11/26/03 Is Family Court Judge Off
Mayor Miller has done several things lately that have
just sent me round the bend, but this latest brouhaha is completely bogus.
Mayor's call to judge stirs ethics questions;
Miller cites concern for
child in custody fight, denies bid to sway case
03:14 AM CST
on Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Mayor Laura Miller's call to a state district
judge about a child custody battle has led to questions about whether the
city's top elected official is interfering in litigation.
. . .
The questions should be
whether a Family Court Judge is playing politics and pulling a publicity stunt.
... "We have a serious problem here. I received a
call from Laura Miller, the mayor of Dallas," state District Judge Frances
Harris said at a recent hearing. "I said, 'No, no, no. You can't tell me
anything about this case.' "
Ms. Miller said that she has done
nothing wrong and that she interjected herself into the case because she's a
concerned mother ? not because she's the mayor.
"I was worried about the child," Ms.
Miller said. "If I didn't do anything, I was always going to regret it."
But legal experts said that
public officials should know better than to make such a call and that such
actions could compromise the public trust. ...
This Judge got a call from Laura Miller, mother of three and super bleeding
heart who thinks she can save the World. If she knew something and called
the Judge to ask how she should proceed, what was wrong with that? We have
three city councilmen who practice law in Dallas County Courts every day.
I don't know if he still does, but in his first term Dallas County Commissioner
Mayfield practiced law in Dallas County Courts.
. . .Mayor Laura Miller's call to a state district
judge about a child custody battle has led to questions about whether the
city's top elected official is interfering in litigation.
. . . The judge has questioned
whether Ms. Miller was trying to unduly influence the outcome of a pending
case, calling the mayor's actions "sinister" and "malicious." Judge Harris'
concerns prompted her to call the hearing last month to discuss the mayor's
actions. WFAA-TV (Channel 8) obtained a transcript.
"I want to know why I got a call from
the mayor," Judge Harris said during the hearing. "I've been doing this job
a long time. I have never had any elected official or lawyer call and try to
ex parte me about a case. ... I know this: It's wrong, and I don't know what
to do." ...
Apparently, this Judge has been practicing law too long. She does not say
Miller asked her to rule one way or another. As a human being and a
mother, Miller made an inquiry. "sinister" and "malicious"? Give me
. . .Ms. Miller has waded into a bitter,
longstanding custody dispute that, according to lawyers' calculations, has
cost nearly $500,000 in legal fees. Although the judge and others have
suggested that Ms. Miller overstepped her bounds, she said this week that
she acted appropriately on behalf of a child.
The mayor said that she has known
both parents involved in the case for years and that their children are
Ms. Miller said she became concerned
about the well-being of the children at the center of the dispute after
receiving a long, heartfelt letter from the oldest child, who asked for the
mayor's help in contacting the judge. At the suggestion of her husband,
attorney and state Rep. Steve Wolens, Ms. Miller said she called Judge
Harris, who is Dallas County's presiding family court judge.
"I feel very strongly whether I'm the
mayor or on the City Council or sitting at home baking cookies, if a child
reaches out to me and the child's interests are not being met ... I'm going
to get involved," she said. . . .
What would you have done? It would have been physically impossible for
Laura Miller to ignore that child's request for help.
With her Wonder Woman complex, it is Miller's nature
to believe she can single handedly fix everything. Which is
why she has so much trouble playing hard ball as Mayor and keeps running down
rabbit trails in vainly hoping she can make Beat that Indictment James Fantroy
and his clique like her and play on her team.
... The mayor said she presented the judge with
hypothetical questions about how she should proceed and never specified
which case she was referencing.
. . . According to the hearing transcript, the
judge said it was clear to her which case the mayor was discussing.
. . . Because judges must remain impartial, no one
is permitted to have casual conversations with them about pending cases.
Such conversations, known as ex parte communication, are forbidden by the
legal code of conduct.
