JUDGE WATCH: 10th Circuit Chief Justice Tom Gray of Waco Publicly Admonished by State Commission on Judicial Conduct
Judge Who Judges Judges Gets Judged.
Say that three times fast.
First things first, for those of you who don’t know, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals here in Texas is based in Waco and serves the surrounding Central Texas area (to be specific, 18 Texas counties are under its perview).
It is a court of review, with its 3 sitting justices reviewing the decisions (judgments) of lower district courts in both civil and criminal matters. Sometimes, the appellate court issues its own decision on something; however, its main purpose is to grade the papers of trial courts to make sure justice has been done. Its official website estimates that the Waco court hears 400 appellate matters each year.
The buck doesn’t stop with the circuit courts of appeal, of course. These courts have their papers graded by the Texas Supreme Court in civil matters and the Court of Criminal Appeals in criminal cases. And, technically, any federal issues would be heard in the federal system, but that’s a different jurisdiction and something to ponder on a different day.
Circuit Courts of Appeal are Very Powerful
Only a fraction of the circuit court’s decisions are accepted for review by the two Texas high courts – they’ve got to control their workload, for one thing – and this leaves the circuit courts of appeal as very, very powerful institutions in this state. Odds are high that the decision made by the interim appellate courts, like Waco, will be the final deterimination — so while you may not know the names of Chief Justice Tom Gray, Justice Felipe Reyna or Justice Bill Vance, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t three Very Big Kahunas.
Waco Chief Justice Tom Gray is Publicly Admonished by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct
So, it’s a big deal and something for you to know that an appellate court justice (and a chief justice at that) has had his own papers graded by the state agency that watches over the conduct of judges in this state. From the high courts to the J.P. courts, this commission oversees judicial conduct and not only investigates but punishes impropriety.
The Admonition and Justice Gray’s Response are Online in their Entirety
And, the news today is that the Commission has issued a Public Admonition regarding Waco’s Chief Justice Tom Gray. (You can read it at the site shown below.)
And, Chief Justice Gray has also issued a public response (you can read it, too, at the link below).
Excerpts From the Ruling
“2. In March 2007, Justice Felipe Reyna introduced Justice Gray as the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for the Republican Club of Somervel County in Glen Rose, Texas.
“3. At the conclusion of his introduction to the approximately sixty (60) Republicansattending the fundraiser, Justice Reyna told the group, “Please join me in welcoming mygood friend, Chief Justice Tom Gray,” or words to that effect.
“4. Justice Gray began his remarks to the audience by thanking Justice Reyna for theintroduction, but went on to state, “Really, we are not friends. He’s never been in my home. I’ve never been in his home. And furthermore, every time there’s a close vote onthe Court, he always votes with Bill Vance,” or words to that effect. …
[So, at at Republic Party meeting in Glen Rose (where’s that?), the Chief Justice took the podium and said that his colleague wasn’t his ‘friend’.]
“8. Thereafter, Justice Gray initiated a “whisper campaign” against Justice Reyna by criticizing him to Republican Party leaders in the counties located within the Court’sjurisdiction.
“9. Justice Gray attended Republican lunches and dinners and told party leaders “somebody needs to talk to Felipe. He’s not being a good Republican,” and that Justice Reyna“always votes with a liberal Democrat, [Justice] Bill Vance,” or words to that effect. …
[So, we’ve got unknown gossips who are reporting that Chief Justice Gray was talking with party leaders that Justice Reyna wasn’t following the party line. Remember that judges are elected in this state, not appointed. They are POLITICIANS, every single one of them.]
“11. According to a security tape obtained during the course of the investigation, on or about June 16, 2008, Justice Gray unlocked and entered the private offices of Justice Vance without permission.
“12. In his appearance before the Commission, Justice Gray defended the unauthorized entry of Justice Vance’s private offices by explaining that he was searching for a file. Justice Gray acknowledged, however, that after determining that the file was not in Justice Vance’s office, he reviewed other papers located on Justice Vance’s desk.
“13. Justice Gray further testified that he has unlocked and entered the private offices of both Justice Vance and Justice Reyna in the past to look for files while the other justices were not present and had not given their permission.
“14. Following these incidents, Justice Gray never informed his fellow judges of his entry intotheir offices….
