Partner denied any current relationship with bankruptcy judge, Jackson Walker firm says
Judge David R. Jones, a Texas bankruptcy judge, in August 2020. Jones’ relationship with a former partner at a Texas bankruptcy law firm became public last month. Photo by Brett Coomer/The Houston Chronicle via Getty Images.
A former partner at Texas bankruptcy law firm Jackson Walker denied any current relationship with a bankruptcy judge when the firm questioned her in March 2021, the firm said in a court filing Monday.
It wasn’t until 2022 that the firm learned from “a credible third party” that former partner Elizabeth Freeman’s denial “was possibly false or at least no longer true,” Jackson Walker said in a court filing.
Freeman’s relationship with then-U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David R. Jones of Houston became public last month, after Jones told the Wall Street Journal that they lived together and had been in a relationship for several years. Jones resigned after the chief judge of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New Orleans filed an Oct. 13 ethics complaint against him.
Jones told the Wall Street Journal that he didn’t disclose his relationship because he wasn’t married to Freeman, and he did not financially benefit from her work at Jackson Walker.
Unlike other major firms, Jackson Walker did not check for connections between its staff and judges while Freeman was at the firm, according to Reuters. Jones allegedly presided in at least 27 Jackson Walker cases while he was in a relationship with Freeman, according to court filings by the Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program.
The U.S. Trustee Program is seeking to require Jackson Walker to return at least $13 million in fees because of the undisclosed relationship.
Freeman was hired as an income partner at Jackson Walker in 2018 after she had clerked for Jones. She did not disclose conflicts regarding the judge—other than she couldn’t work on matters currently pending during her clerkship. Freeman became an equity partner in January 2021.
As a result of Jones’ practices, Freeman would not be able to appear before him for six years, which was the length of her clerkship period.
In a Nov. 13 court filing posted by Bloomberg Law, Jackson Walker said it questioned Freeman after a pro se litigant alleged in March 2021 that Freeman was in a romantic relationship with Jones.
“She denied the charge of a current romantic relationship but admitted to a past relationship, which had ended,” the firm said.
Freeman had said the relationship was well in the past and was not likely to rekindle, the Jackson Walker court filing said.
The firm consulted an ethics expert and set up safeguards regarding Jones’ cases.
Jackson Walker’s general counsel prepared a statement of facts chronicling what Freeman had said, and she said it was accurate, the filing said. Jackson Walker told Freeman that she could not work on matters assigned to Jones, and she would not receive equity-partner compensation for profits earned by the firm’s work before the judge.
Jackson Walker also sent the pro se litigant’s email with the allegation to the Southern District of Texas Bankruptcy Court under seal, the court filing said. The pro se litigant later made the same accusation in a motion to recuse, which Jones referred to another judge. Jones allegedly did not tell the other judge about his relationship with Freeman, and the other judge denied the recusal motion.
It wasn’t until 2022 when Jackson Walker learned “quite by accident” that Freeman’s statement was possibly false.
“When confronted again, she initially denied the relationship but later on admitted to a current romantic relationship,” Jackson Walker said.
Jackson Walker agreed the only solution was for Freeman to leave the firm.