Judge Elia Cornejo Lopez has been accused by Texas lawyer Nat C. Perez of a rather unique form of abuse: cookie coercion. Perez has filed an unusual motion for recusal that lists, among other complaints, Lopez’s alleged pressure on Perez to buy her daughter’s girl scout cookies. He suggests that a couple boxes of “Thanks-a-lot” would go a long way with Lopez and that he refusal meant he could not “Tag-a-long” in cases. . . but he did get a judicial “Shoutout”
The motion by the Brownsville lawyer Nat Perez was filed in a child sexual assault case against Perez’s client, Aroldo Humberto Cadriel, 65. Perez accuses Lopez of showing “animosity, dislike and disdain for counsel.” Her alleged wrath he suggests was “possibly exacerbated by his refusal to purchase a case of Girl Scout cookies from her daughter’s troop.”
He alleges that “tThis conduct is an open, blatant and obvious” and “Judge Elia Cornejo Lopez has gone out of her way to remove or prevent attorney Nat C. Perez Jr. from representing clients in her Court whenever possible.”
Before you say that this is just how the cookie crumbles for not supporting some cute girl scout, here is the issue of a defendant’s general right to select his own counsel. It is unclear what the basis is for the earlier alleged efforts to exclude Perez from cases, but such actions raise serious constitutional questions.
Asking lawyers to buy your own daughter’s cookies can be viewed as a bit coercive for lawyers even if meant with the best intentions. It is common for co-workers or bosses to allow their daughters to seek sales. Usually this is taken as innocent and non-threatening. However, it is not a good practice for judges in light of their power over lawyers. It is hard to say no to such a request.
Notably, this issue has come up in Texas in 1988 with the following question and answer to the ethics office:
QUESTION: Is there a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct for the court personnel of a judge’s office to sell Girl Scout cookies or other items to benefit community, school, civic, or community organizations?
ANSWER: This committee’s answer in our opinion No. 110 is applicable to the posed question. Subject to the limitations set forth in that opinion, the committee perceives no violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct in the described activities.
I was unable unfortunately to get access to opinion No. 110.
However, California issued this position on the girl scout cookie dilemma: “3. Judge may accompany her/his daughter selling girl scout cookies, but must not make judicial position known or otherwise use it to advance sales. (Canon 4C[d][I]) (IR #136)”
However, Oklahoma says the following:
QUESTION 1: Should a judge prohibit a member of the judge’s staff from soliciting or offering to sell goods for charitable or religious purposes (e.g., Girl Scout cookies for staff member’s daughter) during office hours at the staff member’s desk?
¶ 1 WE ANSWER: YES.
The issue, like so many things under ethics rules, generally turns on the context and specifics. I would be surprised if most ethics boards would object to a judge allowing a daughter to sell the cookie. However, when the judge becomes personally involved, ethical issues arise.
Lopez’s campaign site shows a picture of her family, including what appears to be the girl scout culprit involved in this cookie caper.
The site also notably states that Lopez was the first female Municipal Court Judge for the City of Brownsville, making history and
“I began my public service by serving:
1) as a patrol girl at Longoria Elementary School, Brownsville, Texas;
2) a girl scout Daisy, Brownie, and Junior Girl Scout . . .
The hold of the girl scouts obviously runs deep in the halls of government.