No Judge Is Above the Law

Etta Mullin

The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct was established to hold judges to a level of conduct that we should expect from the individuals who serve in such a high capacity. When judges fail to meet this level of conduct it deserves our attention. Etta Mullin is one such judge who blatantly violated the judicial code.

In October 2015, Etta Mullin faced a Public Reprimand by the Texas Special Court of Review. She had already faced a Public Admonition, but her continued blatant disrespect for the law and judicial code led to more serious disciplinary actions.

The Texas Special Court of Review found that Mullin had violated outlined requirements in the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and the Texas Constitution.1

The Review found that Mullin would often take “frequent and lengthy departures from the bench, unaccompanied by communications to waiting court-goers concerning when or if the respondent would return to hear their matters.” The decision of the review court further notes,

Evidence showed that these and other troublesome conditions in the respondent’s court grew so intolerable that some attorneys refused to accept new cases assigned to that court. Other attorneys began charging their clients more to compensate for the additional time needed to bring matters to conclusion in the respondent’s court.

The Texas Special Court of Review also found several instances where Mullin failed to be patient, dignified, and courteous to those in her courtroom.2 In one instance, according to the Examiners, Mullin refused “to allow Attorney Bright to appear in her courtroom while he was attired in shorts due to a visible and obvious medical impairment.” In summary of this situation, the court of review stated that,

In refusing to make this reasonable accommodation, the respondent failed to treat Bright with the requisite patience, dignity, and courtesy required by Canon 3B(4). The media coverage of the incident highlighted the respondent’s inappropriate judicial conduct, and the conduct itself cast public discredit upon the judiciary in violation of Article V, section 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution.

She also accused, during court proceedings, Attorney Lechtenberger of lying. It was also noted that Mullin threatened to detain Prosecutor Ernst who was eight months pregnant and desiring to take a short break from court proceedings.

The Texas Special Court of Review thoroughly investigated all of these allegations and found that Mullin had indeed violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. Even after she was confronted, Mullin continued to violate the judicial code and willfully and persistently failed to follow the law during recusal hearings and at other times during her tenure as judge. The Special Court of Review stated in summary,

The respondent’s actions show recurring behavior with respect to her (1) failure to treat attorneys with the requisite patience, dignity, and courtesy expected of a Texas judge, (2) improper interference in recusal proceedings, and (3) improper handling of plea bargain cases, as detailed above. The number of incidents establish a persistent course of conduct in each of these areas that is fundamentally inconsistent with the high standards by which a Texas judge is expected to behave.

Etta Mullin was ousted in the runoff election in 2014, but the charges against her remain and she has not been barred from running for elected office again in the future. No judge is above the law or is excused from acting in a way unbecoming of an administrator of justice. Ultimately, it is the duty of Texas citizens to hold her accountable for her actions.

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1 The violations were of Canon 3(B)4 and Canon 2(A) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and Article V, Section 1-a(B)A of the Texas Constitution.

2 As required by Canon 3(B)4.