or supervised attorneys
in the SCFO office who did.

6.

During a March 5, 2012 trial, Judge Seiler repeatedly made comments to Corley, in the
presence of the jury, in which he stated, among other things, that Corley was wasting
everyones time; that Corley had a law degree and needed to use it; that Corley was
doing things wrong; and that he believed Corley was trying to sneak stuff past [him].

7.

In addition, outside the presence of the jury, Judge Seiler repeated his comments that
Corley was wasting everyones time, and stated:
Thats just wonderful. Thank you for not wanting to follow [the Court of Appeals] rulings and
not wanting to follow mine either. Youre just a joy to be with in here, Ms. Corley. Your ability to
practice law is very frustrating to me. . .

8.

On July 26, 2012, Corley appeared in Judge Seilers court to represent 46 predators3
brought over from prison for a hearing on motions to modify the terms of their civil
commitments to track changes made to the language of the statute.

9.

According to Judge Seiler, Corley was allowed to be present at the modification hearing
despite not being required to do so by the statute.4

10.

Due to security concerns and a potentially volatile situation in the courtroom created by
the presence of 46 prisoners, Judge Seiler met separately with Corley and the prosecutor
and told Corley to file any objections she may have in writing.

11.

Despite this instruction, Corley attempted to make an objection in the courtroom. In


response, Judge Seilers bailiff told her to sit down. Judge Seiler, out of frustration,
then stated: Sit down or Ill throw you out of the courtroom.5

Section 841.150(a), Texas Health and Safety Code.


Ms. Corley is no longer employed at the SCFO.
3
According to Judge Seiler, the 46 predators were all serving life sentences in prison and were unlikely to be
released under the civil commitment statute.
2

Section 841.002 (3-A) of the Texas Health and Safety Code defines a civil commitment proceeding as a trial or
hearing conducted under Subchapter D (trial), F (Commitment Review), or G (Petition for Release). Section
841.005(a) states that the Office of State Counsel for Offenders shall represent an indigent person subject to a
civil commitment proceeding under this chapter. Under Subchapter E, Section 841.082(e) provides that the
requirements imposed under Subsection (a) may be modified at any time after notice to each affected party to
the proceedings and a hearing.
5
On appeal, the Ninth Court of Appeals ruled that there was no indication in the record that Corley had been
disruptive or in contempt of court and that the judge should have allowed her to preserve error. The Court also
dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. In re Commitment of Carlos Cortez, 405 S.W.3d 929, 934 (Tex.App.
Beaumont, 2013).

Page 2

12.

Similarly, during a trial on October 22, 2012, in which another SCFO attorney,
Lindsey Lopez,6 was representing an indigent offender, Judge Seiler made the
following statements to Lopez:

If you do that again Im not going to let you practice in my court.

If you want to ask that question, you tell me again, and then Ill throw you out of the
courtroom.

And you dont have to like me, you dont have to respect me, but youve got to follow my
orders. And if youre not going to do that, Im going to have you thrown out of my
courtroom.

13.

Judge Seiler testified that he used the threat of throwing Corley and Lopez out of the
courtroom as a means of maintaining order and control in the courtroom, but would not
have followed through on the threat.

14.

In August 2008, SCFO attorney Randall Miller7 appeared in Judge Seilers court
representing an offender who had allegedly engaged in homosexual activities.

15.

During jury selection, Judge Seiler made several comments that were critical of Millers
conduct.

16.

Among other things, Judge Seiler told Miller that if he did not stop asking the jury panel
questions regarding their views on homosexuality with the intent of getting the entire
panel struck, Miller would soon not have a job in this county.8

17.

Further, when advising Miller to stop asking such questions of the jury panel, Judge
Seiler stated, based upon the prior answers of the jurors: Nobody here is going to admit
to liking homosexuals.

18.

At one point during jury selection, a potential juror indicated his belief that Miller was
getting slammed by Judge Seiler; that Judge Seiler had an evident bias in the case;
and that the juror did not believe that the offender could get a fair trial in Judge Seilers
court.9

19.

In a January 29, 2013 proceeding, Dr. John Tennison, an expert witness who regularly
appeared on behalf of SCFO in civil commitment cases, argued with Judge Seiler about
setting up a table around the witness stand to display books and research materials.

Ms. Lopez is no longer employed with SCFO, but continues to practice before Judge Seiler in private practice.
Mr. Miller is no longer employed with SCFO.
8
According to Judge Seiler, this comment was not intended as a threat that Miller should be fired from his position
at SCFO, but rather it was intended to convey that there would be no ability to find juries to hear the civil
commitment trials.
9
According to the record, the juror stated: I stated a previous problem I have. In my trial, what appears to be
happening here happened to me, where you are getting slammed whether you know it or not. I dont know how
anybody in this room could be on this jury and feel like this is going to be a fair trial. She asked questions about
whether we had issues. Youre asking questions about whether we had issues, and you keep getting slammed by the
Judge saying you cant ask that. You cant ask that. I think this whole thing is - if you stay here, you are crazy.
7

Page 3

20.

According to the record, when Dr. Tennison began setting up his books and research
materials around the witness stand, Judge Seiler responded to an objection by the State by
stating:
Yes, Dr. Tennison, put all that stuff down. Okay? No one needs to see itYou know, youve
testified here multiple times and never look at all that junk; so just put it away, unless youre going
to be referring to it.

21.

When Dr. Tennison responded that he did in fact utilize his reference materials when
testifying in court, Judge Seiler stated:
He can keep the books up there. You know if he wants to argue with a State District Court Judge,
then flipping argue with a State District Court Judge. Okay? Thats perfect.

22.

Out of frustration, Judge Seiler then recessed for the day.

23.

According to Dr. Tennison, Judge Seiler made these statements in an angry tone; was
red-faced; and was gesticulating wildly with his arms when speaking.

24.

Dr. Tennison also stated that this was not the only time that Judge Seiler had treated him
in a rude or demeaning manner, averring that Judge Seiler had angrily yelled at [him] on
several [other] occasions.

25.

Judge Seiler testified that he did not lose his temper and was not red-faced or
gesticulating wildly when talking to Dr. Tennison; however, he conceded that he
should have handled the situation better, including by recessing the proceedings earlier.10

26.

On April 26, 2013, Judge Seiler spoke at a Texas Patriots PAC meeting during which he
generally discussed the nature of civil commitment cases and the role of his court in
hearing such cases.

27.

During his presentation, Judge Seiler stated that if an individual scores above a 25 on the
PCL-R test, that person is statistically considered to be a psychopath. Judge Seiler
explained that he is the only judge in Texas that regularly deals with people who are
psychopaths.

28.

While making this presentation, Judge Seiler displayed a photo of the fictional serial
killer Hannibal Lecter.

29.

Judge Seiler described a trial involving a psychopath and told the audience that he kept a
gun on his lap as he heard the testimony of this individual because the man was way out
there.

30.

Judge Seiler discussed the difficulty of finding placements in halfway houses for
predators and whether to place all civilly committed predators in one location rather than
spread out among six halfway houses. During this discussion, Judge Seiler said:
[w]ere kind of dealing with the nuclear radiation of defendant. Nobody wants them. We dont
want them in our community, right, and so were trying to figure out where they want to put them.

10

According to Judge Seiler, Dr. Tennison had previously been excluded as an expert witness by Judge Seiler and
has an online blog wherein he criticizes Judge Seiler and the SVP statute.
Page 4

31.

Judge Seiler also commented:


sexual predators are kept separate from the parolees, probably for their own safety and the safety
of the people in prison. Im dealing with some really special individuals here. They are really
special

32.

During the presentation, Judge Seiler also discussed three specific cases involving
predators who had appeared in his court.11 In each instance, Judge Seiler identified the
predator by name and projected the predators photograph from their original TDCJ
incarceration pen packet on a screen for the audience to view as he discussed the cases.12

33.

