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Records Embarrassing to Judge Won’t Be Sealed

TEXARKANA, Texas (CN) - A Texas judge whose defamation suit against a lawyer backfired cannot seal the embarrassing records from that case, a state appeals court ruled.

As reported by the Dallas Morning News, the records include sworn allegations that Dallas County District Judge Carlos Cortez used cocaine, paid for sex, sexually assaulted a little girl and choked a woman who purportedly said he fathered her son.

These statements came to light in discovery for a defamation suit Cortez had filed against Johnston Tobey attorney Randy Johnston after Johnston told the media, other attorneys and judges about his official complaint against Cortez.

"Unexpectedly faced with the imminent disclosure of evidence sullying the very reputation he had sought to protect by pursuing his libel suit against Johnston, Cortez immediately nonsuited his complaint against Johnston and asked that the produced documents be sealed," the latest decision in the case from the 6th Appellate District states.

The Dallas Morning News had been one of several entities to oppose the seal, and the trial court concluded in April that the records could be publicly disclosed as court records.

Cortez withdrew his request to seal but later resubmitted it, obtaining an order that stayed the release of the records until 14 days after the trial court's order was signed - a stay the 6th Court later extended for this appeal.

In an 11-page opinion Wednesday, the 6th Court agreed that Cortez cannot seal the records.

"The trial court sought to balance the interest in privacy against the public interest in disclosure, in light of the historical preference that court proceedings be open to the public absent a strong reason to close or keep them from the public," Chief Justice Josh Morriss III wrote for a three-judge panel. "We cannot say, taking all of these matters together, that the trial court abused its discretion by concluding that Cortez' interest in privacy did not clearly outweigh the presumption of openness and the reasons underlying its existence."

Cortez also waived his sealing request by withdrawing it earlier, the court found.

"Cortez chose to withdraw his request to seal and to proceed solely on his contention that the documents were not court records," Morriss wrote. "By so doing, he chose his procedural vehicle. We conclude that his withdrawal of his sealing request before the first appeal withdrew that issue. He cannot now pursue the substantive issue seeking to seal the records."

A Democrat, Cortez ran for re-election this year and was defeated in the March primary. Three months earlier, Cortez made headlines when he faced a charge of assaulting his girlfriend. Prosecutors later dropped the felony charge, and Cortez has denied any wrongdoing.

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