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An investigation has been begun into allegations that a Texas judge is corrupt – to the point he even purportedly interfered in a child custody dispute involving an attorney he did not like, according to state and court records.
There also are allegations that Judge Layne Walker in Jefferson County may have misused a defense fund for the poor.
And there are multiple reports he lashed out at those whom he perceived as opposing him, up to and including issuing orders that they be arrested. One time he allegedly pulled a gun on a process server.
Now the judge is being investigated by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, according to a complaint with the SCJC, and the FBI is said to be conducting its own investigation.
Walker has been on the bench in Jefferson County for more than 10 years, but in just the last month, licensed process server Stephen Hartman tried to serve him with a civil records subpoena at his home, and Walker pulled a gun, Hartman’s complaint filed this week states.
Hartman later tried to serve Walker with a federal summons for a civil rights complaint over the alleged mistreatment of a local criminal defense attorney and civil rights leader, and Walker ordered him arrested, records show.
“Respondent Judge Layne Walker’s order of contempt, arrest and incarceration of relator, Stephen Hartman, is void, because … the judge violated Mr. Hartman’s Sixth Amendment rights to counsel and his Fifth Amendment Due Process Rights, by incarcerating him without formal charges, without a written commitment order, without a term of imprisonment, and without a bond,” explained an emergency habeas corpus filing just days ago.
It also explains that after Jefferson County Sheriff Mitch Woods and his deputies carried out Walker’s arrest order, they confiscated Hartman’s cell phone and read its contents, a complaint alleges.
Hartman has filed a lawsuit. All exhibits and his official complaint pertaining to the incidents described are publicly available. According to the complaint filed June 4 with Judge Marcia Crone, United States District Court, Eastern Division, “In addition to all the unlawful conduct perpetrated against Mr. Hartman described above, the sheriff’s deputies and Judge Layne Walker did their usual tactic of conducting an illegal search and seizure (without a warrant and without probable cause) of Mr. Hartman’s iPhone in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Judge Layne Walker and the sheriff’s deputies took apart Mr. Hartman’s iPhone, and read all his emails and read his text messages without a warrant or probable cause to do so, in violation of Mr. Hartman’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment Rights. Further, the defendants downloaded the contents of Mr. Hartman’s cell phone and are now calling his contacts to try to intimidate people, which is not only an unconstitutional and unlawful search and seizure, but also unlawful tampering with witnesses in violation of Texas Penal Code Section 36.05.”
The process server is at the tail end of the story. It began more than a year ago when a private investigator named Philip Klein discovered that Walker might have been misusing money from the Texas Indigent Defense Fund. The investigator provided this information to the Texas Judicial Commission and the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
As a result of the subsequent questions, Walker retaliated by terminating the parental rights of a father and attorney named John Morgan, who was representing Klein at the time, and who had custody proceedings pending.
Part of the affidavit concerning the use of funds.
Court documents suggest Walker retaliated against Morgan and took his three children from him due to Morgan’s association with Klein.
One motion to recuse Walker said, “Very early in the proceedings Ms. Johnson-Todd [Opposition counsel] began to cross-examine John about whether or not he had had any involvement in negative news stories that had been published about Judge Walker, by Mr. Philip Klein, a long-time client and friend of John’s. Mr. Klein is not a party to the suit nor is he a witness in the case. Mr. Klein was, however, a well-known public critic of Judge Walker. Mr. Klein had recently authored and published numerous negative articles about Judge Walker. Ms. Johnson-Todd asked John if he had ever complained to Philip Klein about Judge Walker.”
The complaint filed by Hartman also makes reference to Walker’s open dislike of Klein as Walker’s stated reason for noncompliance.
Morgan told WND he has not been permitted to see any of his three children or have any contact with them for over 14 months. But he still has been ordered to pay the maximum amount of child support, he said.
Morgan’s ex-wife, Kathleen Winslow, is a prosecutor for the Orange County district attorney’s office and a personal friend of Walker, documents allege.
“I filed custody proceedings against my ex-wife in 2010, knowing that I could not win against her family and the power of the Provost Umphrey law firm [where she reportedly has links], but I hoped and believed that some of the issues I had with my ex-wife’s behavior with my children would be addressed. I never thought they would take away my children from me,” said Morgan.