Judge Seiler referred to one of the predators as a complete psychopath, and projected a
photograph of the predator with the captain, cheerleader killer, underneath it.

34.

Judge Seiler then told the background story to explain that this former football player had
sexually assaulted four cheerleaders from his high school. The slide used by Judge Seiler
in this presentation referenced a television program where the case had been profiled and
the same facts given. Judge Seiler explained that the reason Texas has the civil
commitment statute was because of this case.

35.

Judge Seiler referred to another predator as the guy I tried last week. Judge Seiler said
when you deal with psychopath individuals in controlled settings and law enforcement,
they have a real hard time just maintaining control. Judge Seiler said that I wondered
what was taking the jury so long, but a lot of times they want to just make it look official,
so theyll spend 30, 40 minutes back there. . .

36.

Judge Seiler talked about the first trial he heard as a judge, referring to a third predator as
a pedophile rapist. According to Judge Seiler, the man wasnt a pedophile grooming
an individual with a child. He actually raped them. Bad guy. Stating that this was his
very first civil commitment case, Judge Seiler commented that hes not any worse than
anybody else I Ive handled, but you just always remember your first one as a jury trial.

37.

Judge Seiler informed the audience that the predator told the jury that if the little boy
had blue eyes, its not like they can help - he can help himself. Im like, thats why we
have Judge Seiler

38.

The third predator filed a motion to recuse Judge Seiler in his violation of civil
commitment case, which was granted by a visiting judge.

39.

Judge Seiler has been the subject of at least sixteen recusal motions filed since August
2014, eight of which have been granted. In each of the recusal motions, attorneys have
alleged that Judge Seiler cannot be fair or impartial in their clients civil commitment
cases due to, among other factors, his biased comments to the Texas Patriot PAC
audience and his intemperate treatment of SCFO attorneys.

Two of these predators were not under the 435th District Courts continuing jurisdiction at the time of the
presentation because they were serving a prison sentence in TDCJ for violation of civil commitment; however, upon
release from TDCJ, each would be placed back on civil commitment and under the courts jurisdiction.
12
Judge Seiler testified that he spoke to the Texas Patriots PAC to explain the work of the court and show the
audience that their tax money was being well spent; however, when asked what purpose was served by showing the
audience photos of specific predators as well as the fictional Hannibal Lecter character, Judge Seiler could provide
no explanation and conceded that he should not have done so.
11

Page 5

RELEVANT STANDARDS
1.

Canon 3B(4) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in part, A judge shall be
patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with
whom the judge deals in an official capacity.

2.

Canon 3B(5) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides that, A judge shall judge
shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice.

3.

Canon 3B(10) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in part, that: A judge
shall abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding which may
come before the judges court in a manner which suggests to a reasonable person the
judges probable decision on any particular case.

4.

Canon 4A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides that: A judge shall conduct
all of the judges extrajudicial activities so that they do not (1) cast reasonable doubt on
the judges capacity to act impartially as a judge; or (2) interfere with the proper
performance of judicial duties.

5.

Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution provides that a judge may be disciplined
for willful or persistent violation of rules promulgated by the Supreme Court of Texas,
incompetence in performing the duties of the office, willful violation of the Code of
Judicial Conduct, or willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the
proper performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary or
administration of justice.

CONCLUSION
The Commission concludes from the facts and evidence that Judge Seiler engaged in
numerous instances in which he treated attorneys from the State Counsel for Offenders office, as
well as one of their expert witnesses, in a manner that was less than patient, dignified and
courteous. While a judge has a duty to maintain order and decorum in the courtroom, which may
require that he take appropriate measures to address situations in which an attorney or witness
may be acting inappropriately, Canon 3B(4) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits that
judge from belittling, degrading and/or demeaning the attorney, witness, or anyone else with
whom the judge deals in an official capacity. Moreover, Judge Seilers comments to Corley, the
other SCFO attorneys, and Dr. Tennison were sufficiently impatient, discourteous and
undignified to cause a reasonable person to perceive that Judge Seiler harbored such a bias
against the SCFO attorneys, their expert witness, and the offenders themselves, that a fair trial
was not possible. Based on the incidents described above, the Commission concludes that Judge
Seilers conduct constituted willful and persistent violations of Canons 3B(4) and 3B(5) of the
Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, and Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution.
The Commission further concludes that Judge Seilers presentation before the Texas
Patriots PAC could cause a reasonable person to perceive that Judge Seiler would not be fair and
impartial while presiding over civil commitment proceedings, in violation of Canon 4A(1) of the
Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. Moreover, Judge Seilers public comments about specific
offenders whose cases were subject to his courts continuing jurisdiction, did suggest to a
reasonable person how he would rule when those individuals come before the court in future
proceedings, in violation of Canon 3B(10) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. Because Judge
Page 6

Seiler was recused from several civil commitment cases as a direct result of his presentation
before the Texas Patriots PAC, the Commission concludes that his extrajudicial conduct
interfered with the proper performance of his duties, in violation of Canon 4A(2) of the Texas
Code of Judicial Conduct.
*****************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 3B(4); 3B(5);
3B(10), 4A(1) and 4A(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, and Article V, 1-a(6)A of the
Texas Constitution, it is the Commissions decision to issue a PUBLIC REPRIMAND AND ORDER
OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION to the Honorable Michael Thomas Seiler, Judge of the 435th
Judicial District Court, Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas.
Pursuant to this Order, Judge Seiler must obtain four (4) hours of instruction with a
mentor judge, in addition to his required judicial education in Fiscal Year 2015. In
particular, the Commission desires that Judge S e i l e r receive this additional instruction
in the areas of: (1) the appropriate treatment of attorneys, witnesses, and others with whom the
judge deals in an official capacity; (2) avoiding bias and the appearance of bias; and (3) avoiding
extrajudicial conduct that casts doubt on a judges capacity to act impartially and/or interferes
with the proper performance of the judges duties.
Judge Seiler shall complete the additional four (4) hours of instruction described above
within sixty (60) days from the date of written notification from the Commission of the
assignment of a mentor. Upon receipt of such notice, it is Judge Seilers responsibility to contact
the assigned mentor and schedule the additional education.
Upon the completion of the four (4) hours of instruction described above, Judge Seiler
shall sign and return the Respondent Judge Survey indicating compliance with this Order. Failure
to complete, or report the completion of the required additional education in a timely manner
may result in further Commission action.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a (8) of the Texas Constitution, it is
ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC REPRIMAND AND
ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION.
The Commission has taken this action with the intent of protecting the public confidence
in the judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody the principles and
values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
Issued this 24th day of April, 2015.
ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
_________________________________________
Honorable Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct

Page 7

BEFORE THE STATE COMMISSION


ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT

CJC NOS. 14-1080-DI & 15-0002-DI

PUBLIC ADMONITION
AND

ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION


HONORABLE CARTER TINSLEY SCHILDKNECHT
106TH DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
LAMESA, DAWSON COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on April 8-9, 2015, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct
concluded a review of allegations against the Honorable Carter Tinsley Schildknecht,
Judge of the 106th District Court in Lamesa, Dawson County, Texas. Judge Schildknecht
was advised by letter of the Commissions concerns and provided written responses. After
considering the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following Findings and
Conclusion:

FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Carter Tinsley Schildknecht was Judge
of the 106th District Court in Lamesa, Dawson County, Texas. 1
The New York Jew Comment

2.

In July 2014, Judge Schildknecht referred to District Attorney Michael Munk as a


New York Jew during a private conversation with Munks secretary in the
judges office.

The 106th Judicial District Court serves Garza, Lynn, Gaines and Dawson Counties.

3.

On July 25, 2014, after jury selection in a criminal case, Judge Schildknecht met in
chambers with Munk and the defense attorney to try to explain why she had
previously referred to Munk as a New York Jew.

4.

