A lawyer advising Tyler defense attorney Clifton Roberson confirmed Wednesday that he filed an official complaint against a local judge on Roberson's behalf.
Wes Volberding said rules set by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct would not allow him to discuss the content of the complaint. However, Volberding and Roberson spoke freely in late July about an incident alleged to have happened July 1 involving Smith County 114th District Judge Christi Kennedy.
Roberson said he was supposed to be in Judge Kennedy's courtroom at 4:30pm to withdraw from a case. Roberson is a contracted attorney providing support for indigent defendants in Smith County's 241st District Court. Any time one of those cases is transferred out of that court he has to withdraw.
On that afternoon of July 1, Roberson had other things on his mind.
"My aunt was in the hospital at Mother Frances and we had to go see her because she was on her death bed," Roberson said.
Roberson said he told Judge Kennedy and her court coordinator about the conflict hours ahead of time. He said Judge Kennedy was inflexible regarding the time and date of the hearing and insisted, via her clerk, that he be there.
After choosing to stay at the hospital, Roberson said Judge Kennedy drew up a writ of attachment--similar to an arrest warrant.
"Two deputies and a security guard from Mother Frances Hospital knocked on the door, entered the room and said 'Clifton, we need to talk with you,'" Roberson said.
Their job was to take him to Judge Kennedy's courtroom for the hearing he was missing.
"I was placed in hand cuffs and paraded through the courthouse," Roberson said.
Judge Kennedy released a statement late Wednesday.
"Judge Kennedy has not seen any complaint. Even if she had a copy of a complaint, Judge Kennedy would respect the requirements of Texas law, which declares that any proceedings before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct are at this stage confidential," she wrote.
"Judge Kennedy will address any complaint if and as requested by the Commission. She has never received any criticism from the State Commission governing judicial conduct, and is confident that her judicial conduct has been appropriate."
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct will review whatever complaint Volberding submitted. Details and progress of any investigation that results will be kept private--the commission does not fall under the Texas Open Records Act--unless a public form of action results.
Speaking only of the general process surrounding complaints, and not in regard to a potential complaint against Judge Kennedy, commission spokesperson Seana Willing said everyone involved in complaint investigations--including judges--is entitled to privacy.
"It allows them a forum to speak candidly to provide information to the commission, which they might not be comfortable doing if it was all a matter of public record right from the start," Willing said.
The commission is empowered to order judges to undergo additional education, put in place private or public sanctions against judges, and to suspend judges. The commission does not have the power to remove judges from the bench.