Newly elected judge accidentally resigns; county commissioners appoint replacement

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Updated: Judge Bill McLeod of Harris County, Texas, didn’t realize his announced ambition to run for a higher office had triggered a state constitutional provision that considers such revelations to constitute an automatic resignation.

McLeod was a civil court judge for less than three months when he filed paperwork to run for chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. He also announced his intentions online. KHOU, Reuters, Legaltech News, the Washington Post and the Houston Chronicle have stories.

The relevant provision is at Article 16, Section 65 of the Texas Constitution, and it applies to county judges, district attorneys and several other county officials. When such an official announces an intent to run for office other than the one currently held, it “shall constitute an automatic resignation,” according to the provision.

Despite the constitutional provision, the Texas code of conduct for judges allows them to remain in office while seeking a different judicial office.

“I messed up,” McLeod told the Washington Post. He said he didn’t know about the provision in the Texas Constitution, which he described as “an archaic 180-page document.”

McLeod had hoped a different constitutional provision, Article 16, Section 17, would allow him to remain a judge until a special election in 2020. According to the provision, the county commissioners may appoint a successor when a county officer resigns or may allow the office holder to remain in office as a holdover.

County commissioners went with the first option. At a meeting Tuesday, commissioners voted 3-2 to appoint Houston lawyer Lesley Briones to the position through next year, report the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Lawyer and KHOU. Briones is a Yale law grad who was previously general counsel to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

Commissioners cited concerns that McLeod would have to recuse himself from any cases involving the county because he would be beholden to the commissioners for his job.

Briones said she had voted for McLeod.

Before the meeting, McLeod said he was in “dire need” of support in a livestreaming video on Facebook. His allies rallied behind him using the hashtag #IStandWithMcLeod. Several people spoke on his behalf for nearly six hours at the meeting on Tuesday.

During the meeting, McLeod held up the state constitution and asked for a second chance. “It’s over 87,000 words. It’s the second-largest state constitution in our union, and I’m sorry I didn’t have it down,” he said.

McLeod is not the first judge to be snagged by the constitutional provision. In 2013, Bexar County Judge Irene Rios triggered the provision when she announced her intention to run for chief justice of an appeals court, according to the Houston Chronicle. She resigned a month later.

In another incident in August 2018, a Facebook page promoted Justice of the Peace Keith Barth of Santa Cruz County as a candidate for sheriff, according to an ethics decision posted on Twitter. The judge kept his job but received a public reprimand for violation of an ethics rule requiring judges to resign if they become a candidate for nonjudicial elective office.

Hat tip to Keith Lee @associatesmind.

Updated April 9 at 12:10 p.m. to include the additional incidents and April 10 at 9:02 a.m. to report that a replacement was named.

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