In that conversation, Judge Schildknecht stated:


When I tell people why you [Munk] are different and have different thoughts, I explain
because you are from New York and because you are Jewish.

5.

In her written responses to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Schildknecht admitted


that she made these statements, but contended that the statements were not made
with bias or prejudice, or to disparage Munk; rather, the statements were an attempt
by the judge to explain that Munks background is that from a culture of a New
York Jew, and that his approach and perspective may be different from that of
someone who has been reared in West Texas. To understand that leads to
acceptance of the differences.

6.

With regard to her factual statements that Munk was from New York and was a
Jew, Judge Schildknecht added that I may be too blunt, but I am not biased or
prejudiced against New Yorkers or Jews.
The 4 a.m. Marathon Court Session

7.

On July 2, 2014, starting at 1:00 p.m., Judge Schildknecht began hearing numerous
probation revocation cases.

8.

The court session did not end until 4:00 a.m. on July 3, 2014.

9.

During this time, the judge did not provide any formal breaks in which litigants,
attorneys, witnesses or other court personnel could eat meals or use the restroom
facilities.

10.

In her written responses to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Schildknecht


acknowledged holding court from 1:00 p.m. on July 2nd until 4:00 a.m. on July 3rd
without providing formal breaks, but explained that this marathon session was
necessary to prevent jail overcrowding.

11.

Judge Schildknecht further explained that, in her opinion, there had been enough
downtime during the proceedings that any person could have eaten or used the
restroom and returned in time to conduct court business.

12.

At least one defendant, whose case was the final matter heard in the early morning
of July 3rd, appealed her conviction stating, fair consideration could not have
possibly been given at 4 a.m. after a 19 hour day.
The D.A.s Expulsion from Courtroom

13.

On the afternoon of July 15, 2014, when District Attorney Munk attempted to enter
the judges courtroom, Judge Schildknecht instructed her bailiff to refuse entry to
Munk with words to the effect of Get him out of here or I dont want to see his
face.

14.

In her written responses to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Schildknecht


acknowledged that she made the statement and expressed regret for acting in
haste.
2

15.

Judge Schildknecht explained that she did not see any reason for Munk to be in her
courtroom after the business of the court had concluded for that day and so she
instructed her bailiff to remove him.
The Muslim Beard Comments

16.

On September 30, 2014, at the conclusion of a criminal docket in her courtroom,


Judge Schildknecht criticized an Assistant District Attorney about his beard by
stating, You look like a Muslim, and I wouldnt hire you with it, or words to that
effect.

17.

In her written response to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Schildknecht could not
recall whether she made the statement regarding the prosecutors beard, but
commented that the situation seemed faintly familiar.

18.

Judge Schildknecht added that she would not have made such a comment while
actively conducting court business, surmising that the conversation must have taken
place during down time.

19.

The judge further explained that she did not know that there is a specific look of a
Muslim and did not recall any particular look that is common to Muslims she had
seen on television.

RELEVANT STANDARDS
1.

Canon 2A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides: A judge shall comply
with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence
in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

2.

Canon 3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part: A
judge should be faithful to the law and shall maintain professional competence in
it.

3.

Canon 3B(4) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part: A
judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses,
lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity,

4.

Canon 3B(6) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part: A
judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest
bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based upon race,
sex, religion, national origin

CONCLUSION
The Commission concludes based on the facts and evidence before it that Judge
Schildknecht failed to comply with the law and demonstrated a lack of professional
competence in the law by expelling District Attorney Munk from her courtroom in
violation of the Open Courts doctrine. The Commission further concludes that Judge
Schildknecht failed to treat litigants, attorneys and others with patience, dignity and
courtesy, when she expelled District Attorney Munk from her courtroom and when she
held a marathon court session lasting until 4 a.m. the following morning without allowing
formal breaks. The Commission also concludes that Judge Schildknecht manifested a
3

religious and/or cultural bias by describing District Attorney Munk as a New York Jew
and by criticizing a prosecutors beard because it made him look like a Muslim. The
Commission concludes that Judge Schildknechts conduct, as described above, constituted
willful and/or persistent violations of Canons 2A, 3B(2), 3B(4) and 3B(6) of the Texas
Code of Judicial Conduct.

***************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 2A, 3B(2),
3B(4) and 3B(6) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, it is the Commissions decision to
issue a PUBLIC ADMONITION AND ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION to the Honorable
Carter Tinsley Schildknecht, Judge of the 106th District Court, Lamesa, Dawson County,
Texas.
Pursuant to this Order, Judge Schildknecht must obtain four (4) hours of
instruction with a mentor, in addition to her required judicial education for Fiscal Year
2015. In particular, the commission desires that Judge Schildknecht receive this additional
education in the following areas: (1) the Open Courts doctrine and (2) recognizing and
eliminating explicit and implicit bias and/or prejudice.
Pursuant to the authority contained in 33.036 of the Texas Government Code, the
Commission authorizes the disclosure of certain information relating to this matter to the
Texas Center for the Judiciary to the extent necessary to enable that entity to assign the
appropriate mentor for Judge Schildknecht in this case.
Judge Schildknecht shall complete the additional four (4) hours of instruction
recited within sixty (60) days from the date of written notification of the assignment of a
mentor. It is Judge Schildknechts responsibility to contact the assigned mentor and
schedule the additional education.
Upon the completion of the four (4) hours of education described herein, Judge
Schildknecht shall sign and return the Respondent Judge Survey indicating compliance
with this Order. Failure to complete, or report the completion of, the required additional
education in a timely manner may result in further Commission action.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution,
it is ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC ADMONITION
AND ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION by the Commission.
The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect the public
confidence in the judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody
the principles and values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial
Conduct.
Issued this 11th day of May, 2015.

ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
__________________________________________
Hon. Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct
4

BEFORE THE STATE COMMISSION


ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT

CJC NOS. 14-0398-MU; 14-0643-MU; 14-0720-MU

PUBLIC ADMONITION
HONORABLE MADOLYN C. JOHNSON
FORMER MUNICIPAL COURT JUDGE
VALLEY MILLS, BOSQUE COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on April 8-9, 2015, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct
concluded a review of allegations against the Honorable Madolyn C. Johnson, Former
Municipal Court Judge for the City of Valley Mills, Bosque County, Texas. Judge Johnson
was advised by letter of the Commissions concerns and provided written responses. After
considering the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following Findings and
Conclusion:

FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Madolyn C. Johnson was Municipal
Court Judge for the City of Valley Mills in Bosque County, Texas. 1

2.

In December 2013, a citizen went to the Valley Mills Municipal Court to inquire
into the status of a citation that had allegedly been filed in Judge Johnsons court.
The citizen was the alleged victim in the case.

3.

After a verbal altercation, Judge Johnson refused to provide the citizen with any
information about the case. In denying access to the court records, Judge Johnson
erroneously relied on an opinion or ruling from the Texas Attorney Generals
Office that did not apply to the citizens request.

4.

In January 2014, Judge Johnson was observed by several witnesses engaging in a


shouting match with a woman whom the judge had stopped outside City Hall.

Judge Johnson was placed on paid administrative leave by the City of Valley Mills, and later resigned from
the bench in August 2014.

According to the witnesses, it appeared that Judge Johnson was upset with the
woman for criticizing the judges handling of the December 2013 incident
described above regarding a citizens request for court records.
5.

In February 2014, a local reporter went to the Valley Mills Municipal Court to
inquire into the status of a citation that was filed in Judge Johnsons court. The
reporter was the alleged victim in the case.

6.

Judge Johnson again denied access to the requested court records. In denying the
request, Judge Johnson again erroneously relied on an opinion or ruling from the
Texas Attorney Generals Office that did not apply to the reporters request.

7.

In October 2014, a law firm hired by the City of Valley Mills issued a report
regarding an audit of Judge Johnsons municipal court.

