An associate judge has resigned her post of 16 years after Wednesday’s release of an opinion by the Committee on Judicial Ethics.
The opinion titled “Practice of Law by Part-time Judge” states a family law jurist cannot also practice family law as an attorney in the same county or in surrounding counties that use the same appeals courts.
Suzanne Schwab Radcliffe was appointed as an associate judge in 1997 to hear child abuse cases and earned $38,000 annually with no benefits.
“I was working for 16 years under a signed agreement by all the judges who heard family law cases, allowing my private cases to be transferred to their courts to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” Radcliffe said. “In all the years, I only had two attorneys complain, and I immediately withdrew from those cases. It is because of the new opinion that I am resigning immediately.”
Commissioners likely to vote on contract
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said county commissioners would likely vote to end Radcliffe’s contract during a specially called Monday meeting and then reauthorize a contract for another appointed judge.
Family Court Judge Janis L. Yarbrough of Galveston’s 306th District Court said her predecessor, Judge Susan P. Baker, appointed Radcliffe after receiving a grant to pay a part-time judge to hear cases involving Child Protective Services.
“They agreed other county courts would transfer their CPS cases to county court 1 and county court 2,” Yarbrough said. “county court 3 had not yet been created.”
The commission continued the contract after the grant expired, Yarbrough said.
Dupuy requested opinion
Judge Christopher Dupuy of Galveston’s County Court at Law No. 3 said he requested the opinion in the fall. Dupuy held Radcliffe in contempt in November, claiming there was a conflict of interest in her dual role as a family law attorney and judge. Dupuy ordered Radcliffe disqualified from a divorce proceeding in his court and held her in contempt, but the contempt order was reversed on appeal.
Dupuy said he single-handedly spearheaded a drive to remove cronyism and friendship from the county’s judicial decisions.
The statewide ethics opinion made public Wednesday was the first one issued since 2009.
“In essence, what has been transpiring for more than a decade in Galveston County has been unethical,” Dupuy said.
When questioned by other lawyers in the past about the matter, Yarbrough told them to ask for an opinion, a mandamus or seek an appeal, she said. Family law attorney Greg Enos, who has practiced for 27 years, raised the issue last summer, Yarbrough said.
“I have been the lone wolf in the wilderness arguing for years with Yarbrough about this,” Enos said. “They should have done this a long time ago.”
Opinion a surprise
Radcliffe called the committee’s opinion a surprise. She had one raise in 16 years and had no choice but to continue her law practice, she said.
“I find it questionable that I have practiced in front of Dupuy for two years before he suddenly had a problem with this,” Radcliffe said.
Radcliffe also said she was saddened that she would have to resign because she did the job not for pay but because she was passionate about helping children.
“There is a reason why the Texas Commission for Children advocate for specialized abuse and neglect courts with judges who are experienced in the area,” Radcliffe said.
Article Credit: Galveston County Daily News - Texas's Oldest Newspaper - http://www.galvestondailynews.com/news/local_news/article_979ef464-70e4-11e2-a89a-001a4bcf6878.html