You’re Soaking in it.

Judge says … baby pooped on (Reeves) – if he threw a dog off the bed because the dog peed on bed what would he do if baby pooped on him?

This is the content of a note that Polk County, Texas investigator David Wells says prosecutor Kayce Jones (who was observing) passed to prosecutor Beverly Armstrong (who was trying the case) during the trial of a felony injury-to-a-child case. Wells saw the note, preserved it, and wrote a report accusing the judge, Elizabeth Coker, of of sending text messages from the bench to help Armstrong.

(Jones has since been elected judge of the 411th District Court. Wells’s wife, the stenographer in that court, is likely to lose her job because of Jones’s whistleblowing: that’s the way Texas judges roll.)

The criminal-defense lawyers interviewed for the Chronicle article call Coker’s actions “shocking” (Richard Burroughs) and “unusual” (Stan Schneider). I am not shocked, but I do find Coker’s conduct unusual—not in its underlying contempt for the adversarial process, but only in its high-tech (and easily documented) execution.

On more than one occasion I’ve seen Harris County judges coaching prosecutors during breaks in trial. Once I wandered into the hallway behind a felony court and heard the chief prosecutor, “Cousteau,” and the judge, “Narcise,” discussing (sans defense counsel) the examples the number-two prosecutor would be using to commit the jury panel to considering probation in the sex-assault trial that was about to begin.

When I was in trial in the same court and I had the State on the ropes on a motion to suppress because the number-three prosecutor had failed to do something basic, Narcise upbraided Cousteau (in my absence, but I have eyes and ears everywhere) for Cousteau’s junior’s omission, and then gave the state enough time to correct the omission.

Every experienced criminal-defense trial lawyer has accounts of judges giving pointers to young prosecutors, or cutting them slack that defense counsel would never get, “because they’re young and don’t know any better.” I’ve had misdemeanor judges tell me that they thought training-up the baby prosecutors assigned to their courts was part of their job. I heard this week that one district-court judge “wouldn’t let” a junior prosecutor try any cases in his court because the prosecutor’s trial skills were, in the judge’s view, woefully lacking.

In short, the judiciary acting as an adjunct to the prosecution shouldn’t surprise anyone. Elected judges identify with the state. There are very few who will decide close calls for the defense. There are many more who will bend over backwards to make sure the state wins. What Coker did with Jones is little different than what Narcise does with Cousteau. But Narcise doesn’t text Cousteau, or if he does Cousteau is smart enough not to commit the texts to paper.

If Wells hadn’t seen the note that Jones passed to Armstrong, or if Jones had phrased the note as her own suggestion rather than Coker’s, Coker would never have been caught. That Coker got caught  doesn’t make her conduct “shocking” in anything but its boldness and stupidity.

15 responses to “You’re Soaking in it.”

  1. Nowhere in the entire country is this more pervasive than in Harris county. Well, maybe Montgomery county. But you go the Harris county courthouse and it seems as though everyone is related. HPD officers who have sisters in the DA’s office. Judges who have daughters there, too. Enough of the small calls going to the prosecutors and they win the case every time. Sure, you can appeal these but they’re rarely enough to overturn a case even when you win them all.

    A right to a fair trial? Pfffttt…

    • I and 6 of my friends have been railroaded for trumped up voter fraud charges thanks to Sen Tommy Williams pulling strings with Greg Abbott. We were in the 9th with Fred Edwards but fortunately my attorney beat Edwards out of that bench in the last election.

      Now we are in the 359th with a visiting judge from beaumont. Your comments make me wonder if a fair trial can be obtained?

  2. Mark – good post. The incestous relationships between the judiciary and the prosecutors are certainly prevalent in Harris County. Here judges “work things out all the time” in unethical ex parte conversations with the DAs. We all hear judges & DAs talking about ” the trial case” with defense counsel nowhere in sight. It’s accepted as normal because it’s ingrained in our system. But it is wrong.
    I hope our new DA will take corrective actions and remind his DAs to not participate in these long-standing ex parte dialogues.
    Robb Fickman

  3. Mark, I want to take the time to point out also how unusual the investigator’s actions were. David “DC” Wells was my investigator when I was a prosecutor assigned to the Child Abuse Divison and I got to know him well. DC is a guy who shoots straight (literally, on more than one occasion). He has no fear of bucking bosses and assorted other authority figures when he thinks it is the right thing to do.

    It bears noting that DC was an investigator employed by the same DA’s office as the prosecutors he was exposing. In the same Chronicle article, the elected DA gives some very defensive-sounding quotes about DC’s report on the incident. The article also notes that DC no longer works there and is with Angelina County now. It is a reasonable inference that this investigation likely precipitated his move.

    DC Wells is a brave man with a strong sense of right and wrong, as well as justice. He deserves recognition for bringing a judge’s highly improper actions to light, even at risk to his job. I am proud to call him a friend.

  4. If DC Wells lost his job for doing the right thing than I hope that comes out. An honest investigator should not be punished for being honest.


  5. I know for a fact that Burroughs and Prigmore are not fans of Judge Coker. Richard Burroughs ran against her and lost and Prigmore has told me she does not like Coker. These two people are not people I would want to interview for this situation. They were not in the Courtroom.

  6. Wells’s wife, the stenographer in that court, is likely to lose her job

    I would hate to see Ms. Wells lose her position she is such a hard working dedicated individual.

  7. If I were beginning a trial in Judge Coker’s court I would be so tempted to stand and offer her my cell phone number to cc to me texts she sends to the prosecutor so as to avoid ex parte communications. There is an appearance of her “pooping” on the bench. Maybe the acquitted defendant could be recruited to throw her off of the bench for “pooping” on it during his trial. Shame on Judge Coker for not keeping her biased prejudicial comments to herself. She is a disgrace to be commenting on the weight of evidence during the trial even if the jury did not hear it. The prosecutor in robes has no clothes. This was not a mistake, but rather a mindset that we cannot tolerate from our public servants on the bench. She should make a public apology and recommit to fair process including impartiality on her part or leave the bench and become an advocate if that is what she wishes to be.

  8. Have watched a judge coax a prosecutor in Muni Court in Dallas so as to avoid granting my Motion for a Directed Verdict. Fortunately that judge is gone; unfortunately he sits on a court of appeals.

  9. I agree with many of the people that have posted on here…Judge coker has also ruined my families life. She sentenced my 37 year old brother 99 years for allegedly sexually abusing his own daughter. There was no evidence presented that he committed this crime that he was accused of and the examiner that examined the child stated in court that the child had not been touched. But yet her and Lee Hon can ruin someone’s life behind false accusations. On top of that the whole court proceedings were unethical. For instance all during the trial there were jokes and laughter going on from Coker as well as the district attorney (Lee Hon). Another thing that took place that I was uncertain about was the fact that my brother asked for another attorney instead of the present court appointed lawyer and she told my parents that the only way that he could change lawyers is if a new lawyer is present before the trial the next day. I don’t give credit to Karma, I give all credit to God because he said in his word that “you will reap what you sow.” In my opinion Coker was able to get off easy but her judgement day is coming and she will have to answer to the almighty God for all of the many lives in Polk County, San Jacinto County, Trinity County, and other counties that she have destroyed behind her coruptness!!!

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