8.

The report detailed chronic and systemic problems with the court, including fiscal
mismanagement; failure to hold pre-trial, bench or jury trials; failure to process
complaints; failure to render final written judgments; and a total absence of recordkeeping and management.

RELEVANT STANDARDS
1.

Canon 2A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A


judge shall comply with the law

2.

Canon 3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A
judge shall maintain professional competence in [the law.]

CONCLUSION
The Commission concludes based on the facts and evidence before it that Judge
Johnson failed to comply with the law and demonstrated a lack of professional competence
in the law by (a) failing to timely execute the business of the court; (b) failing to hold jury
or bench trials; (c) failing to reduce her rulings to final, written, appealable judgments; (d)
failing to maintain proper records; (e) failing to conduct proper fiscal management; and (f)
failing to provide public documents and information to citizens regarding cases that were
filed in the judges court. The Commission concludes that Judge Johnsons conduct, as
described above, constituted willful and/or persistent violations of Canons 2A and 3B(2)
of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.

***************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 2A and 3B(2)
of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, it is the Commissions decision to issue a PUBLIC
ADMONITION to the Honorable Madolyn C. Johnson, Former Municipal Court Judge for
the City of Valley Mills, Bosque County, Texas.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution,
it is ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC ADMONITION
by the Commission.

The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect the public
confidence in the judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody
the principles and values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial
Conduct.
Issued this 14th day of May, 2015.

ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
__________________________________________
Hon. Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct

BEFORE THE STATE COMMISSION


ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT

CJC NOS. 13-0184-CC; 14-0637-CC & 14-0737-CC

PUBLIC ADMONITION
HONORABLE ETTA MULLIN
FORMER JUDGE, COUNTY CRIMINAL COURT NO. 5
DALLAS, DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on February 18-20, 2015, the State Commission on Judicial
Conduct concluded a review of allegations against the Honorable Etta Mullin, Former
Judge of the County Criminal Court No. 5, Dallas, Dallas County, Texas. Judge Mullin
was advised by letter of the Commissions concerns and provided written responses. Judge
Mullin appeared with counsel before the Commission on February 19, 2015, and gave
testimony. After considering the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following
Findings and Conclusion:

FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Etta Mullin was Judge of the County
Criminal Court No. 5 in Dallas, Dallas County, Texas.
CJC No. 13-0184-CC

2.

At a September 2012 recusal hearing, attorney Brady Wyatt testified that, I have
never been treated the way that I have been treated in County Court Number 5 by
presiding judgeJudge Etta Mullin . . . I have never been talked to where I was
told to back away from the bench in a threatening manner . . . She tells [another
judge] that basically Im a liar.

3.

During the recusal hearing, an Assistant Criminal District Attorney also testified
that Judge Mullin could not be fair and impartial in the case due to the judges
dislike of Wyatt.

4.

Another Assistant Criminal District Attorney who was present at the hearing to
represent the State raised no objections to the motion to recuse.

5.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Mullin was ordered recused from the case,
with a finding that the appearance of impropriety, the appearance of prejudice is
also sufficient in this case.

6.

Upon learning that she had been recused, Judge Mullin filed a Courts Motion for
Reconsideration of the Order of Recusal, which was granted by the judge who
presided over the recusal hearing.

7.

Thereafter, Wyatt asked the Fifth Court of Appeals to issue a writ of mandamus to
prevent the reconsideration of the recusal order from going forward.

8.

On March 6, 2013, the Fifth Court of Appeals granted mandamus relief finding that
Judge Mullins motion for reconsideration was wholly improper and without
authority.

9.

Moreover, the Court specifically held that:


[T]his process contemplates the resolution of the motion through the exercise of the
independent judgment of the assigned judge absent any outside pressure. It would defeat
the purpose of the refer rule to permit the challenged judge to insert herself in her official
capacity as judge in order to exert pressure upon and influence the assigned judges
judgment. It is not just inappropriate but blatantly improper for a challenged judge to take
action designed to influence the outcome of the matter at issue. To hold otherwise would
seriously compromise the independence of the assigned judge and undermine the integrity
of the judicial recusal. 1

10.

Although aware of the appellate decision in the Wyatt matter, Judge Mullin testified
before the Commission that her actions had been appropriate because she believed
her due process rights had been violated when she was not provided with notice of
the recusal hearing and, as a result, was prevented from presenting witness
testimony at the hearing.

11.

Judge Mullin further testified that she had routinely provided the State with the
names of potential witnesses who would testify on her behalf in recusal hearings.
CJC No. 14-0737-CC

12.

On April 1, 2014, attorney James Lee Bright underwent knee surgery.

13.

On Friday, April 11, 2014, Bright arrived in Judge Mullins court attired in a dress
shirt, suit jacket, tie, and Bermuda shorts to accommodate a clearly visible, large
knee-brace that he was forced to wear as the result of the surgery.

14.

Bright approached the bench to ask Judge Mullin if he could handle a plea for his
client while wearing shorts.

15.

Despite being aware of his visible disability, Judge Mullin denied Brights request,
suggesting that the attorney have someone else stand in for him.

16.

The following Monday, another attorney appeared on Brights behalf to handle the
plea for his client. Bright also appeared, again wearing shorts, with one of his law
partners to notify Judge Mullin that he had filed a motion to recuse the judge in the
case. That motion was later denied.

In Re Heidi Amos, 397 S.W.3d 309, 313 (Tex.App. Dallas, 2013)(citing Carmody v. State Farm Lloyds,
184 S.W.3d 419, 422 (Tex. App.Dallas 2006, no pet.)

17.

This incident received media attention wherein Bright also stated that he actively
avoided Judge Mullins courtroom, as did a large number of other attorneys, due to
her poor judicial temperament.

18.

In her testimony before the Commission, Judge Mullin denied discriminating


against Bright or treating him in a discourteous or undignified manner, explaining
that she refused to allow Bright to appear before her while attired in shorts in an
effort to enforce decorum in her courtroom.

19.

Judge Mullin also testified that Bright returned to her courtroom that Monday for
the sole purpose of creating a public spectacle for the media to report.
CJC No. 14-0637-CC

20.

Throughout the Spring of 2014, several local, statewide, and national media reports
were published criticizing Judge Mullin, a candidate for re-election, for alleged
inefficient courtroom management skills and for alleged discourteous, impatient,
and undignified treatment of certain attorneys.

21.

In these reports, and later confirmed by the Commission, a local attorney who had
been practicing law in Dallas for 32 years called Judge Mullin the most inefficient
and inconsiderate judge that [he] can recall having.

22.

Another attorney recounted to reporters and the Commission several criticisms of


Judge Mullins discourteous treatment of lawyers, including an occasion when
Judge Mullin made him wait approximately five hours in the courtroom, only to
watch as the judge got up off the bench and left and never came back.

23.

Judge Mullin generally denied these allegations, stating that it was difficult to
respond without being informed of the specific times, dates or cause numbers
involved.

RELEVANT STANDARDS
1.

Canon 2A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct states, in pertinent part: A judge
shall comply with the law.

2.

Canon 3B(4) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct states, in pertinent part: A
judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses,
lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity,

3.

Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution states, in pertinent part, that a judge
may be disciplined for willful or persistent violation of rules promulgated by the
Supreme Court of Texas, incompetence in performing the duties of the office,
willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, or willful or persistent conduct
that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or casts public
discredit upon the judiciary or administration of justice.

