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Confession links judge to improper texts from bench

By Cindy Horswell

HOUSTON CHRONICLE

A former prosecutor has confessed to assisting
a state district judge who is accused of texting
clandestine messages from the bench to bolster the
prosecution’s case during an East Texas criminal
trial last year.
Such communication by Polk County Judge
Elizabeth Coker was a violation of judicial impartiality
that’s required during court proceedings,
said the former Polk County Assistant District Attorney
Kaycee Jones. Jones has since been elected
as a state district judge for Polk, Trinity and San
Jacinto counties.
Her confession and a photo copy of Coker’s text
message—detailing a line of witness questioning

that would aid prosecutors
—were outlined in a letter
Jones sent to the Texas Bar
Association’s disciplinary
counsel,which is investigating
the incident. The
Houston Chronicle,which
first reported the allegations
against Coker earlier
this year, recently obtained
a copy of the letter.
For her part, Jones
wrote, “I deeply regret
that I acted in this manner.
It was wrong and I
knew better.” An official in
Jones’ office said she could
not comment on a pending
investigation.
Other complaints
Coker has complaints
pending against her in the
texting incident and other
allegations with the State
Commission on Judicial
Conduct. She could not
be reached for comment,
and the judicial commission’s
executive director,
Seana Willing, declined
comment. Coker and Jones
could face disciplinary actions
by the state bar and
the judicial commission.
South Texas College of
Law professor Geoffrey
Corn said such communication
by a judge,
who is supposed to be an
unbiased arbiter during a
trial,would be “extremely
improper” and undermine
the public’s sense of confidence
in the system.
The texting issue first
surfaced in a report by the
Polk County District Attorney’s
criminal investigator,
David Wells.
Wells reported seeing
Jones relay a text message
from Coker during an
Aug. 8 jury trial of David
Reeves,who was facing a
felony charge of injury to
his child.
Coker had rejected an
earlier guilty plea agreement,
which forced the
case to trial,where Reeves
ultimately was acquitted.
But before the jury
reached that verdict,Wells
reported seeing Jones
—who was acting as an
observer in the court—
pass along a note containing
Coker’s text message
to lead prosecutor Beverly
Armstrong. The written
note,which Wells secured
as evidence, appeared to
pose a question to a witness
that might demonstrate
Reeves was a danger
to his child: “Judge says…
baby pooped on (Reeves).
If he threw dog off bed
because the dog peed on
bed,what would he do if
baby pooped on him?”
There had been testimony
during the trial that
Reeves had become enraged when
a new puppy
soiled his bed with urine
and thrown the animal
against awall. Other testimony
had also established
that Reeves’ baby had
severe diarrhea the night
he was injured.
Wells said Armstrong
never used that particular
question but indicated
the judge was regularly
interjecting herself into
trial proceedings via text
messages.
“(Armstrong) advised
it is not the first time, as
Jones is in her ear all the
time regarding information
she believes to be
given her by Judge Coker
via text during trial,” the
report said.
Wells and another
assistant prosecutor, Joe
Martin, both felt such
communication was “very
unethical,” the report said.
Reeves’ defense attorney,
Ryan Deaton, said
he did not learn about the
texting until five months
after the trial was over.
An apology
In the letter to the
disciplinary counsel,
Jones now admits receiving
the “suggested line of
questioning” from Coker
and being told to tell the
trial prosecutor. She also
apologizes: “I should not
have forwarded this message
from Judge Coker. I
fully appreciate the importance
of the impartiality
of a judge in a trial and
my responsibilities as an
attorney not to engage in
such conduct.  Iwas wrong
and nothing like this will
ever happen again.”
The letter also explains
that Polk County District
Attorney William LeeHon
had discussed the texting
incident with Jones after
receiving his investigator’s
report. “We agreed that it
should not have happened
and that it would not happen
again,” Jones wrote.
Besides complaints
about Coker coaching
prosecutors by dictating
questions, complaints
have been filed against her
alleging discrimination
in picking attorneys to
handle indigent cases.
Texting probe could lead to disciplinary action
Texting from page A1
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3 Comments

  1. LocalDrifter

    And you out there thought judges were somewhat brilliant jurists. They’re more often than not pretty much idiots like the rest of us, to wit:

    1) The somewhat local idiot who stole 3 computer monitors from a county building, got fired, got disbarred, and then killed a DA and, not satisfied with that murder, another DA and his wife. (Eric Williams)

    2) The somewhat local idiot in Galveston who plotted to kill his ex-wife and then flee the country with his kids. (Christopher Dupiy)

    The evidence is overwhelming. I rest my case.

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