TX Judge Resigns After Helping Prosecutor

One of the many ways our criminal justice system is screwed up is that judges, especially local elected judges, think their job is to gain convictions. Many of them even run for office using their conviction rate, which should disqualify anyone from ever being a judge. But here’s a judge who actually helped a prosecutor during a case:

Texas Judge Elizabeth Coker allegedly sent private texts to a prosecutor during a trial she was presiding over, in order to help that attorney obtain a guilty verdict. Although Judge Coker has not admitted to these allegations, she signed a “VOLUNTARY AGREEMENT TO RESIGN FROM JUDICIAL OFFICE IN LIEU OF DISCIPLINARY ACTION” on Monday rather than face further sanction.

According to Coker’s agreement to resign, she allegedly texted then-Assistant District Attorney Kaycee Jones during a trial “to suggest questions for the prosecutor to ask during the trial; to ensure that a witness was able to refresh his memory and rehabilitate his testimony . . . and to discuss legal issues pertinent to the case.” Despite Judge Coker’s alleged breach of judicial impartiality, Jones was unsuccessful in obtaining a conviction.

To make things worse, Jones, the prosecutor in this case, is now a judge too. This is another reason why judicial elections should be done away with in every state.

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  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    “This is another reason why judicial elections should be done away with in every state.”

    The alternative to judicial elections is to have judges appointed for life by an executive. As bad as elected judges can be, at least there is a way to remove them from office every couple of years.

  • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

    Gregory: No it isn’t: They can be appointed by a panel and serve a fixed term or stand for retention elections. For instance, in Iowa and several other states, a judicial committee comes up with a short list of candidates, the governor picks one and they get a yes-or-no vote on keeping them every four years.

  • Rob Wolfe

    I like the fixed term model because i think that retention elections are just as bad from an adverse outcome point of view. See what happened to the appeals court judges in Iowa that made it one of the first states to have Same sex marriage.

  • John Pieret

    The alternative to judicial elections is to have judges appointed for life by an executive. As bad as elected judges can be, at least there is a way to remove them from office every couple of years.

    It doesn’t actually work that way, though. Judicial elections (except, sometimes, in elections for higher courts) are such low-key affairs (there are restrictions on judicial campainging) that the elections are almost always decided on party lines. In short, instead of some executive (who might be held responsible for at least spectacularly bad appointments), judges are, for all practical purposes, appointed by local party officials, most of whom are not accountable to the public at large.

  • StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Question is was he right or wrong when it comes to what is Just?

    Justice – the just outcome matters and should,be priority no. 1.

    The system does need reforming to guarantee justice happens.

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    @StevoR – How does the judge know what is just until the judge has heard the entire case?

    I hope that you aren’t employed in any capacity in the legal system.

  • Artor

    So the judge has resigned, but what about the prosecutors who were receiving these illegal communiques? I’m sure this wasn’t the only case she did this with. I hope there are some prosecutors investigated, and some convictions overturned.

  • StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @6. sigurd jorsalfar : I thought he had.

    And no.

    But do you disagree that justice – getting that right – is what matters?

  • StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    And not technically by the exact pedantic letter justice but proper Justice as in the right Just thing.

  • dmcclean

    StevoR, I don’t know if you are familiar with the US justice system, but it is not the judge’s role to decide what is the “right just thing” in such a case. It is instead the role of the judge to act as an impartial umpire of sorts while both sides present their case to the jurors, members of the community selected largely at random for just that trial, to decide what is the right outcome.

    More generally, procedural due process is a very important part of justice, even if it may occasionally result in an “unjust” result in one particular case or another.

  • cthulhusminion

    It makes me wonder if the only reason she was allowed to resign was to stop every case she’s overseen being challenged. I’m sure many will be but with no actual finding of misconduct, getting convictions overturned will be harder.

  • maddog1129

    some cases are tried to juries, but in other cases, a jury trial is waived and the matter is tried to the court as the finder of fact.

    Depending on how it is done and what is asked, if the trial court has questions, it might be possible to take the witness as the court’s own witness and put questions to the witness … so long as it is not done in a partisan manner. Sending secret texts to one party, and not the other, is ex parte, biased communication. Asking the same or similar questions to a witness in open court, with the opportunity of all the other parties to cross-examine the witness as to the court’s questions, might be okay in an unusual case. There is still the danger that, by intervening, the court will have put its thumb on the scales and favor one side over the other. Generally, the best course is to let the parties put on their best case themselves. But it is not necessarily improper in all cases for the court to conduct its own inquiry,

  • D. C. Sessions

    StevoR, I don’t know if you are familiar with the US justice system, but it is not the judge’s role to decide what is the “right just thing” in such a case. It is instead the role of the judge to act as an impartial umpire of sorts while both sides present their case to the jurors, members of the community selected largely at random for just that trial, to decide what is the right outcome.