If Laura Miller did not identify the case, why would the Judge know which case?
Is Judge Harris only handling one big case?
All Judge Harris had to tell Miller is she would not even hypothetically discuss
any case and to check with her clerk as to the attorneys of record, so Miller
could contact them directly. Judge Harris doesn't seem to be saying Miller
asked her to do anything.
An ex parte statement is considered
prejudicial and biased against one side in a dispute. Experts say that if
such conversations were permitted, the judicial process would be
"We have an adversarial judicial
system and an impartial decision maker ? the judge ? and the system works
best where both sides are not only heard, but hear what the other side is
going to say," said James Alfini, dean of South Texas College of Law in
. . . "Public officials should have
knowledge that this is a wrongdoing," he said.
. . . such intervention is an abuse of
"This is not why this person was
elected to office," said Howard T. Prince II, director of the Center for
Ethical Leadership at the University of Texas at Austin. "That person is
elected as a representative and not for just a select few. That would
undermine faith in the political system."
Boy, that's a stretch. Certainly makes you worry about the lawyers being
churned out these days when their professors have to go so far a field to get a
. . . The city's ethics code does not
specifically address the issue, but one section says public office should
not be used to secure special consideration or treatment.
"A city official or employee may not
use his or her official position to unfairly advance or impede personal
interests by granting or securing, or by attempting to grant or secure, for
any person (including himself or herself) any form of special consideration,
treatment, exemption, or advantage beyond that which is lawfully available
to every other person or organization," according to the code.
Did Laura Miller say "Hey, Judge,
I'm Mayor Laura Miller, and I want you to make a ruling in a child custody case
you're handling."? Do Don Hicks, John Loza or Steve Salazar go before
Dallas County Courts and expect the Judges not to know they are elected
officials -- City of Dallas Councilmen?
. . .
Ms. Keane, the guardian ad litem,
. . . "I, too, have had a phone call from Mayor
Miller," Ms. Keane said. "I hope she spoke more softly to you than she did
. . . The mayor said Ms. Keane avoided her
phone calls and declined her offer to testify as a witness.
. . . Ms. Keane said she had offered to
subpoena Ms. Miller. The mayor said she has since contacted the mother's
attorney, and she plans to testify during the next hearing.
Wow, I had no idea how sensitive women lawyers can be. Laura Miller and I
have had some major disagreements. I guess she respected me enough not to
worry about speaking "softly" to me.
In this case, the biggest mistake Miller may have made is assuming she was
contacting too adult women rather than two delicate Park Cities babes. One
of whom is clearly aware of Daddy's big bucks in this high dollar custody case.
. . . Robert C. Sullivan, attorney for the
father trying to win permanent custody of his children, said Ms. Miller's
intervention in the case was wrong. . . . "It
was very poor judgment on her part to inject herself into ongoing civil
He said any person with knowledge of
child abuse should call CPS ? not a judge overseeing a custody dispute.
That makes no sense. Most people would contact Children's Protective
Services BEFORE there is a case pending in Family Court. Once the case is
in court, why would you contact CPS? Any normal person who believes they
have information relevant to a matter would try to get in touch with the Court
and share that information.
Judge Harris should have simply said "Ms. Miller, I can't talk to you or anyone
else about a case before my bench. Call my clerk, and she can tell you the
names of the attorneys involved in a particular case and you can contact them
If the Judge thought Miller should have contacted CPS, she should have told her
that was the proper procedure. Miller says she did not identify the
Garza, the attorney for the mother in the dispute, declined to discuss the
case. . . . Mr. Sullivan said Ms. Garza has
informed him that Ms. Miller would be listed as a "person with knowledge"
about the case.
Ms. Miller said this was a personal
matter ? not a political one ? and that Judge Harris has overreacted.
