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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:The Commission for Lawyer Discipline brought a disciplinary action against Peter J. Riga, alleging that Riga violated provisions of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct and that Riga assisted Michael Easton, his legal assistant, in the unauthorized practice of law. Pursuant to Texas Rule of Disciplinary Procedure 3.02, the Texas Supreme Court appointed Judge Craig Fowler of the 255th District Court of Dallas County to preside over the disciplinary action. Easton filed a plea in intervention, bringing claims against Pamela Halliburton, the commission’s lawyer, and Suzanne Ross, a member of one of the State Bar of Texas’ grievance committees. Riga filed counterclaims against the State Bar of Texas, the commission and Halliburton, seeking monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. �1983 and sanctions under state law. Easton later filed a motion to recuse Fowler. The State Bar, the commission, Halliburton and Ross filed a plea to the jurisdiction in which they argued that: 1. Fowler’s appointment order did not authorize him to preside over any parties or claims other than the disciplinary action brought by the commission against Riga; and 2. the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over parties and claims outside the disciplinary action. Before taking action on the motion to recuse, Fowler granted the plea to the jurisdiction on May 25, 2005. In November 2005, Fowler referred Easton’s motion to recuse to the presiding judge of the administrative judicial region, who later denied the motion. Acting in an abundance of caution after the denial of the motion to recuse, the State Bar, the commission, Halliburton and Ross asked the district court to reconsider its plea to the jurisdiction. Before the district court signed a second order on March 1, 2006, granting the plea to the jurisdiction, Riga and Easton on Feb. 20, 2006, filed another motion to recuse Fowler. The district court’s March 1, 2006, order did not mention the pending recusal motion, but in a separate order on March 1, 2006, the district court referred the recusal motion to the presiding judge of the administrative judicial region. The record did not reflect the ultimate disposition of the recusal motion. HOLDING:Reversed. Riga’s and Easton’s first issue challenged the district court’s action in ruling on the plea to the jurisdiction while the recusal motion was pending. The record, the court stated, established that Fowler was aware that a second motion to recuse was pending when he signed the March 1, 2006, order granting the plea to the jurisdiction. Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 18a(c) requires a judge who declines to recuse to forward the recusal motion to the presiding judge of the administrative judicial region. Fowler complied with the rule; however, Rule 186a(c) further requires that the trial judge may make no further orders and take no further action prior to a hearing on the forwarded motion. The only exception provided by the rule is if the further order states good cause for ruling notwithstanding the pending recusal motion. Here, the order granting the plea to the jurisdiction does not refer in any way to the pending recusal motion, much less state good cause for why the order was signed when the recusal motion was pending. Accordingly, the court held that the March 1, 2006, order was void, because it was signed in violation of Rule 18a. The commission argued that, even if Fowler erroneously signed the March 1, 2006 order, the dismissal was proper on the ground of governmental immunity. But the court stated that no one raised this argument in the plea to the jurisdiction; thus, the court declined to address the issue. Accordingly, the court reversed the March 1, 2006, order granting the plea to the jurisdiction. The court did not render an order in its place because the trial court should not have taken action until the forwarded recusal motion was heard pursuant to Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 18a(d). OPINION:Nuchia, J.; Nuchia, Keyes and Higley, J.J.

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