Tort Law

Judge Sues Lawyer for Defamation, Says Ethics Complaint E-Mailed to Over 100, Then Wins Re-election

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An already-contentious relationship between a Texas judge and a number of his colleagues on the bench likely has not improved since yesterday’s general election.

According to unofficial election results for Dallas County (see page 9), incumbent Judge Carlos Cortez of the 44th Judicial District has edged out his Republican challenger, Gene Roberts, with 204,614 votes to Roberts’ tally of 201,626.

Meanwhile, Cortez filed a defamation suit Monday against an attorney. It contends that the attorney conspired with three other state district judges to damage his reputation and encourage a candidate to run against him for his seat on the bench in a race that likely otherwise might have been uncontested, reports Texas Lawyer.

After filing an complaint based on unsubstantiated rumors created by the four, Coyt Randal Johnston subsequently e-mailed a copy of the ethics complaint to over 100 members of Dallas Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates last year, the suit alleges.

“I do not believe this to be a lawsuit between Judge Carlos Cortez and Coyt Randal ‘Randy’ Johnston,” Cortez told the legal publication before the election. “This is a lawsuit about what we as a profession are going to tolerate and whether it is acceptable for a lawyer and three judges to meet, create rumors about a fellow judge, file a complaint with the judicial conduct commission about the rumors they themselves created then intentionally and knowingly publish that into the public domain to generate a political opponent.”

His suit also alleges that Johnston, through his lawyer, Thomas Melsheimer, made a “threat of extortion” by promising to make “derogatory and humiliating” allegations in an answer to any such defamation suit that Cortez might file.

Melsheimer, who serves as managing partner of the Fish & Richardson office in Dallas and is not named as a defendant in Johnston’s Dallas County suit (PDF), says he and Johnston have done nothing wrong, reports Texas Lawyer.

“A plaintiff who brings a defamation lawsuit puts his reputation squarely in issue,” says Melsheimer. “And that will be front and center in both our answer and overall in the case generally.”

For more details about the case, read the full Texas Lawyer article.

Additional coverage: (Oct. 2009): “Texas Judge Is Too-Often Rude, Another Judge & Lawyer Complain”

Dallas City Hall (Dallas Morning News): “Dallas County judge accused of misbehavior fights back with defamation suit”

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