A former prosecutor has confessed to assisting a state district judge who is accused of texting clandestine messages from the bench to bolster the prosecution's case during an East Texas criminal trial last year.So not only is the judge who texted advice to prosecutors still on the bench, the assistant prosecutor accused of passing on her texts has herself been elected state district judge! What an embarrassment. Further evidence that the mechanisms for holding prosecutors and judges accountable for misconduct in Texas simply aren't effective or functional.
Such communication by Polk County Judge Elizabeth Coker was a violation of judicial impartiality that's required during court proceedings, said the former Polk County Assistant District Attorney Kaycee Jones. Jones has since been elected as a state district judge for Polk, Trinity and San Jacinto counties.
Her confession and a photo copy of Coker's text message - detailing a line of witness questioning that would aid prosecutors - were outlined in a letter Jones sent to the Texas Bar Association's disciplinary counsel, which is investigating the incident. The Houston Chronicle, which first reported the allegations against Coker earlier this year, recently obtained a copy of the letter.
For her part, Jones wrote, "I deeply regret that I acted in this manner. It was wrong and I knew better." An official in Jones' office said she could not comment on a pending investigation.
A report by a court observer from the DA's office found that this was "not the first time" the judge had provided such ex parte assistance and the lead prosecutor said her second chair was "in her ear all the time regarding information she believes to be given her by Judge Coker via text during trial," not just in this case but in others. Further, "Besides complaints about Coker coaching prosecutors by dictating questions, complaints have been filed against her alleging discrimination in picking attorneys to handle indigent cases."
As Mark Bennett pointed out, the surprise here isn't that a prosecution-oriented judge coached the state's attorney ex parte but that she did so in a form that could be documented and traced instead of face to face. Pretty darn brazen.