A state district judge who was sued by a mother and daughter has fired back at the two Georgetown lawyers representing them. In his Nov. 4 answer to S.R.L. v. Flenniken, retired district judge Terry Flenniken alleges the attorneys were “reprehensible” and “shameless” for drafting a civil petition to promote “a political issue” and to avoid their own “accountability” in a tragic family law case.
Flenniken also included a motion to dismiss the case based on judicial immunity and a motion to disqualify plaintiff attorneys Stephen Casey and Greg Terra from the case because their alleged conduct makes them fact witnesses.
The background to S.R.L. is as follows, according to the Oct. 8 petition filed in Burleson County’s 335th District Court [See "Mother, Daughter File Lawsuit Against Judge, Alleging He Didn't Report Outcry of Sexual Abuse" Texas Lawyer, Oct. 21, 2013, page 9.] S.R.L. was living with her grandfather and step-grandmother when they divorced. The step-grandmother took S.R.L. to live with her boyfriend, Edward Clinton Lee. Lee, a registered sex offender, engaged in “assaultive behavior of a sexual nature’ with S.R.L., which the girl described in an essay as part of a writing assignment at school, according to the petition.
When the 15-year-old became pregnant by her boyfriend in 2012, she alleged her step-grandmother, grandfather and Lee pressured her to have an abortion against her wishes. Her mother, who was living in Georgia at the time, contacted the Texas Center for Defense of Life (TCDL), a Georgetown-based antiabortion group, for representation.
TCDL filed a temporary restraining order before Flenniken, then judge of the 21st District Court in Burleson County, to stop the abortion, which the judge granted. TCDL also notified Flenniken that the girl was living with a registered sex offender who was not related to her. TCDL later filed a motion to modify the parent-child relationship, which would have removed the girl from Lee’s home, the petition alleges.
During an interview with Flenniken, the petition alleges the girl told the judge that Lee was sexually abusing her and she wanted to live with her biological mother. Flenniken did not report the allegations of abuse to the police and returned the girl to the home of the step-grandmother and Lee, the petition alleges.
Four months later, on June 29, 2012, Lee shot and killed the step-grandmother and sexually assaulted the girl and tied her up, the petition alleges. The girl later broke free, ran from the house and found a police officer. After his capture, Lee pleaded guilty to capital murder on April 29, 2013, and was sentenced to life in prison.
The plaintiffs then filed the negligence suit S.R.L. last month, naming Flenniken as a defendant and alleging that he failed to intervene under Texas Family Code §261.101, because as a “licensed attorney” the statute required that Flenniken “had to intervene” by reporting the girl’s alleged outcry of sexual abuse.
In his answer, Flenniken alleges: It was TCDL lawyers Casey and Terra who had the duty to report the alleged abuse under §261.101; Casey and Terra failed to bring forth admissible evidence during a Feb. 14, 2012, custody-modification hearing to sustain a temporary injunction; the girl’s recorded testimony in the case “totally contradicts [the plaintiffs'] current allegations against Judge Flenniken”; and Casey and Terra failed to take any steps to safeguard the girl after the custody-modification hearing and “abandoned” her as a client.
“It is therefore reprehensible for them to have drafted and filed the Original Petition in this case,” Flenniken’s answer alleges of Casey and Terra. “Judge Flenniken acted honorably and properly, making a judicial decision based upon the evidence that lawyers Casey and Terra offered in the February 14, 2012 evidentiary hearing. Their contrary allegations in this lawsuit are shameless.”
Flenniken declined to comment on the case. Flenniken’s attorney, Mike McKetta, a shareholder in Austin’s Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, alleges Casey and Terra targeted the judge with a lawsuit for political purposes and to make national news.
“These lawyers filed a lawsuit and then drove to Austin for a press conference for national news. And their press conference was to complain about somebody other than themselves,” McKetta said. “And they were the lawyers who had the job of putting on evidence. And they blamed the judge, but the judge did his job. The judge listened to the evidence.”
“They had no business,” McKetta said of Casey and Terra. “These are two lawyers who care more about a political cause than they cared about their client in 2012 or their client in 2013.”
Casey, chief counsel of TCDL who represents S.R.L. and her mother in the negligence case, denied Flenniken’s allegations.
“He uses a lot of over-the-top adjectives,” Casey said of Flenniken’s answer. “And you can see, when people look at the bare facts of this case, the judge is going to have to point the finger to get the spotlight off of himself.”
“We told him that day—that day—that she was in a house with a registered sex offender. And he’s asking us for more evidence? That’s like huge red flag No. 1,” Casey said of the custody-modification hearing, claiming he met his duty under §261.101 to report the abuse by reporting it to Flenniken.
He also denied he abandoned his clients after the custody-modification hearing.
“When our client’s mom decides not to litigate this any further, we’re bound to follow her desires. She was our client,” Casey said.
Casey said the case should not be dismissed because of Flenniken’s alleged judicial immunity.
“When he tries to get into judicial immunity, he’s missing the point. It’s not his role as a judge that the lawsuit is based on,” said Casey, who claims Flenniken was required to report the girl’s outcry “as a licensed attorney in the state of Texas.”
Casey added, “We can present this case without myself or Mr. Terra becoming fact witnesses. If we need to substitute counsel, we will. This is just another case of [Flenniken] trying to get us out of there.”
Terra, a Georgetown solo, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.