Rape Comment Gets Judge Reprimanded

DALLAS (CN) – A Dallas County judge who told a reporter that a 14-year-old rape victim was “not the victim she claimed to be” has been reprimanded by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct.
     The State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued the public warning and order of additional education on Sept. 5 against State District Judge Jeanine Howard.
     It said her actions “undermined the public’s confidence” in her impartiality and independence as a judge. The commission said Howard “willfully violated” Canon 3B(10) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and Article V, Section 1-a(6) of the Texas Constitution.
     “Judge Howard’s decision to publicly share unflattering information about a 14-year-old rape victim, at best, reflects poor judgment on the part of the judge,” the order states . (The section dealing with Howard begins on page 82.) “The fact that some of the information disclosed by Judge Howard about the victim was not accurate serves as an unfortunate example of why it is important that judges avoid making public comments about pending cases.”
     The commission ordered Howard to complete four hours of “instruction with a mentor” next year.
     “In particular, the Commission desires that Judge Howard receive this additional education regarding a judge’s duty (a) to be patient, dignified, and courteous toward victims of sexual assault, and (b) to refrain from making public comments about pending or impending cases,” the order states.
     “In connection with the four (4) hours of instruction, the Commission would permit the judge to substitute one (1) hour through volunteer service at the Rape Crisis Center, if approved by the Center.”
     Howard spoke to the reporter in response to media coverage and public criticism of her decision to give the defendant in the second-degree sexual assault case deferred adjudication and 5 years of community service. The defendant was 18 years old when he sexually assaulted the girl at a Dallas high school.
     “According to Judge Howard, when testifying at the April 24, 2014 hearing, the victim had given the impression that she had never had sex before,” the order states. “However, when Judge Howard later reviewed the victim’s medical records in chambers, the judge found an entry that led her to erroneously conclude that the victim had previously given birth to a baby. Based solely upon her in-chambers review of the victim’s medical records, and without ascertaining the accuracy of her inference through additional testimony or evidence, Judge Howard concluded that the victim had mislead the court.”
     In her testimony to the commission in August, Howard said she felt “under attack for giving probation in this sort of case, which happens all the time in Dallas County” and that she could not understand why her decision was “getting such flack.”
     Howard testified that she spoke with a reporter from The Dallas Morning News on May 1, 2014, because “the public deserved a more truthful and complete story” of the case. She said she “immediately regretted” her comments about the victim, but said the reporter told her it was “too late” to remove the statements.
     “According to the article, Judge Howard asserted that Young was not a typical sex offender and that the victim was not a virgin,” the order states. “The article also reported that Judge Howard stated that the victim ‘wasn’t the victim she claimed to be,’ and had been sexually active and given birth to a baby before the sexual assault. The article included a response from the victim’s mother, who was ‘livid’ about Judge Howard’s comments. According to the mother, the victim had never been pregnant. Thereafter, additional news stories were published by local, state and national media outlets that were critical of Judge Howard’s comments about the victim. According to an attorney for the victim’s mother, Judge Howard’s public comments caused the victim and her mother to question whether they should have ever come forward to report the sexual assault. He added that the victim had been re-victimized by the information reported to the media by Judge Howard.”
     Howard told the commission she had some sympathy for the victim’s situation and that her statements may have re-victimized her.
     “Judge Howard also testified that her decision to discuss the Young case with the reporter constituted ‘poor judgment,’ and, as a result, she would never again discuss any case with the media,” the order states. “However, Judge Howard also continued to defend her conduct by asserting that she acted in good faith and that the information she shared with the reporter was a matter of public record.”
     Howard recused herself from the case the day after the interview.
     In reprimanding Howard, the commission told her that “a judge who is not independent cannot be impartial.”
     “The commission reminds Judge Howard that judicial independence and impartiality are bedrock principles of our judicial system,” the order states. “It is not enough for judges to decide cases impartially and independently; they must also diligently maintain the appearance of impartiality and independence in order to constantly reaffirm the public’s confidence in our justice system. An independent judge accepts that she may face criticism for her decisions, and does not succumb to the temptation to publicly defend an unpopular decision in the press.”
     The commission said Howard “undermined the public’s confidence” in her impartiality and independence “by defending her rulings in the press, giving rise to a legitimate concern that she would not be fair or impartial in other” rape cases.
     Howard told the Morning News on Thursday that she was reviewing her options.
     “Although I have not yet decided how to proceed legally in light of this recent decision from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, I want to assure the citizens of Dallas County that I will continue to work hard every day to promote the proper and fair administration of criminal justice in my court, just as I have done for the last eight and a half years,” Howard said in a statement. “I would also like to say ‘thank you’ to everyone in the community who has supported me during this process.”
     Howard got her bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University in 1984 and her J.D. from Southern Methodist University in 1987. She was elected to Criminal District Court No. 6 (Dallas County) in 2006. She ran unopposed in the Democratic primary in 2014 and was re-elected that year without opposition.

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