A Texas state district judge summarily dismissed civil claims filed against his predecessor on the bench by a mother and daughter for allegedly failing to report the girl’s outcry of abuse by a registered sex offender.
The case, S.R.L. v. Terry Flenniken, was filed in a Burleson County district court in Oct. 8. In the original petition, the mother and daughter alleged that retired 21st District Judge Terry Flenniken—along with three school district employee defendants—breached their duty to the girl under Texas Family Code §261.101, which requires “professionals” to report child abuse.
The girl alleges that Flenniken returned her to her step-grandmother’s custody after claiming the step-grandmother’s boyfriend sexually abused her, according to the petition. The abuser in the case later pleaded guilty to further assaulting the girl and murdering her step-grandmother. [See "Mother, Daughter File Lawsuit Against Judge, Alleging He Didn't Report Outcry of Sexual Abuse" Texas Lawyer, Oct. 21, 2013, page 9.]
Flenniken fired back the following month with an answer which denied the allegations in the petition and alleged that that the plaintiff attorneys in the case 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. [See "Judge Blasts Lawyers as "Shameless" and "Reprehensible" Texas Lawyer, Nov. 11 page 1.]
Flenniken also alleged that Stephen Casey and Greg Terra, lawyers from Georgetown-based Texas Center for Defense of Life (TCDL) who represent the girl, had the duty to report the abuse. The TCDL lawyers originally represented the girl in a family law case after she alleged she was being pressured to have an abortion against her will. Flenniken also alleged in his answer that Casey and Terra failed to bring forward admissible evidence of the abuse during a hearing and the girl’s testimony in the case “totally contradicts [the plaintiffs'] current allegations against Judge Flenniken.”
In a Dec. 16 order, 21st District Judge Carson Campbell dismissed the civil claims filed against his predecessor, Flenniken, with prejudice after determining “there is no good-faith basis for the assertion of Plaintiff’s claims against Judge Flenniken” and that the claims were barred by “well-established principles of judicial immunity.”
Mike McKetta, a shareholder in Austin’s Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody who represents Flenniken, is pleased with the ruling and notes that judicial immunity was his client’s strongest defense to the civil suit.
“It’s hundreds of years old that unhappy people don’t get to question the judge about what he heard, what he believed and what he concluded. If we allowed that then half of our lawsuits would be against judges,” McKetta said.
Casey believes that it Campbell was incorrect in his ruling that Flenniken deserved judicial immunity and that there were no good-faith basis for the claims against him and is considering appealing the decision.
“We never sued him for his decisions from the bench. It was a narrow, narrow claim. And it wasn’t read as a narrow claim,” Casey said.
“Judicial immunity is so people don’t go suing people for a judge’s bad decision from the bench. This had no relevance to his bench decision. Our client cried out that she was being sexually abused to a licensed attorney and licensed school administrators,” Casey said.
Casey also denied that there was no good-faith basis for the allegations against Flenniken.
“There is nothing to support that,” Casey says. “They didn’t say we were malicious.”
Campbell’s ruling also ordered that Flenniken recover his costs of court against the plaintiffs and severed the claims against him from the other defendants in the case for purposes of appeal.
Terra did not return a call for comment.