Hundreds of judicial transgressions have been uncovered during the last decade, with results that cost the defeated litigants their home, business, custody, health or freedom.
Some of the best-known cases involve judges who ultimately did suffer consequences for their behavior, including Texas judge Christopher Dupuy, who bullied four lawyers who filed conflict-of-interest recusal motions between 2011 and 2013. Attorney Lori Laird asked that Dupuy bow out in 2013 because she’d represented Dupuy’s ex-wife in the couple’s custody battle in Galveston. The judge responded by slapping her with 37 counts of contempt, demanding that she “explain, defend or apologize” for her motion. He later sentenced her to 220 days in jail, although she didn’t serve any time.
“It was the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen,” Laird told Contently.org. “It also caused great damage to both of my clients.” Dupuy was admonished in November – after he’d already retired and was sentenced to two years’ probation for pleading guilty to misdemeanor counts of perjury and misuse of government property.
But court critics say that one reason judicial violations are common is because they frequently go unpunished. When litigants ask a judge to back away because of a conflict, they risk being told no, then face possible retaliation, so many don’t bother. If a litigant or an attorney files a complaint with an oversight body, there’s only about a 10% chance that state court authorities will properly investigate the allegation, according to a Contently.org analysis of data from 12 states.
The analysis shows that a dozen of these commissions collectively dismissed out of hand 90% of the complaints filed during the last five years, tossing 33,613 of 37,216 grievances without conducting any substantive inquiry. When they did take a look – 3,693 times between 2010 and 2014 – investigators found wrongdoing almost half the time, issuing disciplinary actions in 1,751 cases, about 47%.
The actions taken ranged from a letter of warning to censure, a formal sanction that indicates a judge is guilty of misconduct but does not merit suspension or removal.
Actually, removing a judge was a rarity. Just 19 jurists in 12 states were ordered off the bench for malfeasance, which is about three per decade for each state. And even that result is becoming less common, with only one removal in 2014 and three in 2013 among all 12 states.
The states examined – California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Colorado, Washington, Georgia and South Carolina – were chosen because they comprise a representative sample from different populations and areas of the country and because they had matching data for the years 2010 through 2014.
Texas got a D
More on Dupuy
On June 25, 2015, Scott Hardcastle, a Harris County Sheriff’s investigator with a search warrant and a growing sense of impatience, kicked open the door to the League City apartment belonging to a disgraced former judge.
As Hardcastle would later testify at the ex-judge’s bond hearing, Hardcastle had knocked on the door and announced police presence for quite a while, but the only response he got was muffled questions from inside: Who is it? What do you want?
Hardcastle and officials from the League City Police Department, Texas Rangers and Galveston County District Attorney’s office were there to execute a warrant on 43-year-old Chris Dupuy; authorities believed he created escort ads that purported to be posted by a former girlfriend and a woman whom Dupuy was once interested in. The ads featured the women’s photos, and made clear that at least one of them was “VERY FETISH FRIENDLY.” (To add insult to injury, the women weren’t even portrayed as high-class: The “sexy nurse” charged a mere $70 per half hour.)
Hardcastle spoke to the women, who insisted they didn’t place the ads, were not in fact prostitutes and certainly didn’t welcome calls from creepy dudes seeking the “full satisfaction” on display. Both women immediately suspected Dupuy.
In his affidavit, Hardcastle explained that he had worked backwards from the ads to trace masked IP addresses in Venezuela, Colombia and Germany. The sophisticated software allowing the user to conceal his location had a decidedly unsophisticated name: hidemyass.com. According to Hardcastle’s affidavit, he was ultimately able to reveal that ass as Dupuy, a Galveston County judge who resigned from the bench in 2013 after pleading guilty to perjury and abuse of office. He was still on probation. In a stinging public rebuke, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct accused him of witness-tampering and bullying county officials, among other things.
