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The Illusion of High Standards

On the morning of Friday, August 20, 2010, when Senior Judge Robert D. Jones was sitting in Harris County’s 337th District Court, lawyers saw him revoke a defendant’s bond and jail her because her lawyer was absent. The defendant remained in jail until Monday, when the sitting judge in that court returned and reinstated her bond.

In January 2011 the State dismissed all charges against the defendant.

Six months later the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association filed a complaint (PDF) against Judge Jones with the Texas Commission For Judicial Conduct (HCCLA Complaint re Judge Robert Jones 071411).

In early 2012 Nahdiah Hoang from the Commission called Earl Musick, the past president whose name was on the complaint, suggesting that it was okay for a judge to jail a defendant for coming to court without a lawyer. Musick wrote Hoang a letter explaining the law, and sent an additional affidavit describing Jones’s conduct (Robert Jones- Letter to Nahdiah):

This week the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association received a letter from the Commission: “After a thorough review and investigation of the issues you raised in your complaint, the Commission voted to issue the judge a private sanction” (Robert Jones Private Sanction):

They can’t tell us what the sanction was, so we’ll have to imagine it:

Okay, these criminal-defense lawyers are going to be a real pain in the ass if we don’t, so we better sanction Bob. I move that Bob buys the next round. All in favor? Aye. All opposed? Motion passes. I’m so sorry, Bob.

Note the last paragraph of the Commission’s letter:

Please continue to assist us in our efforts to maintain the high standards of the Texas judiciary by honoring the rules of confidentiality that govern these proceedings.

“The high standards of the Texas judiciary” are a fiction. ((I first wrote “myth,” but some myths are true.)) Texas judges are elected by voters who do not (I say this as someone who got 1.3-plus million votes in the last election) have high standards for judges.

Think of the worst elected official you have ever heard of, and the best elected official you have ever heard of. You’ll find a comparably wide range in the elected Texas judiciary. Some of them are excellent, some really stink, and most are in the fat part of the bell curve, humans with good intentions (though often misguided), feet of clay, and moderate intelligence.

The Commission for Judicial Conduct is not in the business of “maintaining the high standards of the Texas judiciary” because those standards do not exist. Instead, it is in the business of maintaining the illusion of high standards.

The Commission for Judicial Conduct preserves the illusion of high standards by covering up judicial misconduct—by providing a plausible-seeming outlet for complaints against judges, dragging its feet, and then making everything it can disappear. Even when it takes action, as here, it tries to hush things up:

Please continue to assist us in our efforts to maintain the high standards of the Texas judiciary by honoring the rules of confidentiality that govern these proceedings.

The rules of confidentiality that govern the proceedings do not bind the complainant. Some complainants might, if they were told this, still help the Commission hush up judicial misconduct, but most probably would not—the point of filing a complaint is getting something done, and privately requiring Bob to buy the Commission’s next round of Jäger Bombs is not a satisfactory result. It has no deterrent effect on Bob, much less on the rest of the judiciary.

Because most complainants would not voluntarily become complicit with the Commission in burying judges’ misconduct, the Commission misleads complainants about the rules. It doesn’t outright lie—it doesn’t tell complainants to “follow” rules that don’t apply to them, and complainants could arguably “honor” rules that they don’t have to follow—but it certainly deceives.

Laypeople (I suspect that most complainants are laypeople) unfamiliar with the rules might think that there is a rule requiring them not to talk about the complaint. This is so far from the law that Seana Willing, the Coverup’s Executive Director, who is both a public official and a lawyer and who signed the letter, ought to be ashamed.

#JudgeRobertDJones #NahdiahHoang #CommissionforJudicialConduct #SeanaWilling #watchingthewatchers


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