CONCLUSION
The Commission concludes based on the facts and evidence before it that Judge
Mullin failed to treat certain attorneys with the patience, dignity, and courtesy expected of
a judicial officer. Judge Mullins discourteous and undignified treatment of attorneys
3

Wyatt, Bright, and those attorneys quoted in the media reports (who confirmed their
experiences during the course of the Commissions investigation), was inconsistent with
the proper performance of her duties as a judge. Such conduct became widely known within
certain segments of the Dallas County legal community and resulted in the filing of recusal
motions and the publication of media stories that were highly critical of the judge, all of
which cast public discredit upon the judiciary and the administration of justice. The
Commission notes that poor judicial demeanor creates the appearance, if not the reality,
that a judge harbors a bias or prejudice toward a litigant or attorney that may prevent the
judge from fulfilling her duty to be fair and impartial in the case. In at least one reported
instance, Judge Mullin was recused from presiding over a case due to a dislike for attorney
Wyatt that raised significant concerns about the appearance of impropriety and the
appearance of prejudice in the case. The Commission concludes that Judge Mullins
conduct, as described above, constituted willful and/or persistent violations of Canon 3B(4)
of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution.
The Commission also concludes that Judge Mullins repeated attempts to intervene
and assert her rights in pending recusal proceedings constituted a willful and/or persistent
failure to follow the law and demonstrated incompetence in performing the duties of the
office. The Texas Rules of Civil Procedure, which set forth the procedures that govern
recusal motions and hearings, specify that the judge whose recusal or disqualification is
sought should not file a response to the motion. Moreover, in a case specifically involving
Judge Mullins recusal, the Fifth Court of Appeals found the language of the rule to be
mandatory. However, it did not appear from Judge Mullins testimony before the
Commission that she understood or accepted that she could not insert herself or become
involved in pending recusal motions. The Commission concludes that Judge Mullins
conduct, as described above, constituted willful and/or persistent violations of Canon 2A
of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution.

***************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 2A and 3B(4)
of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, and Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution,
it is the Commissions decision to issue a PUBLIC ADMONITION to the Honorable Etta
Mullin, Former Judge of the County Criminal Court No. 5, Dallas, Dallas County, Texas.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution,
it is ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC ADMONITION
by the Commission.
The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect the public
confidence in the judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody
the principles and values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial
Conduct.
Issued this the 30th day of April, 2015.
ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
__________________________________________
Hon. Valerie E. Ertz, Acting Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct
4

BEFORE THE
STATE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT

CJC NOS. 14-0557-DI, 14-0609-DI, 14-0617, 14-0687-DI, 14-0693-DI, AND 14-0795-DI

PUBLIC REPRIMAND
HONORABLE ERIC CLIFFORD
6TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT
PARIS, LAMAR COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on August 12 - 14, 2015, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded a
review of the allegations against the Honorable Eric Clifford, Judge of the 6th Judicial District Court of
Paris, Lamar County, Texas. Judge Clifford was advised by letter of the Commissions concerns and
provided written responses. Judge Clifford appeared before the Commission on August 14, 2015, and
gave testimony. After considering the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following
Findings and Conclusions:
FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Eric Clifford was Judge of the 6th Judicial District
Court,1 Paris, Lamar County, Texas.
L AMAR N ATIONAL B ANK

2.

Judge Clifford was one of the original founding shareholders of Lamar National Bank (Bank)
in 1981. Since that time, the judge has continued to serve as one of the Banks directors.

3.

Judge Clifford and his family currently own 28% of the Banks stock and have an ownership
interest in the Bank worth more than $10,000,000.

The 6th Judicial District Court covers Lamar and Red River Counties.

4.

After being elected judge of the 6th Judicial District Court and taking the bench in 2009, Judge
Cliffords judicial title was included on the page identifying him as a director on the Banks
website.

5.

As of 2014, the Bank had approximately 90 shareholders and more than ten individuals unrelated
to Judge Clifford with an ownership interest.

6.

During his appearance before the Commission, Judge Clifford testified that he was aware that the
Texas Code of Judicial Conduct prohibited his service on the Banks board of directors, but that
he continued to serve after assuming the bench in order to look after his familys substantial
investment.
T HE CPS P LACEMENT H EARING

7.

Attorney Donald Haslam represented Stanley Maggard (Stanley), in Case No. 82433, styled; In
the Interest of E.A.M. and W.R.M, Children (the Maggard CPS Case.); Stanley is the father of
E.A.M and W.R.M.

8.

On June 6, 2013, Judge Clifford held a placement hearing in the Maggard CPS Case after
Stanley was charged with a felony count of Indecency with a Child. Haslam also represented
Stanley in his criminal matter.

9.

The childrens mother, Mary Maggard, was also charged with sexually inappropriate behavior.
Both charges stemmed from the parents interaction with their own children.

10.

After Haslam and Stanley left Judge Cliffords courtroom upon the conclusion of the CPS
placement hearing, Judge Clifford began talking about Stanleys criminal case in front of the
attorneys and litigants who remained in the courtroom awaiting their cases to be called.

11.

According to witnesses, Judge Clifford commented, I cannot believe that guy, do you know
what he has been charged with, he has been charged with so many counts of sexual assault of a
child. His children. The judge also expressed his belief that Stanley was going away for a long
time.

12.

On or about June 13, 2013, as a result of Judge Cliffords comments following the CPS
placement hearing, Haslam filed a motion to recuse the judge from presiding over Stanleys
criminal case.

13.

In response, Judge Clifford voluntarily recused himself from the criminal case.
S TATE V . E RSKINE

14.

Kathleen Erskine was indicted for murder in connection with the October 12, 2012 death of her
husband, Rocky Vigil.

15.

Prior to the indictment, Judge Clifford attended a local Kiwanis Club meeting where he
answered questions from the audience about the case and expressed his opinion as to the facts of
the case.

16.

During the meeting, Judge Clifford made disparaging remarks about Rocky and expressed his
opinion that some people need to be killed.

17.

Judge Clifford also opined that the state will never get an indictment in the case.

18.

Subsequently, the case was filed in Judge Cliffords court and the states charge was reduced to
manslaughter.
Page 2

19.

On January 23, 2014, Judge Clifford met with Erskines attorney, David Turner, in the judges
office where, in the absence of a prosecutor, they discussed a possible plea deal in the case.

20.

On February 10, 2014, the state filed a motion to recuse Judge Clifford based on the judges
comments at the Kiwanis Club meeting and the improper ex parte conversation with Turner.

21.

In response, Judge Clifford voluntarily recused himself from the case.

22.

Judge Cliffords recusal received local media attention.


S TATE V . B AKER

23.

Prior to July 2012, Judge Clifford received information that Jason Baker had violated his
probation by failing a required drug test. The judge received this information from one of
Bakers relatives.

24.

Shortly thereafter, Judge Clifford contacted Larry Jordan, Chief Adult Probation Officer with the
Lamar County Adult Probation Department, and questioned him as to why no action had been
taken to revoke Bakers probation.

25.

On July 2, 2012, the state filed a motion to revoke Bakers probation and to proceed with an
adjudication of guilt. Baker was represented by attorney Donald Haslam.

26.

Shortly thereafter, Lamar County and District Attorney Gary Young and Haslam learned of
Judge Cliffords prior contact with Jordan and that the judge had conducted his own
investigation into whether Baker had violated his probation.

27.

Subsequently, the state entered into a plea agreement for Baker to serve the remainder of his
probation term in jail.

28.

On August 20, 2012, the plea agreement was presented to Judge Clifford, who stated that he
would not entertain any negotiated agreement; instead, the judge notified the parties that the case
would be called at 1:30 PM that afternoon.

29.

At 1:30 PM, the state moved to dismiss the case; however, Judge Clifford refused to grant the
states motion and called the case to be heard.

30.

After the state notified the judge that it would not be presenting any arguments and/or calling any
witnesses, Judge Clifford ordered Bakers probation officer to the stand and questioned the
officer about Bakers failed drug test.

31.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Clifford found that Baker had violated his probation and
ordered Baker to serve ninety (90) days in jail.

32.

On August 29, 2012, as a result of Judge Cliffords involvement in the Baker case, Haslam filed
a motion to recuse the judge. In response, Judge Clifford voluntarily recused himself.

