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27

Public Reprimand and Order of Additional Education

: The Commission found that Justice of the Peace

(JP) demonstrated a lack of professional competence in two cases. Among other problems, in both cases

JP issued inappropriate criminal summons (they were civil cases), failed to reduce her decisions to

written judgments, did not maintain complete and/or accurate records, and conducted informal private

mediations of disputes without proper notice to parties. In a vehicle sale case, JP ordered a car to be

returned to the plaintiff, and later ordered defendant to make monthly payments to plaintiff, neither of

which were memorialized with a written judgment. JP also threatened defendant with criminal action,

and later issued a criminal summons without any criminal proceeding pending against the defendant. JP

told the Commission that all of defendant’s court appearances were informal.

In a separate complaint, JP was accused of improperly intervening in a divorce case that was filed in

a district court. Testimony in front of the Commission indicated that the mother of the petitioner in the

divorce case was in a special relationship with the JP and had threatened respondent that she would

have the JP intervene in the dispute over couple’s Jeep Wrangler. JP issued a criminal summons that

was served on Respondent by police officers, and Respondent appeared in JP’s court the following day.

Respondent informed JP that divorce proceedings were pending in a district court and that the Wrangler

was community property that would be divided during that proceeding. JP ordered possession of the

Jeep to Petitioner. The Commission determined that JP not only lacked jurisdiction to order possession

of the Wrangler to Petitioner, an audio recording of the hearing demonstrated that JP was aware of facts

and evidence that she obtained through ex parte or extra-judicial communications. It also found that JP’s

records of the proceeding were woefully incomplete, including no filed petition or complaint, lack of proof

of service on Respondent, no entries on the court docket sheet, etc. JP told the Commission that she did

not meet with any party prior to the hearing, that the hearing was an informal mediation, and that she

mistakenly issued the criminal summons.

For these reasons, JP violated Canons 2B, 3B(2), and 6C(2). In addition to the public admonishment,

JP must obtain four additional hours in education in the areas of: (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 litigant’s

right to appeal a judgment; and (8) trial settings and notice requirements under Rule 503.3 of the Texas

Rules of Civil Procedure.

Public Admonition and Order of Additional Education

: District Judge maintained a public Facebook

page. During the time that she presided over a major trial, the

Wiescekel

case, District Judge

posted information about the trial to her public Facebook page. The public postings ranged from the

announcement of the start day of the case to a news article about the specific case which contained

extraneous offense information. Most of these comments were posted to the Facebook page after she

gave the jury instructions admonishing them to not do any independent investigation of the facts and

only use evidence in the courtroom, which was a rule she acknowledged applied to her as well. Defense

counsel made a motion to recuse District Judge based on her conduct on Facebook and after the case

was transferred to a new court, the new judge granted defense counsel’s motion for a mistrial. All of

these events led to media scrutiny. District Judge told the Commission that her Facebook page promoted

transparency, that her comments did not demonstrate bias, and that the article she linked was objective.

The Commission also found other posts by District Judge noting that a jury was deliberating punishment

in a child pornography case and how difficult viewing the images had been on them, as well as a comment

about finishing sentencing with a “very challenging defendant.” District Judge argued that neither of these

posts indicated unfair treatment or suggested a decision in a case. The Commission found that District

Judge “cast reasonable doubt on upon her own impartiality and violated her own admonition to jurors by

turning to social media to publically discuss cases pending in her court, giving rise to a legitimate concern