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A Dallas judge has gone on the attack, filing a defamation suit against his own friend and former lawyer amid allegations of bribery and ex parte communications. Judge David R. Gibson’s suit and the circumstances that prompted it are shaping up to be one of the most outrageous ethical battles concerning a Dallas civil judge in recent memory. Gibson, a Texas state court judge in Dallas, recused himself on July 27 from a $5 billion contract dispute after his friend and former lawyer Jeffrey T. Robnett’s affidavit was submitted in a breach-of-contract suit alleging that Gibson solicited a bribe from the defense lawyer in that case. Robnett, who had represented Gibson in his divorce, signed a sworn affidavit detailing the bribery allegations. That affidavit was entered into the record on July 27 in Universal Image Inc. d/b/a Chalkboardtalk.com v. Yahoo Inc. which alleges that Yahoo backed out of a deal to provide its customer user information list to Chalkboardtalk. Then on July 31, Gibson fired back at Robnett by filing a defamation suit against him, effectively ending both their friendship and their attorney-client relationship. Robnett alleged in the affidavit that he attended a May 8 meeting concerning Gibson’s divorce at the Dallas home of Yahoo!/Broadcast lawyer Steven Stodghill, a partner at Boston-based Fish & Richardson. All of the men agree that the meeting was held to discuss modifying Gibson’s divorce decree. But they strongly disagree about what was discussed near the conclusion of that meeting. MEETINGS AND ACCUSATIONS According to Robnett’s affidavit, while having drinks, he listened as Gibson and Stodghill allegedly discussed pending motions in the Yahoo! case, including a sanction motion filed against Chalkboardtalk lawyer Lawrence J. Friedman. Friedman is a well-known Dallas civil attorney and partner in Friedman Driegert & Hsueh. Friedman’s partner, Robert Driegert, is chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party. “Judge Gibson queried what would happen to him �two years from now’ as the result of his rulings in the case at issue,” Robnett alleges in his affidavit. “He told Mr. Stodghill that he needed to be �protected’ from adverse political ramifications for sanctioning Friedman or other rulings against Friedman’s client.” “Judge Gibson then told Mr. Stodghill that he wanted a fundraiser prior to his re-election at the home of Mark Cuban, one of the defendants in the lawsuit,” Robnett alleges in his affidavit. “The tenor of this part of the conversation was that Mr. Stodghill would indeed insure sufficient financial support, with the help of Mark Cuban, to �protect’ Judge Gibson’s re-election, in light of his rulings in the lawsuit.” In an interview at the office of his lawyer Randy Johnston, Gibson angrily denies Robnett’s allegations. “Jeff Robnett I’ve known for six years,” Gibson says. “He was one of my best friends ever. I’m shocked that he would say anything like that.” Gibson says he’s curious about Robnett’s motives because Robnett attended a divorce modification hearing as Gibson’s lawyer the day after the alleged May 8 conversation. “If he believed anything in the affidavit was true, he should have opened his mouth,” Gibson says. “He never disclosed his affidavit to me.” In his defamation suit, Gibson alleges that Robnett became jealous when he consulted with Stodghill about his divorce case. The suit makes much of the fact that Robnett filed the affidavit rather than admonish his client about bribery. Gibson says he was worried about losing his parental rights to his daughter and consulted Stodghill about representing him even though Stodghill had a major case pending in his court. “My daughter’s more important to me than that case,” Gibson says. “And if that case would have gone to trial I would have recused myself.” Johnston also questions Robnett’s actions. “What lawyer on God’s green earth would listen to a client supposedly planning to commit a felony and not say to the client, �Look, don’t do that.’ ” says Johnston, a legal malpractice lawyer and partner in Dallas’ Johnston Tobey. “ That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.” Robnett refers questions to his lawyer, Cheryl Wattley. Wattley says her client stands by the affidavit. THE PARTIES As expected, there were equal amounts of outrage spread among the lawyers representing opposing parties in the Yahoo! litigation. Key lawyers on both sides have retained counsel to represent them in the wake of the bribery allegations. Stodghill refers calls to his lawyer, John Bickel. Bickel says the allegations in Robnett’s affidavit are “outlandish.” “At no time did Judge Gibson request nor did Steve Stodghill offer anything approaching a bribe,” says Bickel, a partner in Dallas’ Bickel & Brewer. “It just didn’t happen. It is not true.” As for the allegations about a request to hold a fundraiser at the home of Dallas billionaire Cuban, Bickel says: “There may have been discussions about a fundraiser, but it wouldn’t have been in Cuban’s house because Cuban doesn’t hold fundraisers. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve heard.” Since the affidavit surfaced, Chalkboardtalk lawyers have added a civil rights claim to their petition, alleging that Yahoo! lawyers conspired to deny the plaintiff access to the courts. “We were astounded when we learned about the [alleged] ex parte communication between Steve Stodghill and Judge Gibson,” says Friedman, who also has retained Amy Ganci, of Ganci & Ganci in Dallas, to represent his interests. “This is a very dark day in the history of the Texas legal community.” On July 31, the civil rights claims in the Yahoo! case were moved to U.S. District Court in Dallas. The use of defamation or libel suits by judges to defend themselves is rare, experts say. Joe Chumlea, a partner in Dallas’ Bragg, Chumlea, McQuality & Smithers, who is representing another Dallas judge, Robert Francis, in a libel suit against a television station, says a jurist has to be pushed pretty far to file such a suit. “This is about as outrageous as I’ve seen in 24 years,” Chumlea says of the Gibson matter. “At the same time, [a judge's] reputation is more vulnerable because their credibility is a large factor in their electability. And if they don’t respond, it can and will probably come back to haunt them.”

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