33.

During his appearance before the Commission, Judge Clifford testified that he was mad when
the state asked him to dismiss the case and admitted that he had become too involved.

34.

In his written responses to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Clifford further reasoned that his
actions were necessary because Paris is a small town.

35.

Judge Clifford added that When someone is on probation and continues to use drugs its (sic) not
long before it is public knowledge. For this to be publically known and no action taken, reflects
badly on the judicial system, the court, and the probation office.
Page 3

S TATE V . B RATCHER
36.

After the criminal case of State v. Bratcher was filed in his court, Judge Clifford told Assistant
County Attorney Jill Drake that he would give Defendant, Tracy Bratcher, 180 days in jail as a
condition of his probation, and that Bratcher would serve every day of that condition, because
he deserves it.

37.

At the time, Bratcher was represented by attorney Barney Sawyer, who was not present when
Judge Clifford made the statements to Drake.

38.

On November 1, 2013, Sawyer filed a motion to recuse Judge Clifford on grounds that the
judges impartiality might be questioned in the Bratcher case based on his statements to Drake.

39.

On November 4, 2013, Judge Clifford voluntarily recused himself from the case.

40.

During his appearance before the Commission, Judge Clifford admitted that his statement to
Drake was an err [sic] in judgment.
C OMPLIANCE

W ITH THE

L AMAR C OUNTY I NDIGENT D EFENSE P LAN

41.

The Lamar County Indigent Defense Plan provides that judges of Lamar County are to appoint
attorneys to represent indigent defendants from a rotational public appointment list (wheel)
pursuant to the Texas Fair Defense Act as incorporated into the Texas Code of Criminal
Procedure.

42.

During his appearance before the Commission, Judge Clifford testified that Lamar County has
two wheels: one for misdemeanors and another for felonies.

43.

On June 25, 2013, Judge Clifford sent the Lamar County District Clerk an e-mail ordering the
temporary removal of attorney Donald Haslam from the felony wheel until Haslams case load
had been depleted.

44.

Prior to sending the e-mail, Judge Clifford failed to obtain the majority vote of the judges
required to suspend or remove Haslam from the felony wheel, pursuant to the Lamar County
Indigent Defense Plan.

45.

From July 9, 2013 through September 30, 2014, attorneys: Jennifer Gibo, David Turner, Jeff
Starnes, Jerry Coyle, Diane Sprague, Michael Mosher, and Brady Fisher were listed on the
felony wheel.

46.

During this period, Judge Clifford approved fee vouchers for Turner in the amount of
$82,062.60. This was the highest amount paid to any attorney on the felony wheel.

47.

According to records from the Lamar County Auditors Office, Judge Clifford appointed
attorney David Turner to represent indigent defendants in a disproportionately high percentage of
criminal cases compared to other attorneys on the felony wheel.

48.

During his appearance before the Commission, Judge Clifford testified that the reason Turner
received a disproportionate number of appointments was because he felt Turner was the most
qualified and experienced attorney on the list and that he preferred to appoint Turner in murder
cases because he believed that cases handled by Turner would have less chance of coming back
to the judge on appeal.

Page 4

State v. Black
49.

In January 2014, Mitzi Black was charged with felony drug possession. At the time, she had a
pending misdemeanor matter in the judges court and was represented by attorney Donald
Haslam.

50.

Prior to January 17, 2014, Mitzis grandmother spoke with Judge Clifford about Mitzis case and
requested that the judge replace Haslam with another attorney. Judge Clifford did not speak with
Mitzi concerning the matter but told Mitzis grandmother that he would do as she requested.

51.

On or about January 17, 2014, the Lamar County Clerks Office received Mitzis application for
a court appointed attorney in her felony case. Judge Clifford instructed his assistant, Kathy
Coker, to notify the clerks office that he wanted Turner appointed as Mitzis counsel despite
knowing that Haslam was already handling Mitzis misdemeanor case.

52.

On January 23, 2014, Haslam was appointed to represent Mitzi in her felony case.

53.

The following day, Judge Clifford entered an order replacing Haslam with Turner.

54.

During his appearance before the Commission, Judge Clifford testified that he replaced Haslam
after Mitzis grandmother told him that Haslam was treating members of her family like dogs
and that Haslam was a genuine asshole.

55.

In his written responses to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Clifford also stated that he did not
know if the appointment of Turner was in compliance with the Texas Indigent Defense Act.
State v. Neeley

56.

David Neeley is a Vietnam Veteran whose deceased father, Charles, was a former mayor of
Paris, Texas. Charles also served as a Paris councilmember when Judge Clifford was the mayor
of Paris from 1995-1998.

57.

Neeley is an auto mechanic who has worked on Judge Cliffords automobiles and, at one time,
resided in the judges hangar at the local airport. In the past, in addition to working on the
judges cars, Neeley also ran errands for the judge.

58.

Neely has also worked at Dollins Bail Bond which is owned by Keith Flowers, a friend of Judge
Clifford.

59.

On June 2, 2013, Neeley was arrested for possession of a controlled substance (Cocaine) while
riding Judge Cliffords scooter.

60.

On November 13, 2013, Neeley was indicted on a felony charge of possession of a controlled
substance and the criminal case was filed in Judge Cliffords court.

61.

Judge Clifford appointed attorney David Turner to represent Neeley.

62.

Neeley subsequently entered a plea deal with the state which resulted in a five (5) year sentence
under community supervision.

63.

On January 10, 2014, Judge Clifford accepted the plea deal.

64.

Judge Clifford continued to preside over Neeleys case until August 17, 2015, when he entered a
Bench Exchange Order, effectively removing himself from the case.

65.

During his appearance before the Commission, Judge Clifford testified that he appointed Turner
to be Neeleys attorney because they were both veterans.
Page 5

State v. Mitchell
66.

On September 12, 2013, Jessica Mitchell was indicted on felony drug charges and the case was
filed in Judge Cliffords court.

67.

On February 10, 2014, the state filed a motion to recuse Judge Clifford based on allegations that
the judge had engaged in improper ex parte conversations with Mitchell.

68.

According to the recusal motion, Mitchell had advised others that Judge Clifford had: (1) invited
her and her son to visit him at his airport hangar; (2) told her to plead guilty to her offenses and
request that he sentence her because he would not send her back to prison; (3) told her that he
was not going to send her away and would take care of her; (4) told her he does not sleep at night
because he has sleep apnea; and (5) told her he would help her get her kids back.

69.

Judge Clifford subsequently signed an order assigning David Turner to be Mitchells attorney
after Mitchell filed an application for a court appointed attorney.

70.

Judge Clifford voluntarily recused himself from the case on February 11, 2014. The judges
recusal received local media attention.

71.

In his written responses to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Clifford indicated that he first met
Mitchell at Dollins Bail Bonds when she came in to pay on a bond for someone believed to be
her boyfriend.

72.

According to Judge Clifford, at the time, he advised Mitchell that she needed to go see Turner
and stay away from the man she was seeing because the man had assaulted his former
girlfriend.

73.

Judge Clifford also testified that when Mitchell attempted to talk to him about her own criminal
matter, he told her that he could not discuss her case but could appoint Turner to be her attorney.
V ETERINARY B ILLS

74.

On or about May 17, 2011, a dog belonging to Judge Cliffords daughter sustained injuries after
a confrontation with another dog owned by the judges neighbor, William Mattoon.

75.

According to Judge Clifford, between May 18, 2011 and August 3, 2011, he incurred
veterinarian bills totaling $1,162.87.

76.

On August 29, 2011, Judge Clifford sent Mattoon a letter written on judicial letterhead itemizing
the veterinarian bills and demanding that Mattoon send him a check reimbursing him for said
amount before September 29, 2011.

77.

