South Plains judge faces sanction for violating code of judicial conduct

Published: May. 18, 2015 at 10:35 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 17, 2015 at 2:18 AM CST
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LAMESA, TX (KCBD) - We have a follow up for you now on a story we have tracked for the last several months.

You may remember in December of last year, when the 106th Judicial District Attorney Michael Munk, told us he believed Judge Carter Schildknecht had a personal bias against him that affected justice in the courtroom. Schildknecht is the 106th Judicial District Judge which includes Lynn, Garza, Dawson and Gaines counties.

RELATED STORY: District Attorney accuses judge of personal bias

A complaint was filed against the judge and submitted to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct last year.

That investigation and any subsequent actions were kept confidential, until now.

That is because Judge Schildknecht was given a Public Admonition and Order of Additional Education by the commission charged with overseeing judicial ethics. The sanction, signed last week, finds that Judge Schildknecht's conduct constituted willful and/or persistent violations of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.

According to documents the KCBD investigative team obtained, the commission found that the judge violated the judicial conduct code on four separate occasions.

The documents state that in July of last year, the judge referred to District Attorney Michael Munk as a "New York Jew" during a private conversation with Munk's secretary in the judge's office.

According to the commission, the judge admitted to making that statement, but said it was not made with bias or prejudice, rather in an attempt to explain his perspective "may be different from that of someone who has been reared in West Texas."

She went on to say "I may be too blunt, but I am not biased or prejudiced against New Yorkers or Jews." The commission has concluded that the judge manifested a religious and/or cultural bias by describing District Attorney Munk as a "New York Jew."

The second incident also dates back to July of last year, when the commission says the judge began hearing cases at 1 p.m. and did not stop until 4 a.m., not allowing any formal breaks for people to eat or use the restroom.

The judge responded to the commission by saying this "marathon" session was necessary to prevent jail overcrowding and while there were no formal breaks, there was plenty of downtime.

According to these documents, at least one defendant whose case was the last to be heard in the early hours of the morning, appealed her conviction stating, "fair consideration could not possibly been given at 4 a.m. after a 19 hour day."

That same month, Judge Schildknecht had her bailiff remove Munk from the courtroom..saying something along the lines of get him out of here or I don't want to see his face.

In her written response to the commission's inquiry, the judge acknowledged she made the statement and expressed regret for acting "in haste."

The commission has concluded that Judge Schildknecht failed to comply with the law and demonstrated a lack of professional competence in the law by expelling Munk from her courtroom in violation of the "Open Courts" doctrine. It also concluded the judge failed to treat litigants, attorneys and others with patience, dignity, and courtesy, when she expelled Munk from her courtroom and when she held a "marathon" court session lasting until 4 a.m. the following morning with allowing formal breaks.

In September of last year, at the conclusion of criminal docket in her courtroom, the judge, according to this document, criticized an assistant district attorney about his beard by stating, "You look like a Muslim, and I wouldn't hire you with it," or words to that effect.

While the judge could not remember that particular statement, she said the situation seemed "faintly familiar"...and that she wouldn't have made a comment while actively conducting court business.

The commission said this statement, like the "New York Jew" statement, manifests a religious and/or cultural bias.

The sanction given to the judge was a Public Admonition and Order of Additional Education. The Texas Constitution proscribes three levels of private sanction and three levels of public sanction that may be given without a formal hearing. The judge was given an opportunity to respond to any allegations made against her and her responses are noted in the commission document.

A Public Admonition is the lowest level of public sanction given. The judge is also required to receive four hours of additional education in the following areas: 1) the "Open Courts" doctrine and 2) recognizing and eliminating explicit and implicit bias and/or prejudice.

The education order requires that the 74 year old judge meet with a mentoring judge assigned to her by the Texas Center for the Judiciary within sixty days of written notification of assignment of the mentor.

Judge Carter is presiding over a murder trial in Gaines County and did not return our call to her office asking for comment.

Failure to complete, or report the completion of the, the required additional education in a timely manner may result in further Commission action. The Commission has taken this action in a continuing effort ot protect the public confidence in the judicial system and to assist the state's judiciary in its efforts to embody the principles and values set forth in the Texas Constitution and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.

PDF: Public Admonition and Order of Additional Education

PDF: Texas Code of Judicial Conduct

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