Judge Joan Campbell- Good Riddance.

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Friends –

Last week I read Brian Rogers’ glowing article about Judge Joan Campbell & her retirement. Based on the article, for a moment I thought maybe I was reading about a different Judge Joan Campbell then the one that the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, (HCCLA) fought. In the end, just like the rest of us, she should be remembered honestly, warts and all.

I Remember her and she had a few warts.

On November 8, 2006, she was the first Harris County Judge that HCCLA filed a Judicial Misconduct Complaint against. I remember this because I was the President of HCCLA at the time. The Board of HCCLA voted to file the complaint after investigating the matter. As President, it was my duty to sign and file the Judicial Misconduct Complaint against Judge Campbell.  The complaint was filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The case that gave rise to the Judicial  Misconduct Complaint against Campbell was State of Texas v. Walker, Cause number 165585. The story fairly well defines Judge Joan Campbell.

 Walker’s family had made a $10,000 bond and he had appeared in court as required. On April 20, 2006, Walker appeared before Judge Campbell in the 248th Criminal District Court. The Court reset his case until May 5, 2006. The reset form indicated “To Hire Atty”.

 On Friday, May 5, 2006,Walker timely appeared in court as required. He had not yet hired an attorney. Judge Campbell called Walker to the bench. Upon learning that Walker had not yet hired a lawyer, Judge Joan Campbell sua sponte raised  Walker’s $10,000 bond to $100,000 and had him taken into custody. Keep in mind,Walker had not violated a single condition of bond. To the contrary, Walker  had complied with all bond conditions. Thus, there was no legal basis for Judge Campbell’s actions. There was no legal basis for Judge Campbell to revoke Walker’s bond, rob him of his liberty and lock him up.Walker  spent the weekend in jail, even though there was no legal basis for him to be in custody.

 On Monday, May 8, 2006, outstanding criminal defense lawyer Mr.  Victor Blaine appeared in court on behalf ofWalker. Mr. Blaine had been retained byWalker’s family over the weekend. Mr. Blaine sought the reinstatement of  Walker’s bond and Mr. Walker’s immediate release from illegal custody. That however did not occur. After illegally incarcerating Walker, Judge Campbell had gone on vacation.Campbell could not be bothered while on vacation, and she had left the visiting judge no instructions. So Walker  sat in jail for the next week, notwithstanding the fact, there was still no legal basis for him to be incarcerated.

 On the following Monday, May 15, 2006, defense counsel Mr. Victor Blaine again returned to court seeking the release of Mr. Walker. By this time,Campbell was back from her vacation and had resumed her perch on the bench. On Monday, May 15, 2006, upon request by Victor Blaine, Campbell reinstated Walker’s $10,000 bond and released him from his illegal confinement.

 Mr. Walker was illegally confined in the Harris County Jail from May 5, 2006, through May 15, 2006. He spent 10 days in jail as the direct result of Judge Campbell’s illegal revocation order. She revoked his bond because he had no lawyer.  It is illegal for State judges to revoke a defendant’s bond for not hiring a lawyer. Yet that is precisely what Judge Campbell did. You might even say the proof was in the pudding. Between her illegal bond revocation on May 5th and her reinstatement of the  bond on May 15th, only one thing had happened on the case.Walker had hired counsel, Mr. Victor Blaine. Judge Campbell reinstated the illegally revoked bond only after Walker had complied with Campbell’s illegally imposed bond condition.  

 About three months later,Walker got some good news. On August 25, 2006, as a result of the good work of the esteemed Victor Blaine,Walker’s case was dismissed. Thus, even though the charges were dismissed, and even thoughWalker  was found guilty of no  crime,Walker spent 10 days in the Harris  County Jail.Walker  spent 10 days in jail, not because he broke the law, but because Judge Campbell broke the law. That is why HCCLA filed it’s first ever Judicial Misconduct Complaint against Judge Joan Campbell. She broke the law and someone else went to jail for 10 days.  S0 yes, I remember Judge Joan Campbell.

 I remember that in 2006, word leaked about the impending Judicial Misconduct Complaint. I was in the 248th and Judge Campbell asked me to approach. The subject of the impending Complaint soon arose.Campbell did her best to persuade me that she had done nothing wrong. She offered no legitimate reason for revoking Walker’s bond. What she apparently did not realize was that HCCLA had already investigated the matter, had already interviewed the parties, taken statements and  obtained certified copies of the Court records. The court records alone confirmed the ugly sequence of events.

 And then there was the ham-handed attempt to bully me out of filing the Judicial Misconduct Complaint against Campbell. Some  of my HCCLA colleagues will recall this story, as I related it to them shortly after it happened.  I was having an innocuous back hall conversation with Judge George Godwin, the former presiding judge of the 174th Criminal District Court. I always liked George Godwin.  We were having a friendly chat when Judge Godwin, suddenly brought up the topic of judges sticking together. In the middle of a friendly conversation, without any segue, Judge Godwin  said to me, that any attack by the defense bar on his brethren or “sistren” of the judiciary, would be viewed as an attack  on all of them. As there was no segue, I was admittedly caught of guard by Judge Godwin’s comment. The  conversation came to a screeching halt and  I left. Initially,   I remember being humored by the use of the word sistren. Frankly I thought that it wasn’t even a word and George Godwin had just made it up. But that was not the case. It was the right word. I looked it up and found that it is an obsolete noun for sisters.  After hearing Godwin’s “Judicial Nato Speech”, I thought, if the judges think that I will be bullied out of filling a legitimate Judicial Misconduct Complaint, they do not know me and they do not know HCCLA.  If anything, Godwin’s comments confirmed my deeply felt belief, that as lawyers we must be willing to stand up to judge’s who engage in unethical or illegal actions. So, as was my duty as then President of HCCLA, I filed the Judicial  Misconduct Complaint against Campbell.

