44th State Civil District Court Judge Carlos R. Cortez
44th State Civil District Court Judge Carlos R. Cortez (Handout photo)

A Dallas County grand jury on Feb. 20 declined to indict 44th District Judge Carlos Cortez on a family violence assault charge.

The decision came two months after Cortez’s girlfriend alleged that he choked her, dragged her by her hair, leaned her over the balcony of his residence and threatened to kill her, according to a Dallas Police Department offense record.

Cortez strongly denied the allegations and alleged in a Dec. 30, 2013, motion to vacate an emergency protective order that the woman was intoxicated and became violent toward him and he tried to prevent her from jumping off his balcony [See "Judge Carlos Cortez Fires Back After Weekend Arrest" Texas Lawyer, January 6, 2014, page 1].

Cortez declined comment after he left his attorney’s office hours after the grand jury released its decision.

Pete Schulte of Dallas’ Schulte & Apgar represents Cortez. Schulte says a video taken from a surveillance camera at the judge’s condominium contradicted the woman’s allegations.

“The most important thing was: There was surveillance video at the LaTour where Judge Cortez lives that completely contradicts every aspect of the complainant’s story,” Schulte said. “And, thank goodness, we had that video, and the D.A.’s office was able to look at that video, where things could have gone much differently today.”

Debbie Denmon, a spokeswoman for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, said her office is not allowed to comment on grand jury proceedings.

Schulte said there’s a lesson to be learned from the incident.

“There are individuals out there accused of crimes that they did not do. And that’s a prime example of what happened today,” Schulte says. “We told everybody that, if you just wait until we have our day in court and are able to show the truth, that this will all work out .And that’s exactly what happened. The lesson here today is: You need not to take accusations as true. Make sure the facts are known before you convict someone in the press of something they didn’t do.”

Dallas solo Ted Steinke represents Maggie Strother, who accused Cortez of the assault. Steinke says there’s another lesson to be learned from the incident.

“We are disappointed with the grand jury’s decision, but Maggie stands by her statements, and nothing that happened today changes that one bit,” Steinke wrote in an emailed statement. “I am proud of Maggie for having the courage to stand up to someone in such a powerful position. And the lesson to be learned is this: It is important for all abuse victims to stand up to their abusers, even at the risk of being told there is not enough evidence to prosecute.”

Cortez is facing a re-election challenge in the March 4 Democratic Primary from Dallas solo Bonnie Lee Goldstein.

Cortez also is awaiting a decision from Texarkana’s Sixth Court of Appeals in a case in which he asserts that the public does not have the right to see documents related to a civil lawsuit he filed and later nonsuited against a Dallas lawyer, because his privacy rights outweigh any presumption of the records’ openness. Texas Lawyer has intervened in the case to gain access to the records.