Ken Anderson, who resigned Sept. 24 as judge of Williamson County’s 277th District Court, will no longer go to trial on Sept. 30 in his attorney-disciplinary case.
In a Sept. 25 letter, 121st District Judge Kelly G. Moore wrote to the attorneys for Anderson and the Commission for Lawyer Discipline (CFLD) to confirm that the Sept. 30 trial in CFLD v. Anderson was vacated and rescheduled for Nov. 8.
Moore copied the letter to Richard Roper, the attorney pro tem who Moore appointed to represent the state in a criminal case against Anderson.
When asked why Moore copied Roper, Moore’s court coordinator, Debbi Miller, says the judge declines comment on pending cases.
Roper, partner in Thompson & Knight in Dallas, writes in an email, “Sorry, I can’t say anything. But, I have been diligently working on the matter under Judge’s Moore order.”
Former chief disciplinary counsel Jim McCormack says he thinks Anderson’s resignation could be linked to the disciplinary trial delay and perhaps the criminal case, too.
“There’s several scenarios here that are plausible,” explains McCormack. “My theory is that Anderson is attempting to resolve both the Bar disciplinary prosecution and the criminal prosecution. . . .”
McCormack says the disciplinary trial delay may also be because “the parties are attempting to settle the case, and that they need to present the proposed settlement to the Commission for Lawyer Discipline at its next monthly meeting.”
Claire Mock is spokeswoman for the State Bar of Texas Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel (OCDC), which represents the CFLD. Mock writes in an email that the CFLD meets next in October, but she declines comment on whether it will discuss the Anderson case, explaining, “The Commission does not produce public agendas or publicly discuss the matters taken up.”
Mock writes, “The Commission continues to work toward a final resolution in this matter that will protect the interests of the public and the Bar and is confident that such a resolution will be reached.”
The CFLD has alleged that Anderson — then the Williamson County district attorney — committed professional misconduct in the 1987 murder trial of Michael Morton, who was exonerated in 2011 based on DNA evidence. The CFLD alleges Anderson violated disciplinary rules by withholding exculpatory evidence from Morton’s defense team and by making a false statement to the 1987 trial court about whether he had such evidence. Anderson has denied the allegations.
He also has denied the criminal charges based on similar allegations, which arose in a court of inquiry earlier this year.
When asked whether the trial was delayed because they’re negotiating an agreement, Anderson’s co-counsel R. Mark Dietz and Eric Nichols each write in an email that they decline comment.
Morton says, “The lawyers are doing what the lawyers do, and at this stage in the process, we’ve all been asked to give a ‘no comment.’ . . . I’m sorry, I’ve been muzzled.”
When asked if he knows why the trial was delayed, Morton co-counsel John Raley says, “The thing is, there’s a lot of speculation about that right now, but I’m not at liberty to comment on that in any way.”
McCormack, an Austin legal-ethics solo, now represents attorneys whom the CFLD has accused of disciplinary violations. He’s followed the news of Anderson’s criminal and disciplinary cases.
“Certainly, the offense he’s charged with — if it’s proven — is deserving of being disbarred. If what he’s charged with is established, that is a capital crime in the legal profession,” McCormick says.
McCormack explains that when a disciplinary case is filed in a district court, the law allows the CFLD to impose a public reprimand, law-license suspension, a probated or partially probated license suspension, disbarment or resignation in lieu of discipline. The resignation option means a lawyer voluntarily admits to a rule violation and surrenders his law license — the same practical effect as disbarment, he says.
“The lawyer can seek reinstatement after five years, just as a disbarred lawyer can,” McCormack says.
Speaking generally about the process, McCormack says that, when a disciplinary case is set for trial, the CFLD authorizes the disciplinary counsel to accept a settlement offer within a certain range of discipline. For example, it may authorize a number of years of license suspension followed by probation, or any other available sanction.
If an attorney offers to settle for a lesser sanction — and the disciplinary counsel thinks it’s an acceptable outcome — that means the CFLD must approve the settlement before it’s final, he says.
If the CFLD accepted the agreement, the judge would have to sign an agreed judgment and then the details would become public. If it rejected an offer, the case would progress to trial, McCormack explains.