A special court of review publicly reprimanded former District Judge Guy Williams of Corpus Christi, Texas, for groping three female public officials at a party, issuing a legally incompetent ruling and making biased, prejudicial statements on the bench.
Williams presided over Nueces County’s 148th District Court from 2011 to 2018, when he declined to seek reelection. The judicial conduct commission reprimanded him twice in December 2018 for five complaints, and he appealed to the special court.
In all of the complaints, the court found that Williams’ behavior cast discredit on the judiciary, and he had shown willful and persistent conduct that was inconsistent with his duties. He admitted acting out of anger and frustration in his courtroom.
“He has acknowledged having an anger management problem and has recently sought treatment,” said the majority opinion by the appointed judges, Fourth Court of Appeals Justices Liza A. Rodriguez and Beth Watkins.
The third judge, Fourteenth Court of Appeals Justice Meagan Hassan, wrote a concurring and dissenting opinion that agreed with the majority’s findings on two of the charges, but disagreed on four charges stemming from a family law case and Williams’ comments about the district attorney’s office.
Gale Law Group partner Amie Augenstein of Corpus Christi, who represented Williams, said the result wasn’t what they had hoped for regarding a reprimand over Williams’ ruling in a family law case.
“We absolutely do not believe that Judge Williams’ ruling violated his judicial canons or the Texas Constitution and the dissenting Justice agrees with us,” she wrote in a statement.
Three complaints against Williams arose from an August 2017 party with many public officials in attendance.
A sitting district judge said that Williams grabbed her waist and midriff, pulled her toward him, slid his hand across her buttock and squeezed it, and later texted her, “Nice body for a 70 year old,” said the special court’s 2-1 majority opinion, issued May 16.
At the same event, the Nueces County district clerk said Williams ran his hand down her side from her breast to her bottom.
And the county’s deputy chief clerk reported that Williams rubbed his elbow on her breast and touched her buttocks.
The special court of review held a trial de novo in which the three women testified about Williams touching them inappropriately at the party, and eyewitnesses corroborated the events. Although Williams denied the allegations, the court found that the evidence against him was credible and strong. His behavior violated a canon requiring a judge to act in ways that promote public confidence in the judiciary, ruled the court.
“We find that Judge Williams failed to comply with the law when he engaged in three separate instances of assault by offensive touching in violation of the Texas Penal Code,” the court ruled.
Another complaint arose from family law cases involving two mothers with children by the same father, who wanted to modify visitation with the children.
Before a July 2017 hearing, Williams met in chambers with the parties’ lawyers, then took the bench, and without hearing any evidence, announced the mothers were alienating the father and refusing to comply with court orders. Williams ruled in a verbal order to remove the children from the mothers, award full custody to the father and stop child support. He said they “incurred the wrath of this court,” and he wouldn’t let one mother’s lawyer speak.
He vacated his verbal order the next day.
Williams testified at trial that he ordered the children taken away from the two mothers to shock and “scare the bee-jee-bees” out of the women to make a point. He didn’t realize it was inappropriate, and wasn’t aware of a law that requires a judge to have a verified pleading and sworn statement before switching custody of a child, according to the majority opinion.
The special court ruled that Williams had violated a judicial canon requiring a judge to maintain competence in the law.
The final complaint against Williams arose from his statements in court about the Nueces District Attorney’s Office. He said on the record in two family violence cases that the office manipulates and uses victims to its advantage, because prosecutors pursue charges even when victims do not agree, and he was tired of the office “using the victims as their own tools in my court.”
Williams testified that he stood by his comments about the district attorney’s office because they were true. He was frustrated that the office wasted time in his court by prosecuting and not dismissing family-violence cases, and he was frustrated the office assigned 11 new prosecutors to his court in four years.
His statements expressed bias or prejudice against the district attorney’s office, violating a judicial canon, ruled the special court.
Eric Vinson, executive director of the judicial conduct commission, declined to comment.
Criminal Charges Pending
Aside from the ethical complaints, Augenstein, Williams’ attorney, said in an interview that Williams has pleaded not guilty.
The ex-judge will have trials in June for misdemeanor charges of public intoxication and resisting arrest for behavior after a car accident in which Williams was a passenger and suffered a concussion. In November 2018, officers arrested Williams for suspicion of driving while intoxicated and for unlawful possession of a firearm. But Augenstein said Williams hasn’t been charged in that case, that his blood-alcohol level was under the legal limit, and that the former judge is licensed to carry a gun in Texas.
Augenstein also said Williams is a Vietnam veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which causes anger problems. She said Williams completed an inpatient program in late 2018, and is still getting treatment through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Augenstein said, “While he does suffer from PTSD, he’s a good person and hasn’t done any of the things that he’s been criminally accused of.”
Read the special court of review’s full opinion.