Panel issues public warning against judge who beat daughter (TX)

BROWNSVILLE – The Aransas County family law judge seen beating his then-teenaged daughter in a YouTube video has been issued a “public warning” by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, a serious ruling that stops short of recommending removal from the bench.

Judge William Adams has been on paid leave since November, when daughter Hillary Adams posted her shocking secret recording of the lashing, which occurred in 2004 in her bedroom after she’d illegally downloaded some music videos. She was 16 at the time.

“The Commission acknowledges that Judge Adams was not aware that he had been secretly videotaped, and that he was not the person who released the videotape on the Internet,” the decision, released Tuesday, stated. “However, because Judge Adams regularly presides over and decides child custody, child abuse, and family violence cases, his private conduct did cast public discredit upon the judiciary and the administration of justice.”

The approximately seven-minute video of Adams striking Hillary with a belt at least 17 times drew millions of Web views, and had Hillary and her mother, Hallie, making the national talk show circuit.

Adams maintained that his daughter posted the video to get back at him for threatening to take away her Mercedes-Benz and to reduce his financial support.

The judge’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The statute of limitations on child abuse cases had run out, so the video could not be used for criminal charges.

But the media maelstrom prompted the Commission to open an investigation, and Adams agreed to a paid suspension in the meantime.

“We acted right away with the cooperation of the judge to have that suspension order issued by the (Texas) Supreme Court to kind of calm everybody down so that we could do an investigation,” said Seana Willing, the commission’s executive director.

In terms of severity, a public warning is a step below a reprimand and two steps below a recommendation for removal.

She said the 10 months it took to make the decision was not excessive given the number of witnesses involved, the gravity of the matter, and that the 13-member panel of judges, lawyers, and citizens meets only six times a year.

“Even though it was a high-profile case, we had other cases that we were working on. Ten months is, I think, a normal amount of time to do a thorough investigation, have the judge appear before the Commission, and give the judge an opportunity to testify, have other witnesses come in and testify,” Willing said.

On average, the Commission will get 1,200 to 1,400 complaints against judges in a year, though about half might be quickly found meritless.

Adams has 30 days to appeal, and in the meantime can request that the Texas Supreme Court lift the suspension so he can return to work, Aransas County Attorney Richard Bianchi said.

Until that happens, family court cases will continue to be handled by visiting judges. While the state has picked up the bulk of visiting judges’ pay, the approximately 25,000-population county has had to absorb between $8,000 and $10,000 of their travel and unmet per diem expenses.

Should the Supreme Court reinstate Adams, the county has no authority to make him step down, Bianchi said. Adams is up for re-election in 2014.


Panel issues public warning against judge who beat daughter
Lynn Brezosky
September 6, 2012
Houston Chronicle

Additional coverage:

Judge in video beating case gets warning from ethics panel
Michael Graczyk/Associated Press
September 6, 2012
Austin American-Statesman

HOUSTON — A South Texas judge suspended from the bench after a years-old video surfaced last year showing him beating his teenage daughter has been slapped with a “public warning” from a state ethics panel, although the effect of the decision wasn’t immediately clear.

Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams was taken off the job by the Texas Supreme Court in November, and the decision released Thursday by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct didn’t address the judge’s status.

The panel does not have authority to remove a judge from office but could recommend to the state Supreme Court that he be removed.

Adams’ lawyer, William Dudley, did not immediately return a call Thursday from The Associated Press. Under commission rules, the judge has 30 days to appeal the public sanction to the state Supreme Court.

Seana Willing, executive director of the judicial commission, said Thursday that a move to lift Adams’ suspension would have to made to the state Supreme Court, either by Adams or through a joint motion of the judge and the panel.

Richard Bianchi, the county attorney in Aransas County, said the warning was essentially a public reprimand with no other consequences. “It is clearly the major step forward if his decision is to return to the bench as rapidly as possible,” he said. “This is something he had to have in place.”

The Texas Supreme Court suspended Adams with pay Nov. 22, about three weeks after the 7½-minute video was posted on YouTube by his now-adult daughter. It attracted millions of views and a storm of outrage.

The secretly recorded video showed Adams using a belt on his then-16-year-old daughter in her bedroom because she illegally downloaded music. Aransas County prosecutors said the statute of limitation had passed and that they couldn’t charge the judge with a crime.

In a four-page warning document signed Tuesday, commission Chair Tom Cunningham said the panel concluded Adams’ actions depicted on the video violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and “cast reasonable doubt on his capacity to act impartially as a judge and interfered with the proper performance of his judicial duties.”

The panel said because Adams regularly presided over and decided child custody, abuse and family violence cases, “his private conduct did cast public discredit upon the judiciary and the administration of justice.” The panel also criticized Adams for treatment of lawyers in his courtroom that “fell far below the minimum standards of patient, courteous and dignified courtroom demeanor expected of judicial officials.”

In its investigation of Adams, the commission said 15 attorneys who regularly practiced in his court were interviewed and described him as a good judge, fair and impartial and knowledgeable in the law. Six backed his return to the bench; six thought he no longer could be effective because of the tape. They also said criminal defense attorneys likely would file motions to recuse Adams in their cases if he were to return to the bench.

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  • EstateofDenial

    Once again Texas’ State Commission on Judicial Conduct shows itself as somewhere between impotent and worthless. This warning undoubtedly is good news for the all-too- many judges who engage in an array of misconduct and bad acts. It can also serve to remind judges-to-be or wannabe judges that increasingly with today’s judiciary, character and integrity really don’t count. As long as the legal industry wants the facade of disciplinary action and fights accountability in the form of substantive, punitive action, this attitude held by much of the public will prevail. Of course, the public needs to do its part in demanding more from our legal system.