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Easy on Elrod Jennifer Elrod may become the textbook example of how not to have a controversial U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing. Elrod, whom President George W. Bush nominated on March 29 to fill a vacancy on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, breezed through her judiciary committee hearing on July 19, in which Republicans and Democrats alike gushed over her experience and qualifications � especially her longtime involvement with legal services and pro bono work. Because Elrod has been judge of the 190th District Court in Harris County for the past five years, there were no published opinions for senators to zing her with, because state trial judges rarely write them. It was a much different story for the last 5th Circuit nominee from Texas, Priscilla Owen, who was grilled mercilessly by Democrats on the committee, mostly about opinions she wrote while serving as a Texas Supreme Court justice that favored businesses and a controversial dissent opposing a minor’s request to get an abortion without telling her parents. Bush nominated Owen to the 5th Circuit in 2001, but she had to wait four years before the Senate confirmed her. In contrast, U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., who chaired the hearing, asked Elrod mostly about her opinions on diversity on the 5th Circuit and her pro bono work. Elrod told Cardin about one pro bono case that was important to her: helping the foreign parents of a young woman who was graduating as the salutatorian of her U.S. high school class overcome legal troubles so they could travel to the United States to see their daughter graduate. “I was able to help her parents come here,” Elrod told Cardin. “And they were able to sit in my office and thank me. It was the proudest day of my legal career.” A committee vote on Elrod’s nomination is expected in the coming weeks. One person who might have been taking notes on Elrod’s performance is Catharina Haynes, a partner in Baker Botts in Dallas, who Bush nominated on July 17 to fill another 5th Circuit vacancy. Haynes served as 191st District Judge in Dallas County until 2006, when she was defeated in a Democratic sweep of the courthouse during the November general election. Haynes did not return a telephone call seeking comment before presstime on July 19. Judge Pleads A judge twice indicted in connection with an alleged false report to the Texas Ethics Commission regarding $15,000 in campaign contributions in 2002 pleaded guilty on July 12 to the Class A misdemeanor offense of tampering with a governmental record. Pursuant to a plea agreement, 390th District Judge Julie Kocurek of Austin fined 365th District Judge Amado Abascal III $4,000 and ordered him to pay $15,000 in civil damages to the state for violations of the Texas Election Code. Abascal’s court serves Maverick, Zavala and Dimmit counties. In 2005, a Travis County grand jury indicted Abascal for allegedly falsifying a campaign contribution report, a state jail felony. The indictment alleged that Abascal falsely reported that 15 people, who had not contributed to Abascal’s campaign, each gave him $1,000. An official with the Kickapoo Indian tribe’s casino in Eagle Pass allegedly had given Abascal the $15,000 in cash and later gave the judge the names of people who purportedly had made the contributions. In March of this year, another grand jury indicted Abascal for alleged aggravated perjury related to his testimony before the grand jury about the contribution, a third-degree felony. A conviction of either felony offense would have resulted in Abascal’s removal from the bench. “The charge we agreed to was tampering with a governmental record without any intent to defraud or harm,” says Roy Q. Minton, Abascal’s attorney and a shareholder in Austin’s Minton, Burton, Foster & Collins. Beverly Matthews, the Travis County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Abascal, says prosecutors decided to offer a plea agreement after three material witnesses facing charges in federal court stemming from an investigation of the Kickapoos’ casino refused to testify in Abascal’s case because their testimony might incriminate them. “That was the problem,” Matthews says. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct suspended Abascal in October 2005 after he was first indicted. “We’re going to lift his suspension as soon as I get a copy of the judgment of the court,” says Seana Willing, the commission’s executive director. But Willing says the judicial conduct commission still has to resolve Abascal’s case involving alleged judicial misconduct stemming from the campaign contributions. That case remains pending before the commission, she says.

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