Criminal defense attorney and judge settle suit over alleged retaliation involving recording

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A Houston criminal defense attorney who recorded a Galveston County judge saying he “overworks” cases and lacks experience has settled his lawsuit against the judge.

In March 2018, Andrew Willey sued Judge Jack Ewing of the Galveston County Court at Law No. 3 for allegedly retaliating against him by refusing to appoint him to cases. His lawsuit also sought to challenge Galveston County’s system of appointing attorneys for indigent clients charged with crimes, a process that judges control under state law, the Houston Chronicle reports.

“Experts argue this creates pressure to resolve cases based on expediency rather than justice and inhibits lawyers from advocating too vigorously for their clients for fear of retaliation from judges eager to clear their dockets,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

In the lawsuit, Willey accused Ewing of reducing payment requests for work on behalf of two clients charged with misdemeanors in 2015 and 2016. Willey told Ewing that he was concerned about the lack of resources for appointed attorneys in Galveston and learned later that Ewing had removed him from a case.

This was a violation of the Galveston County Indigent Defense Plan, which requires that “the attorney representing the defendant at jail docket is appointed to represent the defendant in the pending criminal matter until final resolution of the case,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Only a majority vote of the Criminal Courts Board can remove an attorney from a case.

Willey claimed in his lawsuit that Ewing’s clerk told him he was removed because the judge was upset with Willey regarding “something that happened in the jail docket.” Willey then recorded a July 2016 meeting with the judge, who told Willey he would reappoint him to the case. He never did, leading Willey to file a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in July 2017.

The commission found that Ewing’s actions “did not rise to the level of sanctionable misconduct.”

According to the settlement, Willey and Ewing will “abide by a rotating court appointment system through which attorneys are appointed in a fair, nondiscriminatory manner set by the Texas Fair Defense Act and by the Galveston County Indigent Defense Plan,” the Houston Chronicle says.

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