Saturday, November 26, 2011

Holding Texas judges accountable for past misconduct: William Adams and Ken Anderson

Quite a few readers contacted Grits a couple of weeks ago asking if I planned to comment on the Aransas County family law judge who was videotaped beating the living crap out of his then-16 year old daughter for illegally downloading music. She made the video in 2004 before releasing it in retaliation earlier this month when he threatened to cut her off financially (revenge, unlike grits, is best served cold). Grits refrained, mainly because the topic was being widely discussed by others more effectively than anything I could have said, and I had nothing in particular to add to what was mostly a family-law discussion. (Besides, 3+ million people had seen the YouTube clip before I did; it hardly needed my promotion.) The video was horrendous, nearly unwatchable, far exceeding any acceptable fatherly punishment to surpass the threshhold to "abuse." But the statute of limitations had run out, the daughter is now 23 and no longer lives with her father, and most attorneys who've looked at the question, including the local DA, agreed there's no way to turn it into a criminal matter.

Even so, I was fascinated to learn via CNN that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct is not only investigating the old abuse allegations but has convinced the judge to accept a paid suspension while it does so:
Judge William Adams, who made national headlines after the release of a 2004 video of him beating his then-teenage daughter, has been suspended by the Texas Supreme Court.
Adams, while not admitting guilt or wrongdoing, agreed to the suspension. He will be paid during the suspension.

The judge's lawyer, William Dudley, said his client proposed the suspension motion with input from the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is investigating the incident. Adams already was on voluntary leave, Dudley said in a statement to CNN.
See the order (pdf) and the commission's public statement (pdf) in Judge Adams' case, and the commission's rules (pdf) for disciplining or removing judges. What interests Grits in particular are possible parallels to Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, the prosecutor in the Michael Morton case who 25 years ago apparently hid exculpatory evidence from both the defense and the court to convict an innocent man, allowing the guilty one to remain living free in Bastrop County for the intervening decades. Just as the statute of limitations has run out on any possible offenses in the video from Adams' years-ago incident, the statute or limitations on any prosecutorial misconduct in the 25-year old Morton case have also likely expired. But if the Commission on Judicial Conduct can investigate Judge Adams over old abuse allegations, and even facilitate his suspension while they do so, why can't or won't they do the same for Judge Anderson in Williamson County?

I've been told privately that, even though the statute of limitations on Adams' conduct may have expired, there's an argument to be made that the commission could pursue him under its constitutional authority to discipline judges who engage in "willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of justice." A family law judge who engaged in that kind of behavior in his own family life, the argument goes, willfully engaged in behavior that cast discredit on the judiciary.

Similarly, assuming withholding exculpatory evidence from the judge was a willful act (instead of an act of extreme, near-unfathomable incompetence), it's hard to argue that Judge Anderson's recently-revealed shortcomings aren't "inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary." If the Commission on Judicial Conduct found a hook to justify intervention on older charges in Adams' case, Judge Anderson's should be similarly fair game.

Ken Anderson hid evidence and misled the judge in perhaps the biggest trial of his prosecutorial career. His alleged misconduct was primarily responsible for a false conviction which ranks among the worst injustices in the state's history, threatening to elevate him to Mike-Nifong status in the pantheon of convict-at-any-cost prosecutors willing to cheat to win. He's an embarrassment to his county and his profession - yet he still sits on the bench in a Williamson County District Court, dispensing what passes for "justice" in that jurisdiction. Why? Anderson's past misdeeds weren't violent but they discredit any claim he might make to integrity or impartiality on the bench in much the way that Judge Adams' tumultuous family life discredits his family-law credentials.

Grits suspects Anderson himself has insufficient capacity for self-reflection or shame to himself contemplate stepping down; his failure to accept responsibility - apologizing for "the system" but insisting he himself was blameless - surely demonstrates that. But if the Commission can find a hook to go after Judge Adams regarding years-old charges, they should find a way to do the same thing in Williamson County. Much as with Judge Adams, every day Anderson remains on the bench taints and demeans not just the integrity of Texas' judiciary but the entire legal profession.

Opportunity for activism
Speaking of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, they're up for Sunset review along with TDCJ and the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and you can see their self-evaluation report here (pdf). (More soon analyzing that document.) Anyone frustrated with the impotence of judicial oversight in Texas should view the Sunset process as an excellent chance to suggest improvements to the process.


Anonymous said...

The ONLY reason there is a bona fide investigation here is due to media attention. The CJC like other judicial oversight boards exist to cover up unlawful acts by judges.

If judicial oversight boards truly did their jobs, they would take action in instances like what just occurred in Dallas.

As described at, a Dallas business owner was involved in a civil dispute and paid millions of dollars to lawyers, and when he objected to additional fees after settling the case, they had a “friendly” judge seize all of his possessions, without any notice or hearing, and essentially ordered him under “house arrest” as an involuntary servant to the lawyers. The business owner has been under this "servant" order for 10 months and is prohibited from owning any possessions, prohibited from working, etc..

...and some quotes from the judge:

THE COURT: "I'm telling you don't scr-w with me. You are a fool, a fool, a fool, a fool to scr-w with a federal judge, and if you don't understand that, I can make you understand it. I have the force of the Navy, Army, Marines and Navy behind me."

