Top Harris Co regional judge: No hearing needed after conflict of interest claim

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John LaGrappe, attorney at law
Attorney John LaGrappe

HOUSTON — Defense attorney John LaGrappe was denied a motion on behalf of his client that would have pushed a potential conflict of interest between a Harris County Family Court judge and a high-profile divorce attorney into the public eye.

At issue: A judge who has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from divorce lawyer Bobby Newman also has multiple other conflicts of interest with the attorney and must be disqualified from a case that Newman is arguing before the judge, LaGrappe argued.

Judge Susan Brown, who oversees the 11th Administrative Judicial Region of the State of Texas — making her the top judge in robes in the region — ruled that Judge James Lombardino did not have to recuse himself from a divorce trial in which Newman and LaGrappe are facing off.

“I have appeared in front of Judge Brown on many occasions on behalf of clients for nearly two decades,” LaGrappe said. “It has been my experience that Judge Brown has displayed unimpeachable judicial integrity that embodies the finest ideals a jurist should possess. However, I fundamentally disagree with Judge Brown’s interpretation of the statute that governs the procedure which motions to disqualify or recuse or to be heard.”

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, LaGrappe said in the filing.

In a previous Texas Monitor story LaGrappe described the courtroom:

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.”

Brown could not be reached Monday afternoon. Lombardino could not be reached. Newman did not return a message left for him seeking comment.

From Brown’s order: LaGrappe’s client “argues that Judge Lombardino should be recused because Mr. Newman has donated funds to the judge’s election campaign and hosted fundraisers for the jurist. This argument is without merit.”

Also from her order: “(T)he motion does not complain that the trial judge has a bias against” LaGrappe’s client “but makes the broad allegation that he is biased in favor of opposing counsel. Such a bias, if it existed does not meet the rule’s requirements that a recusal motion must state with detail” showcasing the bias and conflicts of interest that exist.

LaGrappe said he was simply fighting on behalf of his client Kora Jean Leach. His motion for Lombardino to step down contained nearly two dozen pages of possible conflicts of interest between Lombardino and Newman.

“The appropriate vehicle to contest this ruling is to seek appellate review,” LaGrappe said. “I will be reviewing the Order further and more than likely will seek mandamus relief.”

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.

Lombardino quickly said he did not want to recuse himself.

“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.”

See the previous Texas Monitor report on this case here.

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.

14 COMMENTS

  1. James Rooney, Bobby Newman’s client got run over by a car and was left for dead in the road and the child was in the car to witness the attempted murder of her own father.

    Kora Leach was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon 💀

    James Rooney, the victim, was ordered by judge Lombardino to pay $16,000 and Kora Leach only $4,000 of the Amicus bills and Rooney ALSO was ordered to pay Kora Leach’s /boyfriend attorney John Lagrappe $9,000.00 by and order by judge Lombardino. All because Kora Leach is professionally unemployed, even though she is violent towards the father.

    There’s your corruption! Why should anyone have to pay ANY fees on behalf of a person who left for DEAD!

  2. Corruption reeks in Texas Family Courts! My own former attorney Ray Epps ( now deceased ) did not even present to the jury that the COURT APPOINTED child psychiatrist Dr Richard Pessikoff, recommended that my daughters be taken from their mother Natalie, and that I be given primary custody. The child psychiatrist’s report is in the court records. He had previously recommended that she get custody since they were used to living with her, but he changed his recommendation in his final report, when she would not quit coaching the children to lie, in her favor. My ex had been couching my daughters to lie on a continuing basis for many years. Imagine a lawyer not presenting that, and many other things! My belief is that my attorney Ray Epps, did it as a way to gain favor with my wife’s character witness, whom was a current appellate court judge. Her character witness was Judge Eric Andell, whom later became Under Assistant Secretary of Education in Washington. He had to resign in disgrace when it was discovered that was illegally billing the Department of Education for flights back to Houston, so that he could preside over court cases in Harris County, since he was so close to receiving retirement benefits as a judge. He could have been criminally prosecuted and imprisoned on those charges, but judges look out for each other, as they are doing in this case. Texas Family Courts reeks of corruption, and there are many attorneys and judges that should be residing in state prison, instead of overseeing court cases that affects families.

  3. So Bobby Newman has donated to just about every family court judge in Harris County. The implication of this story is that he can’t try cases in front of any of them?

  4. This is one of several here. It is disgusting when a judge would rather insist on hearing a case than have the case moved.

    The appearance of partiality should concern a judge a great deal.

    This one seems not to care that one of the attorneys fears and cites legitimate reasons to fear that his client will be treated fairly.

    It makes the complaint seem legit.

    • Finally, a real lawyer steps up to expose family law court corruption. People this does not only happen in Harris County, Texas but around the nation. Judges and lawyers using children as pawns in their wicked, evil game of chess. The family court system needs reform. These are the children of the future, hurt by the people who are supposed to protect them. This is not a gender or race issue, it is a green and greedy bill issue! Thank you Mr. LaGrappe for standing up!

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