(CN) – A Texas judge who told jurors they had mistakenly convicted a woman charged with sex trafficking because God told him she is innocent was censured for those statements by a state judicial ethics commission, the board announced Monday.
Judge Jack Robison presides over the 207th Judicial District Court in New Braunfels, a central Texas town known for two crystalline rivers that beer-and-tube toting tourists flock to each summer.
Robison, a Republican, ran unopposed and was re-elected in November 2018. He hears civil and felony criminal cases from Hays, Comal and Caldwell counties.
The judge has admitted he was not feeling well in January 2018 during the trial of Gloria Romero-Perez.
Undergoing treatment and taking prescription drugs for a serious medical condition at the time and grappling with the recent death of a close friend, Robison told the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct he could not remember what he told jurors when he burst into the jury room on Jan. 12, 2018.
Romero-Perez, 33, had been charged with two felonies: sex trafficking and selling a child. Police arrested her in 2016 on charges she had brought her then 15-year-old relative to Texas from Honduras, prostituted her and sold her to a 32-year-old man who impregnated her.
The jury notified Robison after it reached a guilty verdict on the sex-trafficking charge, and not guilty on the other charge. Robison went into the jury room and told them he believed Romero-Perez is innocent.
“The judge indicated to the jury that God had told him defendant was innocent, and urged them to reconsider their verdict. The judge later apologized to the jury, and said something to the effect of, ‘When God tells me I gotta do something, I gotta do it,’” the commission’s public warning states, citing media reports.
Realizing his statements were out-of-bounds, Robison immediately confessed to prosecutors and Romero-Perez’s defense attorney and complied with the prosecution’s demand that he recuse himself.
Robison also reported himself to the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct. Eighteen parties, including the Comal County district attorney’s office and two jurors, complained to the commission about Robison’s statements to the jury.
“In his self-report, Judge Robison indicated that he was experiencing memory lapses with respect to what transpired during the case, and was unable to provide a rational explanation for his interaction with the jury,” his reprimand states.
The commission says Robison gave it letters from two doctors who said he is not suffering from a mental illness and his behavior during the trial was an instance of “delirium” caused by his medical condition and medications.
Robison did not respond to a phone message Monday seeking comment on the public warning.
The commission took Robison at his word that he’s fit for duty.
“Robison testified that he has not experienced a recurrence of delirium, and assured the commission that he will take immediate action and seek medical attention should he ever again experience the symptoms associated with the condition,” the censure states.
The commission issued the reprimand on Feb. 20, but waited until Monday to publicize it.
The commission’s executive director Eric Vinson told Courthouse News that it issues private warnings to judges for less serious ethics violations. He said public warnings like Robison’s fall on the punishment scale between less severe public admonitions and public reprimands, the highest level of public sanctions. In ethics complaints involving judges facing criminal charges, the commission can recommend to the Texas Supreme Court that they be removed from office.
Jurors were not swayed by Robison’s claim that God had urged him to intervene for Romero-Perez. They sentenced her in January 2018 to the statutory minimum of 25 years in prison for sex trafficking.
Robison’s actions did, however, give Romero-Perez a shot at redemption. The judge who replaced Robison in the case ordered a new trial in December. Romero-Perez is now awaiting retrial in the Comal County Jail.