After a dispute with her bailiffs over courtroom security, Dallas County family court Judge Kim Cooks apparently took matters into her own hands by bringing a gun with her on the bench during a recent child custody jury trial, according to a Dallas County Sheriff’s Department report obtained by Texas Lawyer.
According to the report, detailing a court session from late March, the dispute began when the two bailiffs assigned to the 255th District Court stepped outside of Cooks’ courtroom to greet a jury panel and to conduct roll call. Cooks’ court reporter later told the bailiffs that the judge wanted them inside the courtroom.
After the jurors were seated, bailiff K. Terrell went to Cooks’ chambers to advise her that the panel was ready. Cooks then asked Terrell why the jurors were seated, and the bailiff responded, “You wanted this process to move efficiently and timely and I did.” Cooks then told the bailiff, “But you left me alone in court.”
“Judge Cooks appeared to be emotional during this exchange as the pitch in her voice continued to increase,” according to Terrell’s report. “I noticed Judge Cooks had a weapon in her left hand unholstered but was not pointed at anyone during this exchange,” according to the report, identifying the gun as a black semi-automatic Glock 27.
“I was concerned about the tone of the exchange and having a weapon in her hand,” Terrell’s report stated. “The judge proceeded to enter the courtroom with the weapon still in hand while all parties and jurors were present.
“During the trial the weapon was placed on the judge’s bench and was secured after the trial in her chambers,” the report noted.
Cooks did not return two calls for comment about the incident. A spokesman for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office also did not return a call for comment about the report.
Tony Wright and Kara Johnson, opposing attorneys in the March 26 child custody trial, both said they were not aware that Cooks had a gun on her bench during the trial.
“This is the first I’ve heard about a gun,’’ said Wright, who represented the husband in the trial. “I was sitting down and couldn’t see it.”
Wright said he was unaware of any reason related to his client that Cooks should have feared for her safety. “He’s on some medication and he comes across as a little unusual, but it’s a midlife crisis deal. He got let go from a job and nobody will hire him,” Wright said, noting that a social worker in the case testified that his client had been “inappropriate” with his two sons, allegations the husband denied.
Court records indicate that a family violence protective order had been entered in the case.
Johnson, a lawyer with Legal Aid of Northwest Texas who represented the wife in the case, said she also was not aware of Cooks being armed during the trial.
“That is surprising to me. I didn’t see any of this,” Johnson said. “And I didn’t find her to be overly emotional.”
But Johnson notes that Cooks was justified in requesting extra security for the trial, something that is often needed in all of Dallas County family courts.
“I wouldn’t have blamed the court for requesting it, just based on the facts of the case. I don’t want to get too much into it, but there were some issues in the case, including allegations of domestic abuse,’’ Johnson said, noting that she expects the husband to appeal the case after his wife was awarded full managing conservatorship of their children.
“If anybody is reading this article, there is a need for bailiffs in these courts. There are often no bailiffs in the associate judges’ courts,’’ Johnson said.
There is a long history of gun violence in North Texas courthouses associated with family court cases.
In 1992, at a time when Texas courthouses did not have metal detectors stationed at their entrances, George Lott opened fire and killed two lawyers, and wounded two judges and another lawyer, in the Tarrant County Courthouse after he became upset about his divorce case. Lott, an Arlington lawyer, was later convicted of capital murder and executed for his crimes in 1994.
And in 1993, Van Hai Huynh fatally shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself while the couple were awaiting a family court hearing in their divorce case inside the Dallas County Civil Courthouse.
Cooks also presided over the divorce case of James Boulware, a mentally disturbed man who drove an armored van in front of the Dallas Police Department in 2015 and opened fire before he was killed. At the time, Cooks told The Dallas Morning News that Boulware had menaced her several times on social media and in messages he left on her campaign telephone.
“When he came into court I got this cold feeling. My heart would drop,” Cooks said at the time. “He would have this look in his eyes, this stare. He would stare at you as if he wanted to kill you.”