It’s been known for a while now that Judge Elizabeth Coker was caught texting suggested questions to the prosecutors in criminal trials. The State Bar judge handed down a rare (for prosecutors) public reprimand to now District Judge Kaycee Jones for her role in the mess. Ms. Jones, then a prosecutor, received texts suggesting lines of questioning from Judge Coker while she observed trial. Ms. Jones then relayed the suggested questions to the lead prosecutor on the case. Ms. Jones signed an agreed judgment citing her with professional misconduct for violating the bar against ex parte communications (one side communicating with the judge without the other side being present or at least given the opportunity to be present).
From the Houston Chronicle coverage: Jim Alfini, an ethics expert from the South Texas College of Law, said the bar’s action was a “mere slap on the wrist for a serious violation.” “Jones was an admitted accomplice to a serious ethics violation…They went very easy on her. I could imagine a much more severe sanction.”
No kidding. It’s bad enough when everyone in the courtroom looks at your client like they must be guilty of what their charged with or, if not that, of something… But hey, that’s just human nature. We have to fight against that. It’s bad enough that the prosecutor “represents your elected district attorney” and is “seeking justice” (implying that my role is to prevent him/her from seeking justice). It’s bad enough that they get to go first and last, that they sit closest to the jury, that their verdict (“guilty”) goes at the top of the verdict form rather than underneath “not guilty” where it logically should go, that they are usually assigned to the court they prosecute out of (giving them the distinct advantage of being in there every day, of knowing the unwritten rules of the courtroom, of even being considered part of the team – whereas as the defense lawyer I’m often the outsider). All of that (and much more) is bad enough, but when the judge and the prosecutor are actually in secret cahoots against my client, when they’re really plotting how to get him or her, that’s just too much. Seriously? A public reprimand? How about a disbarment? What’s more serious than actually cheating justice? I would think everyone could agree that anyone who cheats (prosecutor, judge, defense lawyer…) should get his or her license yanked.
Hat tip to Grits for Breakfast (my usual news source for all things criminal justice) for his coverage of this case.