The 2004 video in which a Texas judge, Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams, was recorded beating his then-16-year-old daughter has certainly become a national story. What happens next with regard to the judge and a State Commission on Judicial Conduct investigation will be interesting.
Adams is reportedly a family court judge although a visit to the Aransas County web site offers little information on the judge or his responsibilities. In fact, this is the only content posted upon attempting to access the site’s County Court-at-Law page.
301 N. Live Oak St.
Rockport, TX 78382
N E W S R E L E A S E
County of Aransas, 301 N. Live Oak, Rockport, Texas 78382
Aransas County Judge C. H. “Burt” Mills, Jr., 361-790-0100
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 2, 2011
ARANSAS COUNTY, TEXAS – Judge Burt Mills has today announced that Aransas County is aware of the video posted on YouTube regarding County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams, and the matter is now under review by the Police Department. Please refrain from communication with County offices or the Sheriff’s Department on this matter until the review has been completed. Calls, emails, and faxes only create disruptions for other ongoing county business. The public’s cooperation would be most appreciated.
It’s not unusual to find folks having experienced abusive probate situations also having reported their judges to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. It is, however, unusual to find someone having sought disciplinary action with this governmental body to depart the process with any sense of justice – or even that it was time well spent.
Local media here in central Texas are reporting especially heavily on the Adams’ story as his 10-year-old daughter is reportedly staying with relatives in Belton. Adams’ ex-wife Hallie also retained Killeen attorney Brett Pritchard to file a lawsuit seeking to limit Judge William Adams’ custody of their younger daughter. An Aransas County district judge has issued a temporary injunction preventing Adams from taking custody of his daughter prior to a Nov. 21 hearing.
In one of those “small world” stories, Pritchard is running for the 146th District Court judge seat, a seat currently held by Judge Rick Morris, in what could become a hotly contested county race. As we approach the one year anniversary, Estate of Denial® readers likely remember last year’s sexual harassment lawsuit filed against former Williamson County Court at Law No. 3 Judge Don Higginbotham. That sent into hyper-drive an already ongoing conflict between the Williamson County Commissioners Court and County Attorney Jana Duty. One of the “shots fired” involved Duty filing a lawsuit to remove County Judge Dan A. Gattis from office.
That lawsuit was assigned to a judge in neighboring Bell County – Judge Rick Morris. Weeks later, Judge Morris dismissed the suit not based on its merits, but based on an argument put forth by Gattis’ lawyer which invoked a not-so-well-known Texas law called the Forgiveness Doctrine. Texas Local Government Code Section 87.001 states, “An officer may not be removed under this chapter for an act the officer committed before election to office.” Gattis’ attorney argued that the same rule applies to reelection noting how each allegation in the lawsuit occurred before Gattis was reelected November 4, 2010.
In Williamson County ruling highlights public officials’ “free pass” for misconduct we described the Forgiveness Doctrine as “a legal loophole that by itself is capable of thwarting countless taxpayer protections, transparency measures and other efforts toward government accountability.” We ended saying:
The “forgiveness doctrine.” Lawmakers created it. Gattis and team knew it. And Judge Morris was unafraid to use it. As taxpayers tire of hard-earned dollars funding bad behavior over good government, how much more “forgiveness” can we afford?
As we move into the upcoming election cycle, the Forgiveness Doctrine will be the subject of an upcoming EoD column. Meanwhile, let us return to the Judge Adams issue. The idea of this man on the bench is indeed appalling. While he may be found to have technically followed the law, thinking of the out-of-control man on this video having the wide legal interpretation berth which judges enjoy presents a frighting picture. That an unsuspecting public could be subjected to his “judgment” is, to say the least, troubling.
Soon enough we’ll know if the judicial conduct commission will take substantive action. However if they go light – as is known to be the case with only 70 disciplinary actions pursued in 2009 despite 1,204 cases filed – an enthusiastic judicial candidate in a hotly contested race is unlikely to miss his own opportunity to pursue a little justice in a case with a lot of national exposure.
The legal industry may not always beget justice, but it does a great job generating cynicism. Stay tuned.