This is just bizarre.
Since being cleared last month by a grand jury for backdating records, a family court judge has quietly dismissed hundreds of cases, effectively nullifying a bevy of child support obligations and custody arrangements she previously made to protect children and families.
Lawyers say state District Court Judge Denise Pratt gave no prior notice of her intent to drop their cases from her 311th Court. Nearly 300 have been dismissed since Dec. 20, according to the Harris County District Clerk’s Office, including many that had been scheduled to go to trial soon.
All but 19 were dismissed on a single day, Dec. 30.
Judges are required under rules of civil procedure to schedule hearings and warn parties involved in pending litigation of their intent to dismiss cases, but lawyers said they learned their cases had been dropped after the fact by postcards mailed by the district clerk or by word of mouth from clients.
Among those dismissed were three cases from which Pratt had been recused earlier in December.
Several of the newly dismissed cases involve lawyers who had joined Enos in publicly criticizing Pratt. Enos’ firm had three cases dismissed, including one from which Pratt had been recused by a visiting judge and another from which she had voluntarily recused herself.
“It is a ridiculous, shocking, unconstitutional, unfair thing to do,” Enos said. “It’s going to have terrible consequences for children and families.”
Joan Jenkins, one of the 32 family lawyers who signed a letter last fall calling for Pratt to resign, said one client whose divorce was set to be finalized told her a week ago that his wife had found out their case had been dismissed. He said his wife showed up at the family home with a police officer and told him she was moving back in.
Family lawyer Rob Clark had five cases dropped, including one he said Pratt threatened to dismiss in open court on Dec. 30, giving no explanation. That case involves a mother who had been awarded temporary custody of her toddler daughter while seeking to collect child support from the father, who had moved to Florida. With a dismissed case, the father “could come from Florida to pick up the kid and there’s nothing she can do,” said Clark, who signed the letter calling for Pratt’s resignation. “It’s crazy.”
Pratt’s lawyer, Terry Yates, said the judge always has granted motions to reinstate in the past, and blamed any lack of notice on a new electronic filing system the District Clerk’s office is using, under a state Supreme Court mandate.
“She is finding out that some of those notices didn’t go out,” Yates said. “They’ve just got to file a motion to reinstate, if someone’s case was dismissed for want of prosecution, so it’s really no big deal.”
District clerk’s office spokesman Bill Murphy said the new system, eFileTexas.gov, “has nothing to do with the mailing of notices of upcoming dismissal hearings.” That responsibility, he said, falls on court coordinators, who are employed by the county but “handpicked by the judges for whom they work.”
State District Court Judge David Farr, the administrative judge for the family courts, said Pratt had no authority to dismiss cases from which she had been recused.
What the hell is going on in that courtroom? I know Judge Pratt just got no-billed by the grand jury on charges that she falsified dates on court documents, but clearly there are more things to be investigated here. Seriously, does any of this sound normal to you? Hair Balls, which had the story first, and Texpatriate have more.