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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Wayward Judge Lawsuit Won’t Face Further Delay

(CN) - A Texas county accused of turning a blind eye as a judge sexually harassed employees cannot delay proceedings with an interim appeal, a federal judge ruled.

Diana Coates and Margo Green said they were fired from their jobs with Brazoria County's juvenile probation department after complaining that county judge James Blackstock had fondled their breasts and sent them pornographic text messages and emails.

Brazoria County is on the Gulf Coast, south of Houston.

Blackstock resigned from Brazoria County Court after prosecutors filed criminal charges against him in 2008. He quickly pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a fine.

Coates and Green filed a federal complaint against Blackstock, the county and the Juvenile Board two years ago in Galveston.

Brazoria countered the claims by saying that it fired Coates and Green because they were interfering with another woman's sexual harassment charges against Blackstock.

The Southern District of Texas previously nixed the claims against the board, but it refused to let Brazoria off the hook in a December 2012 ruling.

Brazoria then sought leave to file a pre-trial appeal challenging parts of the ruling on which it did not prevail.

In its request the county asked the court to re-examine three issues addressed in its December ruling: whether the juvenile board is a county agency whose members are county officials; whether the juvenile board, or the commissioners court, is a final policy maker; and whether the county can be held liable for failing to prevent sexual harassment by an elected county judge.

Brazoria argued that the court erred by relying on a 5th Circuit ruling to determine that the juvenile board acts as a county agency.

It pointed to two recent Texas appellate opinions from El Paso, and a Texas attorney general opinion, to support its claim that a juvenile board is a specialized local entity, existing separately from the county it serves.

U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa was not convinced.

Rulings by a single state appellate court do not override an earlier court of appeals finding, and the county cited no attorney general opinions that serve as the basis to certify a pre-trial appeal, Costa wrote Monday.

He also noted that the case will be 3 years old as of its Feb. 25 trial date, and that it is the longest pending non-prisoner case on his civil docket.

"The county has not provided this court with a reason to depart from the general rule of appellate jurisdiction, which restricts review to final judgments in order to avoid the delay of piecemeal appeals," Costa wrote.

"Because an interlocutory appeal in this case would result in that delay without achieving attendant efficiency gains, it would not materially advance the termination of this case," he added.

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