Last Friday in Waco, Texas, motions were filed by defense counsel, requesting that Judge Ralph Strother recuse himself from the case as he is biased. Filing these motions on a Friday seems to be a timely tactic. Attorneys sometimes file motions at the last second on a Friday just to aggravate opposing counsel. I wonder the fact that this was filed on an extended fourth of July weekend was for the purpose of having the opposite effect; meaning to give Judge Strother plenty of time to not overreact and think about it calmly.
Under the Rules of Civil Procedure for the state of Texas, the motion for recusal should be filed at least ten days before the trial (Rule 18a (a)). The motion has to include the grounds for the recusal which includes the judge failing to be “impartial.” Rule 18b(2)(a).
At this point, if the judge recuses himself, another judge is assigned. But, suppose Judge Strother doesn’t recuse himself, then the administrative judge of that district can either hear the motion or appoint another judge to do so under Rule 18a(d).
My Personal Experience
I did experience this issue years ago with a judge whose reputation was that of bias against men, and it was obvious in my case.
At the uncontested final hearing, which is a hearing to finalize the case and my attendance or that of my client is not required, my client due to unemployment, fell behind on one payment of child support. Usually, the judge will sign the final judgment and advise the attorney to reopen the case and file a Motion for Contempt or, cancel the hearing and file a Motion to Enforce. In my case, the judge held my client in contempt.
I advised my client that I believed this was insufficient notice, thus, my client decided he would not appear at the next hearing. My notice was a phone call from opposing counsel.
Needless to say, the judge was not happy with my client’s failure to appear and threatened to issue a Writ of Bodily Attachment (arrest warrant). When I argued due process, the judge reluctantly agreed and scheduled a hearing for the following week. Again, my client failed to appear.
When a contempt hearing is scheduled in Florida, specific wording is required within the Notice of Hearing. There still wasn’t a physical Notice of Hearing, only the judge requiring verbally that my client appear.
At the third hearing, frustrated and upset, the judge hand wrote a Notice of Hearing. Again, that “magical” wording was not present and the client decided he would not attend the hearing per my interpretation of the rules. Mind you, I have never had a client face contempt at an uncontested final hearing. Basically, the judge had issued a ruling against my client that would deprive him of his freedom, without him being present, without a hearing, and all the while, his presence was not required at any of the hearings to begin with!
Then again, I’ve witnessed this judge at Status Conferences, a brief hearing to determine the status of the case, hold clients in contempt or even remove a party from the marital residence and grant exclusive use and possession to the other party, in violation of due process. The beneficiary was always a woman.
From a legal standpoint, you can appeal such a decision, but with what money? And is it worth it to do so? Judges know this of course. I never did see such rulings when the person on the other side is wealthy because she knew it would be appealed.
At the fourth hearing with my client present, the judge ruled my client’s medical condition was an out-patient procedure (it was actually in-patient so the doctor was wrong) and no excuse for him to not be working and not pay child support. He was held in “willful contempt.”
Per her, she was “knowledgeable” about the field of medicine. My stressing the fact to the judge that she was not a medical doctor and not qualified to reach that conclusion did not go over well.
At the fifth hearing, my client had to prove he was applying for jobs or go to jail. My client had in fact been applying for jobs, and had submitted applications to more than five hundred jobs via a well-known online website. The judge decided online applications was not sufficient and ruled he would be going to jail. At the prior hearing, the judge had asked why he cannot get a job sitting at a computer since the doctor’s orders was no physical activity.
When I advised the judge that in order for her to submit her application as a candidate for judge, she did so online, well, that was the straw that broke the back of one hundred camels. Suffice to say she left the courtroom yelling, I chased her down the hallway yelling, and she returned with a new ruling, and that being my client better have a job by the following Friday.
The following week with a job a McDonald’s, the judge was ready to send my client to jail. I advised the judge per her own handwriting, the order read that my client was to have “a job.” There were no specifics. Reluctantly, the judge did not hold my client in contempt, over opposing counsel’s objections.
Going back to the beginning of this post, all these hearings were scheduled on a Friday at 4 pm, and the judge was always running late. Hmm…
Regardless, I did inquire with other colleagues about filing a Motion for Recusal, but each one disagreed with me. However, the stakes are much higher in a criminal case and especially in this case. So, it goes without saying that the attorneys for the defendants were correct in filing this motion.
Asking a judge to remove themselves from case is a sensitive subject. In my case, I forever had a damaged relationship with that judge. Before and after, I have never had an issue with any judge. Hopefully, this has the reverse effect and changes Strother’s handling of the case.
This is just a continuation of the fireworks this fourth of July in Waco.
*I am a licensed attorney since 1999 in the state of Florida.