After I filed the complaint against Campbell, not a  lot changed in the 248th. In 2007, Campbell denied an Army veteran a court appointed lawyer even though he was indigent. In 2007, she allowed another visiting judge to threaten to incarcerate this same veteran for not hiring a lawyer, notwithstanding the veteran’s indigence. That same year Campbell allowed a visiting judge to jail another woman for not hiring a lawyer. That woman was only released when the Honorable Belinda Hill intervened.

In 2007, a group of defense lawyers went to meet with Campbell, about the illegal bond revocations in her court.  This group of defense lawyers included then HCCLA President Pat McCann, Katherine Kase of Texas Defender Services, former District Court Judge Jay Burnett, then Defender Editor Shawna Reagin, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association Director Stan Schneider, former HCCLA  board member Sean Buckley and myself.  Campbell declined to speak with us, and refused to allow us to approach the bench. She referred to all of us, including our duly elected HCCLA President as “a group of cheerleaders” and “junior high”.

Last year, in 2012, under the leadership of President Earl Musick, HCCLA filed its fifth Judicial Misconduct complaint.( Thank you George Godwin for the motivational speech!!).  This Complaint was filed  against visiting Judge Robert Jones. On a Friday, Judge Jones illegally  revoked a woman’s bond after she advised him her lawyer was out of town. Jones was visiting and  sitting on Judge Herb Ritchie’s bench.  To Judge Ritchie’s credit, when Judge Ritchie returned to the bench on Monday and learned of Judge Jones’ illegal  bond revocation, Judge Ritchie immediately reinstated the woman’s illegally revoked bond.   
President Earl Musick  & I personally visited with Judge Ritchie, Judge Belinda Hill, Judge Underwood, and  other judges about Judge Jones’ illegal bond revocation and HCCLA’s Judicial Misconduct Complaint against Jones. Some judges indicated to Earl and me that they would not allow Robert Jones to sit as a visiting judge in their court. They did not want to be party to his illegal actions. These judges, demonstrated that there are plenty of good judges around. What did Judge Joan Campbell do even after the Judicial Misconduct Complaint was filed against Robert Jones? Judge Campbell continued to invite Judge Jones to sit on her bench. While other judges refused to allow him to sit, Judge Campbell extended a warm embrace to Judge Robert Jones,  another abusive judge. Even after the complaint was filed against Jones, as might be expected, HCCLA continued to receive complaints about Jones illegally revoking bonds while sitting on Campbell’s bench. Last year, I personally interviewed a young lawyer who witnessed  yet another illegal  bond revocation, by Jones in the 248th. HCCLA’s Complaint against Jones was supplemented by a statement from this young lawyer.

For at least seven years Campbell or her designees illegally revoked defendant’s bonds. There is no way for anyone to calculate how many bonds were illegally revoked. The practice seems to have gone on unabbated.

People are certainly entitled to their opinions. And reasonable minds can always differ. So some may choose to remember Judge Joan Campbell as some great  jurist. Loyalty to a friend is certainly an admirable quality.  But I submit, facts trump opinion when it comes to understanding reality. In this world there is something called reality and it is not subjective. It’s based on cold fact. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone whose ever been shot at. Ask anyone who has ever fallen into a crevasse at night on a glaciated mountain. Ask anyone who has every been illegally confined for 10 days in the dank  Harris County Jail because a Judge cared not to follow the law. Reality is not a matter of opinion.
Facts define reality. As John Adams said facts are stubborn things. The undisputed Facts are that Campbell abused her office, abused  indigents who came before her and allowed others to do the same. That is why HCCLA filed a complaint against her. The complaint was based on fact, not opinion.

 Others may choose to remember Judge Campbell as a fair jurist. That is their right.

As for me, I will remember:
The defendants she abused,
The insults she hurled,
The disrespect  she showed HCCLA & the Defense Bar,
And the liberty she stole and she allowed to be stolen under her watch.

Damn Judge Campbell for her  abuses and damn all judges who abuse the poor & the powerless.

Robb Fickman, Houston

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  • http://www.pauljsmithlaw.com Paul J. Smith

    Robert;

    Judge Jones presided over Kerry Cook’s second or third capital murder charge, (I believe it was the second one). Rocket Rosen and/or Paul Nugent and Kerry I suppose would not speak fondly about Judge Jones, and although I don’t know that for certain,, I am just guessing.

    My point is this, judges in my area, Hill country are allegedly holding some defendants in contempt for not having an attorney when they are ordered to hire counsel. I have not run into that on any clients I have represented, I just hear that through the members of the local bar.

    Quite an aberration of justice, or so it would appear.

    Paul J. Smith

  • Cam

    I am a retired law enforcement professional of 37 years. Although I have never seen consistent bench abuses as you speak of, I have witnessed many similar abuses over the years by sitting as well as visiting judges. However, in my case no one responsible for taking action against them had the courage to challenge the tyrants. They have all now retired without consequence.
    My hat is off to you.

  • Drew

    It sounds like you have some lawyers who want to try help folks. Most people hold lawyers below crooked used car dealers. There should be some who will help folks file Title 42 lawsuits against the judges who do these things.

  • Mary Cone

    Great article Robert about very cruel behavior. I have always wondered how some of those judges sleep at night. After reading the paper today maybe you should be checking judges who text from the bench during trial. You never know!

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