Trials & Litigation

Lawyers are asked to help resolve 'random chaos' resulting from family court judge's abrupt exit


After the abrupt resignation of a Texas family court judge last month, the county’s administrative judge is struggling to deal with hundreds of unsigned, unfiled orders he says she left stacked on the floor and her desk, many displaying sticky notes listing handwritten issues, questions or concerns.

“It is random chaos that’s going to have to be dealt with case by case by case,” Harris County Administrative Judge David Farr told the Houston Chronicle (sub. req.). “Every single thing I pick up makes my head hurt, it’s so problematic.”

At issue, too, are a number of the more than 630 cases dismissed by Judge Denise Pratt at the end of 2013, some without required notice and scheduled hearings, according to lawyers, another Houston Chronicle article (sub. req.) reports. The Associated Press also has a story.

An investigation of the 311th District Court dismissals by Harris County officials was followed by Pratt’s resignation on March 28. She cited “relentless attacks by my political opponents” which she said were damaging her family, the court and the local Republican Party.

Farr says the sticky note comments—some attached to orders more than a year old—will have to be resolved before the documents can be signed. Meanwhile, in a Tuesday email blast to family lawyers, he asked those who have filed motions for reinstatement that may have been lost to alert the court. So far, 30 paper motions have surfaced that weren’t scheduled for hearings, he says.

Farr plans to vacate at least 70 dismissal orders he found under sticky notes in which Pratt asked her court coordinator to confirm that notice had gone out to parties.

Pratt earlier blamed the court, through her lawyer, for the claimed issues with her cases. Docket purges of dead cases are routine, she said, and a failure to send notice of some dismissals was the fault of a new computer system in the court clerk’s office. A spokesman denied that the computer system was responsible. And she and her staff say the extent of the problems with her cases has been “grossly exaggerated,” her lawyer, Terry Yates, tells the Chronicle.

“It is kind of pitiful that people continue to beat a dead horse,” said Yates in an email to the newspaper.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Judge didn’t give notice before dismissing cases, lawyer says in complaint”

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