"No one will tell you that I used my
title. It was totally immaterial and had nothing to do with City Hall," the
mayor said. "What troubles me is that an average citizen ought to be able to
call and find out how to be involved if they are aware of a situation with a
That's the point. Judge Harris not just overreacted -- she played
politics. This was clearly a stunt to impress the Rich Daddy and embarrass
a Democrat. Republican Judge Harris got to throw stones at two Democrats
with one sling. I am a Republican, but this is embarrassing and it's
Neither Keane nor Judge Harris say Miller used her title when she contacted
... Judge Harris said she had never been contacted
by a mayor, and during the hearing she questioned whether she could continue
to preside over the case.
"I want to tell you right now on this
record: I am extremely upset over the fact that the mayor's injection into
this case may cause a judge who knows more about this case and has had more
experience with this to be required to step away," she said.
Oh, grow up, woman. "I am
extremely upset"?? God, I stay extremely upset about all kinds of stuff.
It's hard to buy her concern for this case when Judge Harris recused herself
from it 2 YEARS AGO.
The judge had recused herself from the custody dispute in July 2001, but
the case came back to her after the mother asked for a motion to modify the
father's temporary custody. Records don't show the original recusal, so she
filed another on Nov. 4 ? after the hearing about her conversation with Ms.
Miller. A judge does not have to disclose the reason for a recusal.
Judge Harris did not want to hear this case in 2001, and she does not want to be
in the crosshairs of a Rich Daddy in 2003. If Miller did anything wrong,
it was to play into the hands of a Judge who may have been looking for any
excuse not to make a potential campaign contributor mad at her.
...During the hearing, Judge Harris deemed Ms.
Miller's phone calls "a serious problem" and said the matter was further
complicated by her husband's prominence.
"The problem is not only is she the
mayor, but her husband is a state rep who sets our budget," the judge said.
"This isn't good. This
|State Representatives do not set the salaries for individual judges or budgets
for individual courts. County Commissioners also set Court budgets, but
lawyers serving on as County Commissioners are not prohibited from practicing
law before judges for whom they have budget control.
Contacting a judge about a case is way out of line. If there
is evidence to present, the court room is the place to do it.
Steve's job is to manipulate juries.
If they think the judge is not going their way, to either 'influence'
the judge or compromise them to get them to recuse. Read the DO article on
ex-Judge John Marshall's run-in with his firm.
Laura knew exactly what she was doing
with her 'hypotheticals'. So did the judge. So,
she took advantage of it.
Laura Miller is the Mayor of Dallas and has absolutely nothing to do with County
or State District court budgets.
|If you had been remotely taking Judge Harris seriously as you read the story by
Colleen McCain Nelson and Terri Langford, Judge Harris really exposed how lame
and shallow were her protestations with that business about "her husband is a
state rep who sets our budget".
As embarrassing as this is to me as a Republican, I am more embarrassed that two
women in positions of authority, Judge Harris and Guardian ad Litem Keane, would
pull a stunt like this. It is still so hard for some people to take women
When a long-time Judge plays these kind of "girl" games, it
diminishes all of us.
About Laura Miller's call to the judge. In theory, I
agree with you, BUT, after you have put yourself "out there" the way Ms.
Miller has, it is very hard to separate the person from the position.
You nailed it perfectly when
you pointed out her need to "save the world". However, even when you take
all of that into consideration, in this day and age AND in the climate that
Laura Miller has created around almost everything she says and does, even
the slightest "appearance" of impropriety puts her at risk of
In a more ideal world, it would not
be this way.
YOU are such a good friend to
try and keep things in perspective for Laura Miller. I can honestly say
that you tend to do this for everybody else as well.
In your shoes, I would not be nearly
as fair and objective as you have been over the years since this BAD DEAL
made what you are doing so vitally necessary.
If there has been any abuse of power in this matter, it has been on the part of
Judge Frances Harris. She should apologize to Dallas County Republican
She should recuse herself from this case, not because Laura Miller contacted her
but because she used a simple inquiry for a publicity stunt and as an excuse to
get out of a case she did not want to preside over.