Complaint against visiting judge may lead to wider review

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Waller County Judge

Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis is calling for a review of how visiting judges are selected, following a letter from the county’s chief public defender questioning whether former judge Jim Wallace should be allowed to hear cases again, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Wallace, who left his post in 2018, was one of 11 judges admonished by state officials in August for allegations that they ordered hearing officers to deny no-cost bail to thousands of low-income defendants, violating judicial canon, the newspaper reported.

The letter from Chief Public Defender Alex Bunin outlines other disciplinary actions against Wallace, including allegations he spoke inappropriately to a female defense attorney during a trial.

Wallace has disputed some of the allegations and argued other actions were taken out of context.

“They’re bringing up a bunch of stuff that’s totally not true and inaccurate,” he told the Chronicle. “I’m a judge that comes from the old school, but I’m not gonna be intimidated by the public defender’s office.” 

The regional administrative judge, who approves visiting appointments, said Wallace qualifies because he was disciplined for lower-level infractions, the newspaper reported.

Ellis said Bunin raises fair questions on whether judges who left the bench or were voted out of office should still be allowed to preside over local courtrooms. Ellis said he would add the issue for discussion at the next commissioners court meeting and plans to seek advice from the county attorney, although he told the Chronicle it’s unclear what changes could be brought by county-level officials.

“I’m not sure what can be done,” he said, “but I’m sure what cannot be — and that’s for us to turn a blind eye.”

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