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Former Dallas Criminal Judge Etta Mullin Gets Bigger Discipline After She Appeals Public Admonition by Judicial Commission

Around the hallways of the Dallas County Courthouse, you can hear many a war story about appearing in the courtroom of Dallas County Criminal Court No. 5 when the Honorable Etta Mullin presided on its bench. If you didn’t have your own personal experience to share, there were lots of criminal defense lawyers (and other folk) with hands-on, first person tales of strange, bizarre, and outright shocking stuff that happened there.

Think a 21st Century Judge Roy Bean and you get the idea.

Now here in Texas, we may be considered the “wild west” by some of our brethren in other parts of the country, but we have a system. There’s an established procedure for overseeing judges who rule on both civil and criminal matters here, at all levels – from trial judges right on up to the highest court.

Remember CCA Chief Justice Sharon Keller’s Reviews?

You may remember all the brouhaha surrounding the Chief Justice for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals awhile back. Sharon Keller, the top judge of the highest criminal court in the state, had quite a lot of her papers graded. See some of our posts:




Commission of Judicial Conduct Investigated Judge Mullin: Public Admonition

And sure enough, back in February 2015, the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC) began investigating the actions of the Honorable Etta Mullin, our Dallas criminal judge who was becoming more and more controversial by the day.

The CJC heard the allegations made against the Honorable Etta Mullin, Former Judge, County Criminal Court No. 5, Dallas County, Texas. And they ruled against her, issuing a form of discipline called a “public admonition.”

You can read their Public Admonition of Etta Mullin here, starting at page 63 of the 80+ page document that contains all the CJC’s reviews of judicial conduct resulting in Public Sanction in 2015.

Etta Mullin Wants a Trial De Novo Before a Special Court of Review

Of course, Former Dallas County Criminal Judge Etta Mullin appealed the CJC’s decision. Apparently Etta Mullin had a strategy to follow the path set by Keller — have a trial de novo review by an appointed set of justices.

So, a Special Court of Review was set up to start from square one and in a trial de novo, make their own determinations of whether or not Etta Mullin did anything wrong. Now, these appointees are respected members of the bar and bench, mind you — Mullin’s peers as it were.

The Special Court of Review consisted of three appellate court justices:

  1. Chief Justice Kem Thompson Frost (14th Court of Appeals)
  2. Justice Pat Pirtle (7th Court of Appeals)
  3. Justice Nelda Rodriguez (13th Court of Appeals)

And last week, the result of that appeal came down — and Etta Mullin lost.

Special Court of Review Gives Mullin an Even Bigger Punishment

Moreover, not only did she lose her appeal but she ended up with a bigger discipline than she’d received from the CJC. Whammo, right?

Now, she’s been sanctioned with a “public reprimand” which is a more serious punishment than the admonition — and the harshest that the appealing body, as a Special Court of Review, could give her.

You can read the October 21, 2015, Opinion of the Special Court of Review Appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas In Re the Honorable Etta Mullin here:

The Bad, Bad, BAD Judge: Etta Mullin Did Bad Things

So, what did former judge Etta Mullin do that was so bad? Well, here are a few examples from the CJC’s initial public admonition’s findings of fact:

1. She refused to allow a Dallas lawyer named James Bright to appear in her courtroom wearing shorts even though he was wearing a suit jacket and tie and explained that after knee surgery ten days prior, his pants would not fit over his knee injury. (CJC pp.64-65).

2. Bright told news reporters that he tried to avoid Mullin’s courtroom, as “did a large number of other attorneys, due to her poor judicial temperament.” (CJC p.64)

3. A local attorney who had practiced in Dallas for 32 years opined that Mullin was “the most inefficient and inconsiderate judge” that he could recall. (CJC p.65)

4. An attorney reported Judge Mullin had him wait for 5 hours in her courtroom, only to get off the bench “and never come back.” (CJC p.65)

5. In the Spring of 2014, local, state, and national media reports had stories of Judge Mullin (who was campaigning for re-election) and her “discourteous, impatient, and undignfied treatment of certain attorneys.” (CJC p.65)

You’ll notice that the CJC focus appears to be on actions between the judge and the lawyers. Well, what about the people who came before her?

Bad Treatment of Criminal Defendants

From the Special Court of Review Opinion:

Six charges of judicial misconduct were considered in a de novo trial last August 2015. The Court of Review found that Mullin:

(1) failed to treat attorneys and defendants appearing in her courtroom with the requisite dignity, patience, and courtesy expected of a Texas judge;
(2) interfered with the recusals filed against the judge; and
(3) improperly required some defendants to pay some portion of fines or costs before the judge would accept their plea bargains.

In their trial de novo, actions of the former judge as they impacted citizens who appeared before her with pending criminal charges were considered.

The Honorable Etta Mullin served four years as the presiding judge of a Dallas criminal court. She stopped being a judge on December 31, 2014. And she was a bad judge — but the key here is that not only did she treat the lawyers that came before her with disrespect, she treated people who came before her with the threat of fines and jail time in a horrible way.

Particularly those who didn’t have much to begin with, the indigent defendants who were asking to pay costs or fines with money they simply DID NOT HAVE.

This was a bad judge.

It’s important to know that judges can be judged.

Lots of people are reading last week’s Opinion with a big sigh of relief.



For more information, see our web resources on Dallas Criminal Defense as well as Michael Lowe’s Case Results.



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