On October 13, 2011, after Mattoon failed to respond to the initial demand letter, Judge Clifford
sent another letter, again on judicial letterhead, stating that if Mattoon did not pay the amount by
October 23, 2011, the judge would pursue legal action and/or charges with the City of Paris.

78.

During his appearance before the Commission and in his written responses to the Commissions
inquiry, Judge Clifford admitted that his assistant, Kathy Coker, had written the two letters and
signed them on his behalf.

79.

The judge acknowledged that he should have handled the matter differently.

Page 6

T HREATENING

L AW E NFORCEMENT O FFICER

80.

Sometime prior to August 26, 2013, Judge Clifford instructed his court reporter, Terry Spangler,
to inform Paris Police Officer Forrest Bigler that he wanted to meet with Bigler in his court
office to discuss Spanglers allegations that Biglers children were harassing some of her
relatives.

81.

On August 26, 2013, Bigler met with Judge Clifford at the Lamar County Courthouse in
response to the judges request.

82.

During the meeting, Judge Clifford threatened Bigler and told him that he would call the Chief
Juvenile Probation Officer concerning Spanglers allegations if Bigler did not take care it. The
judge also told Bigler that he may involve the police if the matter was not resolved.

83.

In his written responses to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Clifford initially denied meeting
with Bigler and/or calling law enforcement concerning Spanglers allegations.

84.

Upon review of an audio recording of the meeting, Judge Clifford admitted that he had met with
Bigler, but denied contacting the Lamar County Juvenile Probation Department about the
harassment.

85.

During his appearance before the Commission, Judge Clifford clarified that he likely called
Darrell Bruce (Lamar County Chief Juvenile Probation Officer) on or about August 26, 2013
regarding Spanglers allegations.
RELEVANT STANDARDS

1.

Article V, Section 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution provides that a judge may be disciplined for
willful violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, or willful or persistent conduct that is clearly
inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary
or administration of justice.

2.

Canon 2A of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, A judge shall comply with the law
and should act at all time in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and
impartiality of the judiciary.

3.

Canon 2B of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, A judge shall not allow any
relationship to influence judicial conduct or judgment. A judge shall not lend the prestige of
judicial office to advance the private interest of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or
permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the
judge...

4.

Canon 3B(1) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, A judge shall hear and decide
matters assigned to the judge except those in which disqualification is required or recusal is
appropriate.

5.

Canon 3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, A judge should be faithful to the
law and shall maintain professional competence in it. A judge shall not be swayed by partisan
interest, public clamor, or fear of criticism.

6.

Canon 3B(4) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A judge shall be
patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the
judge deals in an official capacity.

Page 7

7.

Canon 3B(5) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, A judge shall perform judicial
duties without bias or prejudice.

8.

Canon 3B(8) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part, A judge shall
accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, or that person's lawyer, the right
to be heard according to law. A judge shall not initiate, permit, or consider ex parte
communications or other communications made to the judge outside the presence of the parties
between the judge and a party [or] an attorneyconcerning the merits of a pending or impending
judicial proceeding.

9.

Canon 3B(10) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in part, that: A judge shall
abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding which may come before
the judges court in a manner which suggests to a reasonable person the judges probable
decision on any particular case.

10.

Canon 4D(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, that a judge shall not be an
officer, director or manager of a publicly owned business. For purposes of this Canon, a
publicly owned business is a business having more than ten owners who are not related to the
judge by consanguinity or affinity within the third degree of relationship.
CONCLUSIONS

The Commission concludes, based on the facts and evidence before it, that Judge Clifford
allowed his name and judicial title to be used to promote the private interests of Lamar National Bank
and his family, in violation of Canon 2B of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. The Commission
further concludes that Judge Clifford violated Canon 4D(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct by
continuing his service as a director of Lamar National Bank, a publicly owned business, after he
assumed the bench.
The Commission also concludes that legitimate concerns about the judges impartiality were
raised by Judge Cliffords (1) public comments about the Maggard and Erskine cases; (2) independent
investigation into Jason Bakers alleged probation violations; (3) prosecution of the states motion to
revoke Baker's probation; (4) improper ex parte communications with the prosecutor in the Bratcher
case; and (5) improper ex parte communications with criminal defendant Jessica Mitchell. The
Commission concludes that Judge Cliffords conduct in these cases constituted willful and/or persistent
violations of Canons 2A, 3B(2), 3B(5), 3B(8) and 3B(10) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
The Commission further concludes that Judge Clifford failed to comply with the Texas Fair
Defense Act and the Lamar County Plan as evidenced by (1) the disproportionately high percentage of
indigent court appointments received by attorney David Turner between July 9, 2013 through September
30, 2014 and (2) by Judge Cliffords removal of attorney Donald Haslam from the felony appointment
list without the approval of a majority of the Lamar County judges. The Commission concludes that
Judge Cliffords method of handling of court appointments and his disregard for the requirements of the
Lamar County Plan constituted willful and/or persistent violations of Canons 2A and 3B(2) of the Texas
Code of Judicial Conduct.
Additionally, the Commission concludes that Judge Clifford misused his position and the
prestige of judicial office when he (1) used official judicial letterhead to demand that William Mattoon
reimburse veterinary bills incurred by the judge; and (2) summoned Officer Bigler to his office and
threatened to report him to the Lamar County Juvenile Probation Department concerning a private
dispute between Officer Biglers children and relatives of Judge Cliffords court reporter. The
Page 8

Commission concludes that Judge Cliffords conduct constituted willful and/or persistent violations of
Canons 2A, 2B, and 3B(4) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
Finally, the Commission concludes that Judge Cliffords initial lack of candor during the
Commissions investigation into these allegations proved to be an aggravating factor in reaching a final
decision in this case.
*****************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 2A, 2B, 3B(1), 3B(2),
3B(4), 3B(5), 3B(8), 3B(10) and 4D(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, and Article V, 1-a(6)A
of the Texas Constitution, it is the Commissions decision to issue a PUBLIC REPRIMAND to the
Honorable Eric Clifford, Judge of the 6th Judicial District Court, Paris, Lamar County, Texas.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution, it is ordered
that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC REPRIMAND by the Commission.
The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect public confidence in the
judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody the principles and values set
forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
Issued this 5th day of September, 2015.

ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
____________________________________
Honorable Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct

Page 9

BEFORE THE
STATE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT

CJC NO. 14-0821-DI, 14-0846-DI, 14-0874-DI, 15-0145-DI

PUBLIC WARNING
AND
ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION
HONORABLE JEANINE L. HOWARD
CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT NO. 6
DALLAS, DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS
During its meeting on August 12-14, 2015, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct
concluded a review of the allegations against the Honorable Jeanine L. Howard, Judge of the
Criminal District Court No. 6, Dallas, Dallas County, Texas. Judge Howard was advised by letter of
the Commissions concerns and provided a written response. Judge Howard appeared before the
Commission with counsel on August 13, 2015, and gave testimony. After considering the evidence
before it, the Commission entered the following Findings and Conclusions.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1.

At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Jeanine L. Howard was Judge of the Criminal
District Court No. 6 in Dallas, Dallas County, Texas.

2.

On April 24, 2014, Sir Khalil Young appeared in Judge Howards court and pleaded guilty to
the charge of second degree felony sexual assault resulting from an incident that occurred on
October 4, 2011.

3.

At the time of the assault, the victim was fourteen years old and Young was eighteen years
old.1

4.

According to Judge Howard, when testifying at the April 24, 2014 hearing, the victim had
given the impression that she had never had sex before.

5.

However, when Judge Howard later reviewed the victims medical records in chambers, the
judge found an entry that led her to erroneously conclude that the victim had previously given
birth to a baby.2

6.

Based solely upon her in-chambers review of the victims medical records, and without
ascertaining the accuracy of her inference through additional testimony or evidence, Judge
Howard concluded that the victim had mislead the Court.

