Claim: Conflicts abound between attorney and family court judge

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Harris County judge

HOUSTON — A judge in Harris County who has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from high-profile divorce lawyer Bobby Newman has multiple other conflicts of interest with the attorney and must be disqualified from a case that Newman is arguing before the judge, the opposing counsel said in a motion filed this week.

Judge James Lombardino did not disclose that Newman represented Lombardino’s son in a divorce case in which $100,000 in fees are still owed to Newman, nor did he disclose that he awarded Newman $460,000 in attorney fees in three cases since 2016, attorney John LaGrappe said in the filing.

LaGrappe compared the “smell of potential corruption in that court” to a Louisiana swamp.

“When you go over the Atchafalaya Bridge, it’s a 20 mile bridge and it smells,” LaGrappe told The Texas Monitor. “And when you’re in that courtroom, you can sense what’s going on when Mr. Newman is in front of the bench. I think the District Attorney’s Office should investigate the relationship between Bobby Newman and Judge Lombardino.”

The judge must decide today if he will step down. If not, a hearing will be scheduled to decide the matter.

Neither Newman nor Lombardino responded to messages left for them Friday morning seeking comment.

LaGrappe is opposite Newman before Lombardino in a divorce case. LaGrappe believes Newman has gotten favorable treatment by being in front of Lombardino in court.

LaGrappe said he was warned by other attorneys about the alleged cozy relationship between Newman and Lombardino.

From LaGrappe’s motion:

[S]everal experienced attorneys have approached counsel and warned me of a relationship between Mr. Newman and Judge Lombardino and have told him counsel that [LaGrappe’s client] has no chance of success because Judge Lombardino demonstrates bias in favor of Mr. Newman and his clients because of the financial and personal relationship they share. Each attorney voiced fear of retaliation if their identities or statements were disclosed.

“It’s very wrong,” LaGrappe said. “It’s the worst kept secret at the Harris County Family law Center that there is a relationship between Judge Lombardino and Mr. Newman, and it impacts cases that Judge Lombardino presides over and that Mr. Newman is involved in.”

Former ABC13 investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino has been researching issues at Harris County Family Court and uncovered what appear to be conflicts of interest between Lombardino and Newman.

It was on Dolcefino’s research that LaGrappe based much of his motion to remove Lombardino from the case.

“There have been a lot of facts that have come out that show the nature of the relationship,” LaGrappe said. “When you’re dealing with issues of child custody and who raises a child, it’s very important. I think when a mother goes into a courtroom or a father goes into a courtroom, they should have their relationship with their children decided by a fair and impartial jurist.”

From LaGrappe’s motion:

Bobby Newman was representing Judge James Lombardino’s son, David Lombardino in a highly contested divorce that involves property and custody disputes. The divorce was filed in May of 2016. The case went to trial in February of 2018 but the trial abruptly recessed. The case went to mediation with Linda Thompson and was settled. Entry was set for March 29, 2018. Court records reveal that Mr. Lombardino’s original attorney was Joseph Indelicato and at some point Mr. Newman became his lead attorney. Court records do not reveal when Mr. Newman entered as counsel. At no point since September of 2016, did Judge Lombardino or Mr. Newman inform undersigned counsel of Mr. Newman’s representation of Judge Lombardino’s son…
It revealed that a former paralegal, Kimberly Cardenas whom was employed by Mr. Newman’s law firm had heard statements by Mr. Newman that he was not being paid for his services for David Lombardino.
On February 5, 2018, Mr. Newman filed a Preliminary Sworn Inventory and Proposed Property Division on behalf of David Lombardino that listed a debt of $104,443.86 owed to Mr. Newman for trial fees. It also listed an “anticipated loan” for $100,000.00 to be received from Carol Lombardino to pay the debt owed to Mr. Newman.

LaGrappe also questions the attorneys fees Lombardino has doled out to Newman.

From LaGrappe’s motion:

Since October of 2016, Judge Lombardino has awarded Mr. Newman $460,000 in attorney fees in three cases in less than a eighteen month period in three cases.

“It’s unusual for someone to be awarded that amount of attorneys fees,” LaGrappe said. “In those cases, he never awarded anything less than Mr. Newman asked for. He gave him exactly, precisely what he asked for.”

LaGrappe also has issues with Newman’s campaign contributions to Lombardino.

From LaGrappe’s motion:

Mr. Newman and Judge Lombardino’s financial relationship goes back at least eight years whereby Mr. Newman has personally donated the maximum contribution limits during every election cycle and his law firm and various family members have made significant donations as well. Additionally, he and his law firm have also hosted fundraisers for Judge Lombardino’s judicial campaigns.

And the attorney fees that were awarded to Newman?

From LaGrappe’s motion:

The fees were awarded to Mr. Newman six weeks after he hosted a political event at the Federal Grill for Judge Lombardino. On June 9, 2017, Mr. Newman hosted an event that raised $71,250.00 for Judge Lombardino. Mr. Newman personally contributed a maximum donation of $5,000.00. (Lombardino Campaign Report) His law partner Earle Lilly contributed $3,250.00 on the same day.

LaGrappe said he is not afraid to rock the system.

“With me, I’m going to do what I think is right,” he said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.

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Trent is an award-winning editor and reporter, who has previously worked The Denver Post, The (Nashville) Tennessean, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. Most recently, he was the investigative producer for Houston’s KTRK-TV ABC-13. He was also the editor and founder of Texas Watchdog, a ground-breaking news group that paved the way for this project. Trent is a teacher of journalism skills, and has shown hundreds of reporters and citizen-journalists how to use public records, databases and journalism tools to keep a watchful eye on their own local government.

8 COMMENTS

  1. It is likely corrupt. Follow the money trail of attorney contributions to judicial campaigns and then look up the percentage of times the contributing attorney wins when in that Judge’s courtroom. Its public record. I have done this myself. I promise you likely will not be surprised by what you find. It is a complete miscarriage of Justice.

  2. This is hardly a divorce case. This case is about a wild single unemployed mother with a major drinking and violent issues unable to properly care for her child. The only thing that smells of corruption are the lies being told by the unemployed woman and her lawyer.

  3. Great idea. I know there are judges that I prefer not appearing in front of. I should probably donate the max to their campaigns and get opposing counsel to recuse them as well.

    • Discipline should be reserved for violation of the rules and law. What is alleged here is that Newman donated money to Lombardino’s campaign, raised money for him, and represented his adult son. All of which were public record and are totally legal. But if Lombardino recused himself, the case stays in Harris County, where Newman has donated to every judge in every family court, with the exception of the newly created 507th, and the 280th, which only handles protective orders.

      • agreed, there is no violation as long as he adhered to the rules regarding campaign contributions. everything is alleged and everything is public record. what it really sounds like is that dolcefino, who WAS an investigative journalist, is trying to threaten a judge to rule in the favor of a client who paid dolcefino to investigate alleged corruption. the threat to a judge should be investigated and NOT by a washed up IJ but the harris county DA’s office

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