A special court of review has found that 1st Court of Appeals Justice James Patrick “Jim” Sharp deserved the public reprimand issued to him on Aug. 30, 2012, by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for trying to “intimidate” Brazoria County employees into releasing an acquaintance’s daughter from juvenile custody.
The March 13 opinion also rejected Sharp’s request that he receive a lesser sanction because he has been diagnosed with adult Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
Sharp previously had testified that he sought a lesser sanction because “he will be ineligible to sit as a visiting judge if he is publicly reprimanded,” according to the opinion. Sharp is the only Democrat on Houston’s 1st Court.
David Keltner, a partner in Fort Worth’s Kelly Hart & Hallman who represented Sharp in his appeal of the disciplinary action, says his client regrets his behavior.
“Jim Sharp is a good and decent man,” Keltner says. “This episode was not only regrettable, he regrets it and acknowledges that it was bad conduct for a judge.’”
Sharp appealed to the special court of review the commission’s findings that he violated several canons of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. The Texas Supreme Court appointed the special court of review.
The special court of review held that Sharp violated Texas Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 2B, which states, “A judge shall not allow any relationship to influence judicial conduct or judgment. A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.”
According to the opinion, in trying to win the girl’s release after she was detained for allegedly shoplifting so she wouldn’t have to spend the night in custody, Sharp told one Brazoria County official in an angry tone, “You’ll have picked the wrong little girl that has friends in high places to mess with.”
Sharp testified that he had met the juvenile’s mother because of her involvement in Brazoria County politics and that he knew the juvenile’s grandmother for the same reason.
The court also found that Sharp violated Canon 3B(4), which states, “A judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and other with whom the judge deals in an official capacity.”
According to the opinion, a Brazoria County official testified that Sharp told him, “You guys are a bunch of back woods hillbillies that used screwed up methods in dealing with children and I can promise you this, things are about to change in Brazoria County.”
ADD as Mitigation
To mitigate in favor of a less severe sanction, Sharp introduced the testimony of Dr. Tew, a Houston psychiatrist who diagnosed Sharp with ADD. The psychiatrist testified that the characteristics of ADD include “explosive temper,” “having a very short fuse, getting easily angered, easily frustrated, and the inability to sort of let go of a situation and step back and rethink it.” He also described Sharp’s condition as “very treatable” with medication and counseling.
Sharp also argued the special court of review should not consider other incidents, including a dispute he had with county officials over an old desk he wanted moved to the 1st Court’s new offices and that he “periodically refused to show his identification badge to security personnel when bypassing the metal detectors at the building where the court of appeals is located.”
Sharp argued that those incidents were not included in the commission’s charging document and occurred before his diagnosis of ADD.
The court disagreed with Sharp’s arguments.
“While the Commission did not have the opportunity to consider Dr. Tew’s testimony regarding Justice Sharp’s ADD, in light of the nature and severity of Justice Sharp’s violations, we are not convinced that Dr. Tew’s opinions militate in favor of a sanction other than a public reprimand. We do, however, hope that Justice Sharp will continue to pursue treatment with Dr. Tew or another treatment provider,” according to the opinion.
The panel consisted of Bill Meier, a justice on Fort Worth’s 2nd Court of Appeals who served as the chairman, and Justices Lana Myers and David Bridges, who both serve on Dallas’ 5th Court of Appeals.
Sharp did not return a call seeking comment. Seana Willing, executive director of the commission did not return a telephone call seeking comment.