    “Balls and strikes,” in the John Roberts model of jurisprudence? I see some problems there.

  • Jordan Genso

    StevoR,

    I think the flaw in your position is that you think the justice system should be an “ends justify the means” process, rather than a “means justify the ends” process. When it comes to many government functions (regulations, taxes, etc), using a “ends justify the means” argument is appropriate, but the justice system should be (and is) a “means justify the ends” process.

    As long as we have “innocent until proven guilty”, we can’t guarantee that justice will always be reached. But that is preferable to the consequences of eliminating the presumption of innocence.

  • magistramarla

    Does everyone remember the Texas judge who switched parties recently?

    Obviously, the GOP leaders here are having a hissy fit over it.

    This OP is pretty revealing.

    http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Judge-s-party-switch-was-about-self-interest-4926707.php

  • haitied

    Unless I’m mistaken the original article was kind of Contradictory. The judge had a serious ethical problem with what people were asking if him, so it’s all a political move? Cause he’s scared and wants to run unopposed? how can someone move fRom that buildup to that conclusion?

  • haitied

    Nevermind he’s givIng to run against the same person he’s avoiding in the primary, in the actual election

  • psweet

    StevoR, the problem with your argument is that it assumes that we can know what true Justice would be. The point of a trial is to determine if the facts of a case warrant a conviction. If the trial process is corrupted, then we lose any semblance of confidence in that process, and therefore we have no way of knowing what Justice really would be. This is the same reason for all of the appeals that drag the process out — we know that we make mistakes, we know that in the justice system a mistake can mean an innocent person losing their freedom or even their life, and so we (hypothetically) do whatever we need to in order to catch those mistakes. Victim’s rights sounds like a great cry, but if in the stampede to help the victim gain justice, we ourselves commit a further injustice, how is justice served?

  • markdowd

    Why isn’t something like this a criminal offense?

  • D. C. Sessions

    StevoR, think of the legal system the same way you would any other process. You have a desired outcome metric (Justice) and a mechanism (Law.) Read some Deming (or successors) on quality assurance: tinkering with the output is not a reliable means to achieve it for all sorts of reasons. If you want better results, change the process.

  • lofgren

    Other posters have already made quality points against StevoR’s simplistic statement, but I have to say that I can certainly empathize with the judge. It must be agonizing to watch a trial go the wrong way and an obviously innocent defendant go to prison or an obviously guilty person go free. Judges are often privy to information that the jury are not (sometimes because the judge themselves ruled it inadmissible), or they may simply know that one of the lawyers did a bad job of presenting the evidence so that the jury could take the right message from it. We have a process and it is in place for a reason, but like all processes it can be difficult to follow when you realize that some amount of failure is going to occur, and is in fact expected, as a direct result of the process.

  • M can help you with that.

    D. C. Sessions @ 20:

    If you want better results, change the process.

    There was another post where StevoR condescended to grace us all with his wisdom about how the current legal system is entirely too geared towards the supposed rights of the guilty (who the rest of us, in our objectively immoral criminal-philia, might call “the accused”) instead of the inalienable right of victims of crime and their relatives to ascertain guilt without the interference of such trivialities and technicalities as standards of proof and evidence.

    In short: if you support even the current standards of evidence, and don’t insist that it’s entirely too difficult to put uninvolved people to death based on emotive testimony alone, you’re by definition pro-criminal and your opinion can be disregarded.

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    “Judges are often privy to information that the jury are not (sometimes because the judge themselves ruled it inadmissible)…”

    They’re supposed to be like priests and penitents in that regard. If they can’t at least appear to be impartial to that extent then they should not be on the bench.

    “… or they may simply know that one of the lawyers did a bad job of presenting the evidence so that the jury could take the right message from it.”

    That’s the legal system’s problem and it is not solved by helping bad prosecutors (I would guess them to be about 99% of the recipients of such aid) or the occasional defense lawyer (that WOULD be a “man bites dog” story) win a case that they aren’t doing their job in trying.

    “Nevermind he’s givIng to run against the same person he’s avoiding in the primary, in the actual election.”

    That IS one way to avoid getting primaried by someone who’s such an asshole or idiot that they can only win a general election if YOU are not involved in the process.

  • Reptile Dysfunction

    So…somebody got railroaded by Kaycee Jones?

  • freemage

    Actually, if a judge is aware that one side or the other is muffing it horribly, they do, in most jurisdictions I’ve seen, have the option of either declaring a mistrial or even overruling a jury verdict. Of course, these are overt actions which can then be evaluated and held up for scrutiny. This particular judge instead opted to take a covert approach in an attempt to be shielded from criticism. Gutless, spineless and craven–the courts would’ve been better off without his entire career.