Elizabeth Coker, 258th Judicial District Judge in Texas, appears to want to be both judge and prosecutor at trial, but clearly not the defendant. Coker has admitted to sending text messages to a prosecutor to suggest examination questions during a trial. What is astonishing is that the prosecutor Kaycee L. Jones, was later made herself a judge despite the misconduct. The case reflects what defense attorneys have often complained is the close relationship of judges and prosecutors as well as the overwhelming preference for making prosecutors judges across the country.
Jones admitted that while she was an Assistant District Attorney, she received text messages from Coker who was sitting on bench during the trial of David Reeves, who was facing a felony charge of injury to his child. Coker was clearly not satisfied with the prosecutors examinations and sent a series of questions to be asked of the witnesses. Despite the clearly improper nature of these communications, Jones served as a conduit to the trial attorney and passed along the questions.
“On August 8, 2012, I did receive a text message from Judge Coker that suggested a line of questioning in an Injury to a Child trial over which she was presiding and telling me to tell the trial prosecutor. I was not the trial prosecutor and had nothing to do with the investigation or prosecution of the case, but I was present in the courtroom for portions of the trial as an observer. When I received the text, I hand wrote the text verbatim and asked our investigator to deliver it to the prosecutor who was trying the case…
I deeply regret that I acted in this manner. It was wrong and I knew better.”
The defendant was acquitted on all counts, but the ethical breach by both judges still remains unresolved. Bar proceedings are reportedly under way. However, these actions violate a host of rules from ex parte communications to judicial bias to unprofessional conduct.
The violations would never have come to light but for the ethical conduct of Polk County District Attorney’s criminal investigator, David Wells. Wells saw one of the message from Coker. Coker has earlier rejected a guilty plea agreement and forced the case to trial — a relatively rare act for a judge and strongly suggests that Coker wanted to see a tougher sentence.
During the trial, there was evidence that Reeves had become enraged when a new puppy soiled his bed with urine and that he threw the dog against a wall. Wells watched as Jones served as a conduit for the judge and passed along one note that pushed the prosecutor to attack the accused on the puppy story. The note said “Judge says…baby pooped on (Reeves). If he threw dog off bed because the dog peed on bed, what would he do if baby pooped on him?” Well decided to keep the note as evidence and said that the judge repeatedly interjected herself into the trial. Notably, no one told the defense attorney. Not Jones and not the trial attorney, Beverly Armstrong. There is no record of Armstrong being charged with unethical conduct in failing to object or to notify opposing counsel.
Notably, both Wells and assistant prosecutor, Joe Martin, felt such communication was “very unethical.”
Coker cites a long family history as judges in the area, including her father and grandfather. She recently switched to the Republican party. Coker is a graduate of Baylor University (1989) and Baylor University Law School (1992).
As for Jones, her bio states in part:
Jones, a native of Livingston, Texas, graduated from Livingston High School in 1993. She then attended Texas A&M University graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in History and English. After graduating from Texas A&M in 1997 Jones attended Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2001, after graduating law school Jones returned home to her native Polk County. Licensed to practice law in 2002, she has been employed as an Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the Polk County Criminal District Attorney’s Office since October of 2002. . . . Jones looks forward to serving her community in a new capacity, but one that will allow her to continue helping to protect its citizens. Jones is a member of the Rotary Club of Livingston, having served as a past director of the club. She has served on the Polk County Relay for Life committee for six years. Jones is also a member of the Board of Directors for Childrenz Haven, the Polk County Child Advocacy Center, whose mission is to help child abuse victims. She is a past member of the Pilot Club of Livingston, having served as secretary and participating in the club’s annual Turkey Dinner. Jones is a life-long member of Central Baptist Church where she is a member of the personnel committee and has taught children’s Sunday school classes.
Coker and Jones are rightfully under investigation but I am unclear as to why the trial attorney has also not been charged. Coker should clearly in my view be removed from the bench, but how about Jones?
What do you believe is the proper punishment?