Judge resigns amid allegations of improper conduct

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Associated Press

Posted on October 23, 2013 at 12:32 PM

HOUSTON (AP) — An East Texas state district judge who had been accused of sending text messages to coach a prosecutor during a trial, being biased against some attorneys and improperly meeting with jurors has resigned as part of an agreement with a state judicial commission.

Elizabeth E. Coker did not admit to guilt or fault as part of her agreement with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission announced Monday that Coker had taken an immediate leave of absence and her resignation will take effect Dec. 6. The agreement also prevents her from ever being a judge again in Texas.

Coker had been a judge since 1998. She oversaw proceedings in Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties. Her father and grandfather had also been judges who presided over the same counties.

Jerald Crow, one of Coker's attorneys, declined to comment Tuesday about the resignation agreement.

The commission said that during an August 2012 child abuse trial Coker presided over, the judge sent text messages to Polk County prosecutor Kaycee Jones, suggesting questions that Jones should relay to the prosecutor handling the case.

Coker was also accused of suggesting that a witness review a videotaped interview he gave to law enforcement to refresh his memory and rehabilitate his testimony and of discussing legal issues pertinent to the case "in an unsuccessful effort to assist the State (to) obtain a guilty verdict in the case."

The defendant ended up being acquitted of a felony charge of injury to a child.

The commission also alleged Coker might have engaged in other improper communications and meetings with Jones and other prosecutors in Polk and San Jacinto counties and certain defense attorneys regarding pending cases in her courtroom.

"Judge Coker allegedly exhibited a bias in favor or certain attorneys and a prejudice against others in both her judicial rulings and her court appointments; and Judge Coker allegedly met with jurors in an inappropriate manner, outside the presence of counsel, while the jurors were deliberating in one or more criminal trials," the commission said.

In addition, the commission alleged Coker "may not have been candid and truthful" in testimony before the panel about whether she tried to influence the testimony of a witness who spoke to the commission.

In emails on Tuesday, both Seana Willing, the commission's executive director, and Claire Mock, a spokeswoman for the State Bar of Texas' Chief Disciplinary Counsel's Office, wrote that their organizations could not comment on whether they are investigating Jones or other attorneys.

In a letter sent earlier this year to the State Bar of Texas, Jones, who is now a state district judge in Polk County, admitted to receiving the texts from Coker and said she deeply regretted that she "acted in this manner. It was wrong and I knew better."

Some "of the lawyers that practice before (Coker) are very gratified she made this decision. It's probably in the best interest of herself and the public," said Bobby D. Mims, president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/juanlozano70

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