The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits state judges from endorsing political candidates. And that’s why the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has disciplined two Dallas district court judges who ran on a political slate together last year and endorsed each other’s candidacy.
The commission issued two public warnings to both Kim Cooks, judge of the 255th District Court, which handles family law, and Andrea Martin, judge of the 304th District Court, which handles juvenile law.
According to their warnings, during their 2018 campaigns for re-election, Cooks and Martin produced and distributed a campaign mailer that featured their names, titles and likenesses, urging voters to vote for each of them for their respective judicial races. The mailer included statements such as “Keep this talented team working for our families and for our children.”
Cooks and Martin also produced two campaign videos and posted them on social media in which they ask voters to support both of them in their reelection efforts. In one of the videos, the judges state: “We are your Dallas County Judges, your people’s judges. We are the community judges. And we need your help.”
Cooks and Martin also told the commission that they jointly hosted a fundraising event, at which separate tables were set up for each campaign. They also stated that their individual campaigns shared equally in the costs associated with the mailer, the videos and the fundraising event.
The commission concluded that both Cooks and Martin violated Canon 2B of the judicial conduct code, which prohibits a judge from lending “the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others” and Canon 5(2) which prohibits a judge from “the public use of his or her name endorsing another candidate for any public office, except that either may indicate support for a political party.”
“The commission concludes from the facts and evidence presented that by engaging in joint campaign efforts with Judge Martin, including holding a joint fundraiser, and producing and disseminating campaign materials featuring both judges suggesting they were running as a team, Judge Cooks lent the prestige of her judicial office to advance the private interests of Judge Martin, in violation of Canon 2B,” according to the warnings.
“Moreover, by authorizing the use of her name, title, and likeness on advertisements supporting Judge Martin’s campaign as well as her own, Judge Cook’s conduct constituted a public endorsement of Judge Cooks expressly prohibited by Canon 5(2),” according to the warning.
Martin’s separate warning contained nearly identical language. Both Cook and Martin were ordered to obtain two hours of instruction with a mentor and additional education in the area of campaigning.
Cooks and Martin both said they do not plan to appeal the warning and that they learned something from their interactions with the commission.
“We are thankful for the judicial conduct commission because they gave us excellent guidance,” Cooks said. “Now we know. You know better you do better.’’
Martin said that both she and Cooks are close friends and that it just made sense to them to campaign together — they just didn’t realize they were running afoul of the judicial canons.
“We told them when we went to new judges school, they didn’t teach us about campaigns. We thought we were following the rules and the commission was helpful,’’ Martin said. “The way we’re looking at it, it’s an opportunity to learn more about what we didn’t learn about campaigns. We’re friends, we work out together, that’s not going to change.”
The commission has also suspended South Texas judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado for a second time. Delgado, a former judge of the 93rd District Court in Edinburg, was suspended by the commission last year after he was indicted in a federal court for allegedly accepting bribes from a lawyer who was working as a confidential informant for the FBI.
Days after his March 2018 indictment, Delgado won the Democratic primary election for a seat on Corpus Christi’s 13th Court of Appeals. Delgado resigned his trial court bench and later won the November general election for the seat.
Because of Delgado’s election to another judicial office, the commission again reviewed the facts and circumstances related to his indictment and again voted to suspend him without pay.
Delgado, who has plead not guilty to the federal charges, did not return a call for comment.