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.

5 responses to “The Illusion of High Standards”

  1. Mark- As you know HCCLA has filed five complaints with the Commission on Judicial Conduct since 2006. This is the first ( technically second if you count Keller) complaint upon which they have taken action.

    It took the Commission over 2 years to ” investigate” this complaint. I don’t know what they did that took two years. What I know they did, took about 20 minutes. Like Earl, I too recieced a call from a Commission staffer. They did not understand that it was illegal for a judge to illegally revoke a presumptively innocent person’s bond. I wish I was kidding, but I am not.

    Around two years ago, The Sunset Commission held hearings in Austin regarding the Commission on Judicial Conduct. The leadership(?) and members of the Commision of Judicial Conduct testified. Their Chair took 20 minutes to introduce himself and list his accomplishments.*** He patted himself on the back so hard, I thought he might knock himself down. The Commision on Judicial Conduct was less than cooperative with the Sunset Commision. They invoked attorney-client privilege and refused to cooperate with Sunset Commission investigators. They were so condescending in action, manner and speech that Sunset Commission Senator Whitmire was visibly angered.

    Then TCDLA President Gary Trichter, Austin attorney Bennie Ray , then HCCLA President Earl Musick and I also appeared to testify. We testified right after the arrogant display put on by the Commission on Judicial Conduct. We
    each testified about the Commision on Judicial Conduct’s failures to carry out it mission.

    I recall my own testimony and my primary point. I testified about my experience in participating in filing all of HCCLA’s complaints. I testified that the Commision on Judicial Conduct’s mission was to protect Texans from abusive judges. I noted that the Commission had apparently re-written their mission statement. I said they had taken it upon themselves to protect abusive judges from the Good Citizens of Texans. I said their very existence was misleading to Texans. We were lead to believe someone was protecting us from
    Abusive judges when in fact no one was.

    Mark, I concluded my testimony by stating that as the Commission on Judicial Conduct was a fraud on the good citizens of Texas, and it should be immediately abolished.

    After 2 years, they have thrown us a bone. My position remains the same. They are a fraud and they should be abolished.

    In the meantime, let it be known we will NOT retire from this battle with the abusive members of the Judiciary. The Commission may do nothing but we will. HCCLA, joined by TCDLA and the united criminal defense bar, will continue to confront, expose and complain about those judges who act above the law. They are not above the law & they are not the law.

    Until they comport their actions with the law, We few will be there. On that, they have my word. Damn all tyrants.

    Robb Fickman

    **** after watching the Chair of the Commission on Judicial Conduct’s self- introduction I came up with “Fickman’s Maxim on Self- Introductions.” Fickman’s Maxim on Self-Introductions states, ” the longer it takes one to introduce themselves and list their own perceived achievements, the bigger the asshole.”

  2. Mark;
    I am catching up on the posts, and I am wondering if this is the same Robert Jones who is infamous in the Kerry Cook case with Paul Nugent and Rocket Rosen?
    If it is, I am sure Paul or Rocket or perhaps even Kerry could say a few things about Robert Jones. Is he out of Travis County? You should read Kerry Cook’s book talking about justice in Texas with Texas judges.
    Always great to read you.
    Paul J. Smith

  3. I do not know all the members on the Judicial Commission, however, Judge Harle is one of the finest judges anywhere. I know having moved to that area of the state and having tried cases where he is the Judge. Also don’t forget the Michael Morton court of inquiry,, he was the judge who exonerated Mr. Morton and recommended Ken Anderson’s conduct be examined carefully.
    Paul J. Smith

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