For Dupuy, 2013 had been a rough year all-around: Right before the abuse of office and perjury charges, his ex-girlfriend accused him of plotting to kill his ex-wife, with whom he had a young daughter and son. Fortunately for Dupuy, after some outside influence, that ex-girlfriend adjusted her story. She said she didn’t take the intricate plans to have the ex-wife whacked and flee to New Zealand seriously. It was just something people said. After that, authorities didn’t seem to take it seriously either.
But now Dupuy was back on the authorities’ radar, and after Hardcastle kicked open the apartment door, what he found would lead the Galveston County prosecutors to believe they were dealing with someone who was capable of something more insidious than a nasty online prank.
Hardcastle saw Dupuy in profile, standing in the kitchen. The investigator couldn’t see if Dupuy was holding anything. When Hardcastle told Dupuy to raise his hands, a single bullet fell from Dupuy’s right hand onto the counter.
Hardcastle asked where the gun was. Dupuy told him. The investigator peeked into the kitchen and saw the 9 mm pistol, which had been within Dupuy’s reach. A laser sight was attached.
In the bathroom, in a laptop bag tucked between the toilet and the tub, Hardcastle found the following: another laser-sighted 9 mm pistol (with a silencer); four heavy-grade yellow zip-ties; a 950,000-volt stun gun shaped like a pair of brass knuckles; a large knife; magazines for the handguns; duct tape; and a pair of black gloves. Rounding out the inventory were a few campfire starters and a lighter; a passport; and a GPS tracking device.
Officers collected the bag, as well as a laptop and phones. When a computer forensics analyst with the Galveston County Police Department checked the laptop’s online search history, he discovered that someone had looked for “best sniper pistols,” “best assassin pistols,” “french double garrotte wire” and “how to use a garrote.”
Dupuy was charged with two counts of online impersonation. For these two nonviolent offenses, bail was set at $600,000, later reduced to $400,000. Dupuy’s attorney at his July bond hearing, the impressively named Fox Curl, pointed out that one of Dupuy’s fellow inmates, charged with murder, had a $100,000 bond. Curl said that charges against his client basically amounted to a digital version of writing someone’s number on a bathroom wall.
In meticulous, hand-printed motions filed from jail, Dupuy has denied creating the escort ads, characterizing the charges as “shakier than a drunken three-legged mule.” And Dupuy’s filings make it clear where the accusations are really coming from: A few years into Dupuy’s bizarre reign, someone using the Facebook alias “Don Tequila” began critiquing the judge. According to Dupuy’s recent filings, he now believes he is the target of the “Don Tequila Society,” a shadowy consortium of private attorneys, prosecutors, county officials and judges who want him silenced for his dogged determination to stamp out corruption in Galveston County. According to Dupuy, his court-appointed attorney belonged to the Don Tequila Society, which is why he was of no use.
Dupuy’s battle is a lonely one. No friends or family members have raised money for bond, which Dupuy claims was set unconstitutionally high. His most outspoken advocate appears to be his mother, whom he calls Janice.
He’s also adopted a first-name relationship with the judge in his case, Galveston County District Judge (and purported Don Tequila Society member) Michelle Slaughter. An October 28 letter from Dupuy to “Michelle” reads, “While you’re still cloaked in a robe, you should endeavor to start following the law.”
So sad, some people don’t learn.
In 2014, after Dupuy resigned from the bench, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct publicly reprimanded the former judge, concluding that Dupuy had engaged in witness tampering, had “harassed, bullied, and maligned county officials,” and had lied under oath about owning a silencer during child custody hearings with his ex-wife.
Attorney James Hernandez, who represented Dupuy’s ex-wife Adrienne Viterna in the couple’s protracted family court cases, told the Press that he and his co-counsel, Lori Laird, “are worried about the safety of Adrienne and her children, as well as the victims of the fake escort ads. The common theme underlying the criminal allegations against Dupuy is revenge.”
Hernandez said at the conclusion of Dupuy’s bond hearing last year, the judge concluded Dupuy was a danger to the community. Hernandez said he believes Dupuy remains a danger, and urged police to be vigilant.