[So, the boss of the Waco Court, which is what the Chief Justice is when you think about it, went into his colleagues’ offices and looked around. Did they have an expectation of privacy? You know, that legal concept? Under labor law, do you have an expectation of privacy about your desk when you leave the office for the night, or the weekend? Just something to ponder here.]
“17. Justice Vance and Justice Reyna also testified about instances when Justice Gray hastreated court staff in a sarcastic, intimidating and demeaning manner, which conduct alsoincluded angry outbursts and personal attacks. Statements implying that the chief clerk would be out of a job after January 1, 2009, and efforts at other times to convince the other justices to vote in favor of firing the chief clerk and the accountant were also common. Such mistreatment was sufficient to reduce some staff members to tears and has contributed to extremely low employee morale at the Court.
[Well, it sure sounds like a tense working environment. Wonder what the chief clerk had to say about all this.]
“Canon 2B of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct states in pertinent part: “A judge shall not allow any relationship to influence judicial conduct or judgment.”
“Canon 3B(4) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct states in pertinent part: “A judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in his official capacity[.]”
“The Commission concludes, based on the facts and evidence before it, that Justice Gray allowed his acrimonious relationship with Justices Vance and Reyna to improperly influence his conduct and judgment, and in the process, failed to treat those with whom he interacted in anofficial capacity, including court personnel, in a patient, dignified and courteous manner.
“The Commission concludes that Justice Gray’s conduct constituted willful and/or persistentviolations of Canons 2B and 3B(4) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
“In condemnation of the conduct described above that violated Canons 2B and 3B(4) ofthe Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, it is the Commission’s decision to issue a PUBLIC ADMONITION to the Honorable Tom Gray, Chief Justice, 10th Court of Appeals, Waco,McLennan County, Texas.
“Pursuant to the authority contained i
n Article V, §1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution, it isordered that the actions described above be made the subject of a PUBLIC ADMONITION by the Commission.
“The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort to protect public confidence in the judicial system and to assist the state’s judiciary in its efforts to embody the principles and values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. Issued this the 18th day of December, 2008.”
“After what I thought was a fairly well orchestrated campaign to file complaints against me with the Judicial Conduct Commission, I was very pleased to learn that all the complaints were dismissed with the exception of one part of one complaint.
That complaint, which was filed jointly by Justices Vance and Reyna, asked the Commission to remove me from the office to which the citizens of this great State had elected me. The Commission rejected their request.
In a State with as many judges as Texas, the Commission has a difficult task sorting out the complaints and has a very limited budget upon which to work. Obviously I was able to respond to the Commission’s concerns on the more concrete complaints linked to individual opinions like The City of Waco vs. Kelly and others.
What was more difficult for me to respond to were general allegations made by Justices Vance and Reyna regarding my management style and the way they allege that I interacted with Court staff.
They provided only general testimony that characterized my conduct in a negative light and due to the Commission’s limited funding the Commission did not require Justices Vance and Reyna to be more specific in their complaints nor did they call any other witnesses about the allegations of the Justices.
All I could really do is explain to the Commission that since Justice Vance said he would challenge any conduct that he found to be disrespectful and thus to create a hostile work environment, he did so on ONLY ONE occasion and that was just before he filed his complaint with the Commission.
I referred Justice Vance’s complaint about this specific incident to another entity and that entity determined that I had not created a hostile work environment. The Commission’s admonition related only to the manner in which I interacted with the court staff and others.
So while I am disappointed that the Commission decided to take any action with regard to any of the Complaints, I respect that the Commission has a job to do.
I did what I thought was needed to do my job and to abide by my oath to “faithfully perform the duties of the office of Chief Justice of the Tenth Court of Appeals District of the State of Texas and to the best of my abilities, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and Laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.”
So, Should Texas Judges Be Elected or Appointed?
Well, looks like one thing this whole event does is add fuel to the fire burning in the Let’s Appoint Our Judges Camp here in Texas. There’s been a big brouhaha for decades now on whether or not judges should be elected or appointed. Federal judges are appointed, remember?
So, should judges run for office, pick a party (Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green) and do the meet and greets?
You be the judge.
Tenth Court of Appeals Official Site
Commission’s Ruling — Public Admonition
Justice Gray’s Response
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