Saturday, September 13, 2014

Judge: "Who is she to question my integrity?"

Some judges feel free to violate judicial ethics, blatantly and in full view of fellow citizens, because they believe that those citizens will be ignored by the Judicial Commission and government officials.

And, I suspect, for the most part, those judges are right.

When those citizens are court personnel, the judge figures that they're afraid they'll lose their jobs if they talk. And, of course, they probably will lose their jobs. We'd have a better system if we actually enforced whistle-blower protections.

Previously, Judge Frances Kaiser served as Kerr County Sheriff.

City reviews ethics claims against municipal judge
September 11, 2014
By Jessica Hawley-Jerome
Bandera Bulletin

Citing a hostile work environment and unethical practices, the City of Bandera municipal court clerk has filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct and tendered her resignation.

“The hostile environment within the court offices was created due to the lack of ethical character and the constant chaos and divided factions affected by fear-inducing verbiage and actions by Judge [Frances] Kaiser,” Laura Phipps wrote in her Sept. 8 letter of resignation.

Shortly after she began her employment in May, Phipps said she witnessed numerous questionable activities, including bypassing judicial protocol and allegedly tampering with a jury pool. She documented most of what she said she saw, primarily for her own protection. Phipps said Kaiser discussed ongoing and pending cases with friends and colleagues, and was not objective, making judgments about defendants before their hearings.

“With respect to the position of Judge Kaiser…all defendants and all case files have not been treated impartially or fairly,” Phipps said. “The fundamental elements of a municipal court are that the judge be impartial, ensure that justice is done, and oversee the general administration of the court… Intrinsic to all sections of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct are the precepts that judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system.”

Phipps said she confided her concerns to City Marshal Charlie Hicks, who then approached City Administrator Lamar Schulz and a City Council member. Phipps told Schulz and Mayor Don Clark about her observations and said that Kaiser had created an oppressive work environment in which she berated other city employees.

Phipps said Kaiser submitted her letter of resignation on Wednesday, Aug. 20, however it was not accepted and she was asked to return to work the next week. Schulz denied that claim, stating Kaiser never submitted anything.

“Frances never has never submitted a letter of resignation,” Schulz told the Bulletin, adding Phipps’ complaints are under review. “Right now we are doing due diligence on our side. The allegations are not totally substantiated at this point.”

Schulz said Phipps provided him with some information and copies of certain documents, and they are being reviewed...

Phipps was granted unpaid administrative leave on Aug. 28; her request for paid administrative leave or transfer to another department was denied. In an email to Schulz dated Sept. 4, Phipps asked if City Council members were aware of her complaint and her request for paid administrative leave, and whether there would be a council review. She said has not received a response.

“I refuse to accept the opportunity to return to a hostile work environment and refuse to compromise my moral or ethical values,” Phipps said. “The city population should be outraged at the lack of response by the city administration to these activities.”

Kaiser said she is shocked by the allegations made against her and vehemently denies any wrongdoing. She said she never discussed city personnel with Phipps nor did she violate the Judicial Code of Conduct.

“I’m absolutely astonished and very alarmed,” Kaiser told the Bulletin. “I never had any inkling that [Phipps] was unhappy or there was a problem. I trusted her.”

[Maura Larkins' comment: The judge apparently trusted the clerk to keep quiet about wrongdoing.]

Kaiser said Phipps’ recount of alleged jury pool tampering was misguided. Phipps said Kaiser comprised a selection of potential jurors from a list of city residents, then asked her to shred the original list once entered into the system. Kaiser said it was true that she oversaw the list, but she said she did not choose the final jurors.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Kaiser said, adding protocol in a small-town municipal court is different from county or district court. “My integrity would be very much compromised if that happened…who is she to question my integrity?”...

Read more here.

Brouhaha in Bandera's Municipal Court
By Judith Pannebaker
BCC Editor

...According to Kaiser, the dispute occurred when she and Phipps were selecting a potential jury pool for an upcoming trial. After receiving a list of names from the city utility department, Kaiser said she randomly highlighted those city residents who would receive jury summonses. "I highlighted the names randomly and methodically. I didn't know anyone living in the city," Kaiser insisted. "However, Ms. Phipps called it jury tampering."

This precipitated the meeting and Phipps' subsequent resignation...

[Maura Larkins' comment: Why didn't the judge simply choose the first names on the list, or every other name? It is simply not acceptable for her to specifically choose names, and then claim that she chose them randomly.]

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