THE COURT: "You realize that order is an order of the Court. So any failure to comply with that order is contempt, punishable by lots of dollars, punishable by possible jail, death"

Anonymous said...

If they can take action against Anderson for misconduct as a prosecutor, they need to do the same for Jack Skeen. As a prosecutor he routinely withheld evidence. The Kerry Max Cook case is a good example. Not only did he withhold evidence in that case but he continued for years to argue things before the appellate courts that he knew to be false. He also kept a man under indictment in what should have been a civil case for 2 years as a favor to a local TV station. His office routinely used undisclosed deals with jailhouse snitches and allowed or encouraged witnesses to lie. There was a series of articles written by the Houston Chronicle about his misoonduct as a prosecutor. All of this and much more misconduct is thoroughly document and would be easy to prove if the Commission cared to investigate. If Anderson can be dsiciplined in the Morton case, Skeen surely can be removed from office.

rodsmith said...

not sure how you figure this grist!

"Just as the statute of limitations has run out on any possible offenses in the video from Adams' years-ago incident, the statute or limitations on any prosecutorial misconduct in the 25-year old Morton case have also likely expired."

Since until it blew up in their faces recently...they have denied the whole thing. With the DA hiding it for over 6 YEARS....that makes it a CONTINUING CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY!

so technically the sol didn't even START to run till the poor sucker they shafted found out and started the fight! and even then i think a case could be made to NOT count anytime before he actualy was released and could investigate and bring it out!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

One might hope that's how courts interpret things rod, but even if that case could be made, any criminal offenses by state actors took place in Williamson County so you'd have to rely on JB to make it. Road-to-Damascus moment or not, I won't be holding my breath on that.

I do think there's a case to be made that the state bar could act, starting to toll the SOL after the violation was discovered, and ditto for the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. But in private discussions I've been told conflicting things about those entities' possible jurisdiction. Bottom line: I hope the statute of limitations starts to toll when the misconduct was discovered, but I don't know enough about the rules governing nor the precedents surrounding those two disciplinary operations to judge how likely it is they'll extend their reach that far. Like Adams, it's a high profile case, so maybe on this one they'll make an exception. But I'm told it'd be unusual.

12:00, that sort of thing may be exactly the kind of slippery slope they'd be worried about by punishing judges for their earlier misconduct as prosecutors. I don't think there'd be a flood of such cases, but over time more could crop up. Skeen's homey, Smith County Judge Joel Baker, is on the Commission on Judicial Conduct, FWIW (see their membership).

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, do you happen to know if the victims of her crime spree ever filed theft charges? Or, if the parents turned her in? Simply finding out that your daughter swiped something, taking turns hitting her with a belt, refusing to reimburse the victim is equal to punishing the criminal in house with violence & ignoring the crime.

Anonymous #1, is dead on - The CJC will be forced to appear to take issue and break out the smoke and mirrors. The taxpayers & voters will continue to sit on their hands and suffer from voting just to be voting syndrome. We get what we allow and deserve it when we allow police, lawyers & judges to hand out paid vacations while they investigate themselves.

Sadly they all take Oaths, make Pledges & throw in a Creed or two for good measure. Dummies eat this sh--t up. Thanks.

rodsmith said...

this right here is part of the problem!

"but I don't know enough about the rules governing nor the precedents surrounding those two disciplinary operations to judge how likely it is they'll extend their reach that far."

LONG past time to tell the DA's and lawyers and Judges that the SAME laws they apply to anyone in front of them APPLY TO THEM!

we are going to figure the SOL the same way YOU would against anyone in FRONT OF YOU.....

and oh yes. IF you FAIL to do so then we have every legal right to consider you a rogue part of the govt and remove you with whatever means necessary upto and including VIOLENCE!

this is your LAST chance to clean your own house or we burn it down around your EARS!

Patriotdad said...

Nueces County Attorney, David Sibley, has filed a Bill of Review against Judge Adams. This motion is in the custody case where Judge Adams had stated one parent's preferred babysitter being evidenced with duly subpoened Texas MHMR records as being homicidal, hallucinatory, part-time psychotic, and heavily medicated with an intense history of hospitalization for the safety of the public was 'not relevent'.

In his motion, Mr. Sibley calls Judge Adams a 'liar'.

A link to a television interview of Mr. Sibley and other information on Judge Adams and those he favors with bizarre rulings in his court can be found at:

Judge Adams is not the only judge implicated in this custody case. It seems Judge Adams was attempting to also cover up a very serious and well evidenced witness tampering incident alleged against another area judge, a Nueces County District Judge.

Links to the transcripts of this second judge's efforts to create false testimony is in the above link. The transcript is from the Jennifer Flores Lamb versus Andrew Mata custody case on file in the Aransas County Courthouse.

A grievance had been filed last year against Judge Adams in the Lamb/Mata case.

Another grievance against Judge Adams is pending because of the involvement of William Dudley in that case without either Judge Adams or William Dudley revealing the attorney/client relationship to Sibley or Lamb.

It appears that other parties are considering additional grievances.