7.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Howard issued a judgment of deferred adjudication
and placed Young under community supervision for five years.

8.

As a condition of community supervision, Judge Howard ordered Young to complete 250


community service hours at a Rape Crisis Center.

9.

Thereafter, several media stories were published reporting that the Executive Director of the
Rape Crisis Center was disappointed with Judge Howards decision and objected to Young
performing his community service hours at the center.

10.

In responding to the Commissions inquiry, Judge Howard testified that she felt under attack
for giving probation in this sort of case, which happens all the time in Dallas County and that
she could not understand why this decision was getting such flack.

11.

On April 30, 2014, Judge Howard amended the conditions of Youngs community
supervision, removing the requirement that he perform community service at the Rape Crisis
Center; instead, she required him to perform the hours with an agency to be approved by the
judge.

12.

On May 1, 2014, Judge Howard received a telephone message from a Dallas Morning News
reporter concerning the Young case.

13.

Judge Howard returned the reporters call and agreed to speak with her about the case.

14.

According to Judge Howard, she agreed to speak with the reporter because previous media
stories about the Young case had been inaccurate and, therefore, the public deserved a more
truthful and complete story regarding her decisions in the Young case.

15.

Judge Howard advised the Commission that she had informed the reporter at the time of their
conversation that she had recused herself from the Young case.

16.

However, Judge Howard did not recuse herself from the Young case until the following day.3

Youngs victim turned fifteen a month after the assault; therefore, there was more than a three year age difference
between the two at the time of the assault. However, the State chose to charge and indict Young for a second degree
sexual assault, not for sexual assault of a child.
2 No testimony or evidence of a pregnancy or birth had been admitted at the hearing; however, it appears evident from the
medical records that the entry Judge Howard mistakenly relied upon was a reference to the circumstances of the victims
own birth and that there were other entries indicating that the victim had no history of pregnancies or births. In her
testimony before the Commission on this issue, Judge Howard stated that upon further review of the medical records, she
is not certain whether in fact the victim had given birth to a child.

17.

Judge Howard testified that she did not remember telling the reporter that the victim was not
a virgin, but she did recall indicating her surprise that this was not the victims first sexual
encounter.

18.

Judge Howard further testified that she may have told the reporter that the victim was not the
victim she claimed to be and that the defendant was not your typical sex offender, or
words to that effect.

19.

Judge Howard acknowledged that when the call ended, she immediately regretted her
comments about the victim; however, when she called the reporter back and asked her to
remove the statements, the reporter informed the judge that it was too late.

20.

As a result of Judge Howards conversation with the reporter, the Dallas Morning News
published an article on or about May 1, 2014, with the headline: Judge says sexually
assaulted 14-year-old wasnt the victim she claimed to be.

21.

According to the article, Judge Howard asserted that Young was not a typical sex offender
and that the victim was not a virgin. The article also reported that Judge Howard stated that
the victim wasnt the victim she claimed to be, and had been sexually active and given birth
to a baby before the sexual assault.

22.

The article included a response from the victims mother, who was livid about Judge
Howards comments. According to the mother, the victim had never been pregnant.

23.

Thereafter, additional news stories were published by local, state and national media outlets
that were critical of Judge Howards comments about the victim.4

24.

According to an attorney for the victims mother, Judge Howards public comments caused
the victim and her mother to question whether they should have ever come forward to report
the sexual assault. He added that the victim had been re-victimized by the information
reported to the media by Judge Howard.

25.

In her testimony before the Commission, Judge Howard expressed some sympathy for the
victims situation and acknowledged that her statements to the reporter may have revictimized the victim.

26.

Judge Howard also testified that her decision to discuss the Young case with the reporter
constituted poor judgment, and, as a result, she would never again discuss any case with the
media.

27.

However, Judge Howard also continued to defend her conduct by asserting that she acted in
good faith and that the information she shared with the reporter was a matter of public record.
RELEVANT STANDARDS

3 On May 2, 2014, the day after she spoke with the reporter regarding the Young case, Judge Howard filed a Request for
Assignment recusing herself from the case and the case was transferred to another court by the Presiding Judge of the
First Administrative Region.
4

Additionally, an online petition drive began on www.change.org, wherein citizens urged the Commission to sanction or
remove Judge Howard from office.

1.

Article V, Section 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution provides that any Texas justice or judge
may be disciplined for willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper
performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of
justice.

2.

Canon 3B(10) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides, in pertinent part: A judge
shall abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding which may
come before the judges court in a manner which suggests to a reasonable person the judges
probable decision on any particular case.
CONCLUSION

The Commission concludes from the facts and evidence presented that Judge Howards
decision to speak to the Dallas Morning News reporter, regardless of motivation, constituted willful
conduct that was inconsistent with the judges performance of her duties. Judge Howards decision to
publicly share unflattering information about a fourteen-year-old rape victim, at best, reflects poor
judgment on the part of the judge. The fact that some of the information disclosed by Judge Howard
about the victim was not accurate serves as an unfortunate example of why it is important that judges
avoid making public comments about pending cases.
The Commission reminds Judge Howard that judicial independence and impartiality are
bedrock principles of our judicial system. It is not enough for judges to decide cases impartially and
independently; they must also diligently maintain the appearance of impartiality and independence in
order to constantly reaffirm the publics confidence in our justice system. An independent judge
accepts that she may face criticism for her decisions, and does not succumb to the temptation to
publicly defend an unpopular decision in the press. A judge who is not independent cannot be
impartial.
Despite her subsequent recusal, Judge Howard undermined the publics confidence in her
impartiality and independence by defending her rulings in the press, giving rise to a legitimate
concern that she would not be fair or impartial in other sexual assault cases. Moreover, Judge
Howards reckless and inaccurate public statements about the sexual history of Youngs victim not
only re-victimized the victim in the Young case, but also potentially harmed other sexual assault
victims by discouraging them from reporting these crimes or participating in their prosecution. In this
case, Judge Howards admitted poor judgment generated considerable negative media attention that
undermined public confidence in the judiciary and cast public discredit upon the administration of
justice. The Commission concludes that Judge Howards conduct constituted a willful violation of
Canon 3B(10) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and Article V, Section 1-a(6) of the Texas
Constitution.
*****************************
In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canon 3B(10) of the Texas
Code of Judicial Conduct and Article V, 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution, it is the Commissions
decision to issue a PUBLIC WARNING AND ORDER OF ADDITIONAL EDUCATION to the Honorable
Jeanine L. Howard, Judge of the Criminal District Court No. 6 in Dallas, Dallas County, Texas.
Pursuant to this Order, Judge Howard must obtain four (4) hours of instruction with a mentor
in addition to her required judicial education for Fiscal Year 2016. In particular, the Commission
desires that Judge Howard receive this additional education regarding a judges duty (a) to be patient,

dignified, and courteous toward victims of sexual assault, and (b) to refrain from making public
comments about pending or impending cases. In connection with the four (4) hours of instruction,
the Commission would permit the judge to substitute one (1) hour through volunteer service at the
Rape Crisis Center, if approved by the Center.
Judge Howard shall complete the additional four (4) hours of instruction described above
within sixty (60) days from the date of written notification of the assignment of a mentor. It is Judge
Howards responsibility to contact the assigned mentor and schedule the additional education.
Upon the completion of the four (4) hours of instruction described herein, Judge Howard
shall sign and return the Respondent Judge Survey indicating compliance with this Order. Failure to
complete, or report the completion of, the required additional education in a timely manner may
result in further Commission action.
Pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution, it is
ordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC WARNING AND ORDER OF
ADDITIONAL EDUCATION by the Commission.
The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect public confidence in
the judicial system and to assist the states judiciary in its efforts to embody the principles and values
set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
Issued this 5th day of September, 2015.

ORIGINAL SIGNED BY
____________________________________
Honorable Steven L. Seider, Chair
State Commission on Judicial Conduct