Morgan alleged, “Judge Walker terminated my rights to my children in revenge for me representing, and being associated with, Philip Klein, who turned in Judge Walker for abusing the Indigent Defense Fund and possibly engaging in other crimes. I have not seen my children since April 2012, and despite spending over $600,000 in legal fees, I will never be permitted to see my children again unless I get outside help and this corruption is exposed. The reality is that the legal system in Jefferson County supports all that Judge Walker does.”
The judge and sheriff both declined to respond to requests for comment, as did Kathleen Winslow, Morgan’s ex-wife.
At one point, Walker allowed the confiscation of Morgan’s cell phone, a decision later reversed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But by then Walker and Winslow’s attorneys had read its contents, including privileged emails to and from Morgan’s clients, according to a motion of recusal filed by Morgan and corroborated by the court record.
As Morgan explained to WND, Walker and Winslow’s attorneys also took the cell phone belonging to Morgan’s daughter and erased its contents, because the contents “contained evidence showing sexual abuse by my ex-wife against my children.”
Morgan told WND: “They took my iPhone which was linked to my law firm email, and they opened and read my privileged emails and my text messages. I was on the stand and I watched them do it. They also erased my daughter’s cell phone to destroy the evidence it contained that might have been harmful to my ex-wife.”
Court record confirms Morgan’s claims about his phone. “Court,” when used, references Walker:
Walker also threatened to personally investigate Morgan, according to Joel Grandstaff, an associate of Laura Dale, a Houston attorney representing Morgan.
And another motion for recusal confirms that during the custody hearing, Walker required Morgan’s then-attorney – Roger McCabe – to take the stand and answer any questions from the opposition counsel representing Morgan’s ex-wife.
Other allegations from Morgan:
- “Judge Walker and some Provost Umphrey attorneys planned on arresting me and putting me in jail without any criminal charges and without a bond. I was told I might have to stay in jail for six months on what is called a ‘no bond hold.’ I left town for over a month to avoid this.”
- “Judge Walker and these attorneys tried several times to find a special prosecutor to indict me because my daughter complained about my ex-wife’s conduct. All of these special prosecutors found no basis to charge me with any crime.”
- “Judge Walker worked with Detective Mark Hoage of the Beaumont Police Department to try to fabricate criminal charges against me for alleged child abuse. After months of trying to fabricate charges against me, the Beaumont Police Department finally closed the investigation.”
- “I have been threatened with violence, my trash has been collected and examined, I have been under surveillance off and on for years, etc. My ex-wife’s attorneys with the help of Provost Umphrey attorneys filed three motions to declare me a vexatious litigator to try to shut down my law practice. They complained I filed ‘unpopular’ lawsuits and therefore I should not be permitted to practice law anymore. For example, I represented a local businessman in a commercial arbitration dispute with my ex-wife’s brother Clark Winslow. Even though my client won the arbitration, they argued I should be punished because of that case and several others that I had won.”
- “Judge Walker recently filed a grievance against me with the Texas State Bar to try to stop me from practicing law.”
Morgan said he even was accused of being insane.
Court documents reveal orders by Walker for Morgan to be examined by mental health professions, but Morgan said all the psychiatrists and psychologists who examined him found him sane.
Morgan stated: “The psychiatrists could not find anything wrong with my mental state, other than my grief over them taking away my children.”
Morgan has sought help from law enforcement outside of Jefferson County. A letter from the Texas Rangers reveals the organization had agreed to investigate, but needed the approval of the local district attorney, who refused permission.
Court documents filed on behalf of other alleged victims of Walker show other requests for investigations also have been blocked.
A motion to recuse Walker filed by Dale said Walker terminated Morgan’s parental rights because of his personal dislike of Philip Klein.
This alleges Walker admitted to “ex parte communication via phone, facsimile, and text message, with material witnesses outside of the court room regarding investigation into allegations made in the case.”
There also are on file two witness affidavits, including one from a woman who spoke on behalf of Morgan during the custody dispute.
She said in an affidavit, “Kathleen’s [the ex-wife] older attorney would nod at the Judge [Walker] before she asked me a question. After I would answer the question, she would look at the judge and either nod or wink her left eye.”
The affidavit also states that Anne Winslow, the mother of Morgan’s former wife, was told by her daughter’s attorney, “It’s a done deal,” before the hearing concluded.