Former Harris County Family District Court Judge Denise Pratt finally slapped on the wrist by the State Commission of Judicial Conduct for tardiness and apparent back-dating of orders to cover up her lack in diligence in getting the business of the court done. Ironically, the sanctions opinion was tardy too. Pratt is long gone from office and lost her bid for re-election.
The pdf version of the sanctions order, issued September 4, 2014, can be found at http://www.scjc.state.tx.us/pdf/actions/FY2015-PUBSANC.pdf
Here is a text verbatim (it' a rather tedious read).
The bottom line: A Public Reprimand.
The bottom line: A Public Reprimand.
Given all the coverage in the local media at the time the scandal broke, and the story developed, it's hardly big news now.
STATE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT
CJC NOS. 14-0102-DI, 14-0165-DI, 14-0224-DI, 14-0403-DI,
14-0435-DI, 14-0468-DI, 14-0472-DI, 14-0473-DI, 14-0484-DI,
14-0508-DI, 14-0529-DI, 14-0654-DI&14-0655-DI
HONORABLE DENISE V. PRATT
FORMER JUDGE, 311TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT
HOUSTON, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS
Judge Pratt was elected to the 311th Judicial District Court bench in November 2010, and assumed the bench on January 1, 2011. Starting in October 2013, the Commission began receiving complaints filed by attorneys, litigants, and confidential sources alleging numerous incidents of misconduct against Judge Pratt, including malfeasance by backdating court orders and judgments, excessive and unreasonable delays in issuing decisions, a lack of diligence in attending to the business of the court, and incompetence in performing the duties of office. Many of the matters raised in the complaints became the subject of extensive local media attention in the Houston area. In particular, it was disclosed in the press that allegations contained in the complaint of attorney Greg Enos had become the subject of a criminal investigation by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office into the conduct of Judge Pratt.
In Enos’ criminal complaint, Judge Pratt was accused of backdating court orders and renditions in order to cover up for the lengthy delays in her rulings in contested family law cases. It was alleged that Judge Pratt backdated the orders to make it appear that she had issued rulings sooner than she actually did and that the judge was assisted by court staff, who rolled back the clerk’s date stamp, then initialed and filed backdated orders knowing that Judge Pratt had not signed the documents on the dates she claimed. Enos provided examples in six cases of orders or renditions that appeared to have been signed by Judge Pratt months earlier but that were not filed or provided to the parties or their attorneys until much later and well after the time to appeal had expired. According to media reports, Judge Pratt’s lead clerk, Marilyn Epps, who had twenty-five years of experience as a Harris County court clerk, resigned following an investigation by the Harris County District Clerk’s office into the backdating allegations after admitting to one instance of rolling back her date stamp to match what Judge Pratt had written as the date she purportedly signed the rendition. However, there appeared to be no evidence to support a finding that Epps engaged in this conduct at Judge Pratt’s request, direction, or instruction. In December 2013, a grand jury investigating Enos’ complaint against Judge Pratt declined to indict the judge. During this time, Judge Pratt filed to run for re-election and became one of four candidates vying for election to the 311th District Court in the March 2014 Republican Primary.
In January 2014, additional complaints were filed with the Commission after Judge Pratt issued dismissal orders disposing of more than approximately 600 pending cases on December 30-31, 2013. According to the complaints, without notice to the parties or their attorneys or an opportunity to be heard, cases were dismissed for want of prosecution even though a substantial number of the cases had recent activity; were awaiting the judge’s signature on orders following trial, mediation, or arbitration; were set for trial in 2014; or had already been transferred to other courts following Judge Pratt’s recusal. Enos filed a second criminal complaint with the Harris County District Attorney’s office concerning the en mass dismissals alleging that Judge Pratt illegally purged her docket on the last two days of 2013 to cover up the growing backlog caused by her failure or inability to timely handle the business of the court.
Although Judge Pratt received the most votes in the March 2014 Republican Primary, she did not receive at least 50% of the votes and her name was placed on the ballot for the May 2014 Republican Primary Run-off election. However, on March 28, 2014, after Enos filed a third criminal complaint against her with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Judge Pratt sent a letter to the Governor of Texas announcing that she was immediately resigning from office. Despite her resignation, Judge Pratt’s name remained on the ballot for the May 2014 runoff election, which she lost.
In August 2014, the Commission concluded its investigation into the allegations filed against Judge Pratt. After considering the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following Findings and Conclusions.
|Harris County Family Law Center|
1. At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Denise V. Pratt was Judge of the 311th
Judicial District Court in Houston, Harris County, Texas.
DELAYS IN RULING
The Bates Case