Webster family law attorney Greg Enos has filed a second complaint with the Harris County district attorney’s office against 311th District Judge Denise Pratt. He alleges that she signed orders on the final two days of 2013, dismissing 631 cases pending in her court without giving notice to the parties.
“In each instance, Judge Pratt violated Texas Penal Code Sec. 37.10 (a)(1) by making a ‘false entry’ in a government record, which is defined to include a court document,” Enos wrote in a three-page complaint.
Pratt’s attorney, Terry Yates of Houston, said Enos’ complaint is “wholly without any merit.”
Enos, of Enos Law Firm, said he sent the complaint on Jan. 16 to Terese Buess in the Public Integrity Unit of the Harris County district attorney’s office, and he provided a copy to Texas Lawyer.
Enos asked Buess to assign an “independent prosecutor” to investigate the complaint against Pratt.
“If you want the public to have confidence in the investigation, it needs to be removed from politics completely,” Enos wrote.
Yates said it’s true that a “significant amount of cases” were dismissed in December “not unlike any other court,” but he said the Harris County District Clerk’s office is responsible for sending out the DWOP (dismissal for want of prosecution) notices. He also said some of the notices did not go out at all because of the new e-filing system.
However, a spokesman for District Clerk Chris Daniel wrote in an email that the clerk’s office is not responsible for sending out the notices.
“This duty falls on court coordinators,” Bill Murphy wrote, noting that the coordinators work for the county Office of Court Administration, and the coordinators are “hand-picked by the judges for whom they work.”
In an email, Clay Bowman, district courts administrator for Harris County, wrote that Chapter 74, §74.010 of the Texas Government Code provides for judges to appoint a court coordinator who “serves at the pleasure of the judge.”
The court coordinator working in Pratt’s court put a Texas Lawyer reporter on hold and did not immediately return two messages.
Murphy also wrote that the eFileTexas.gov system, the state’s new electronic filing system operated by a contractor, has nothing to do with mailing DWOP notices.
A message left for Buess was returned by Jeff McShan, a spokesman for the D.A.’s office, who said he cannot confirm or deny any investigation into Pratt.
The 631 Cases
In the complaint, Enos wrote that “none” of the parties in the 631 cases received notice of a pending DWOP, and Pratt did not conduct a DWOP docket on Dec. 30 or Dec. 31, 2013.
“A Dismissal for Want of Prosecution (DWOP) docket takes up at least half a day and usually involved dozens and dozens of attorneys in the courtroom with motions to retain. Pratt knew that no one was in her court for a dismissal docket on those days, and yet she signed 631 identically false orders dismissing these cases,” Enos wrote.
Enos wrote, “On December 30 and 31, it was easily apparent that there was no DWOP docket on the court’s calendar and it should have been clear that the courtroom was empty.”
Enos wrote that some of the dismissed cases had been settled and “final orders were sitting on her desk waiting for her to simply sign them,” many others were set for trial, and some contained temporary orders “keeping a parent away from a child or limiting visitation or requiring very specific behaviors.”
Enos wrote that he’s been an attorney for 27 years, and while it’s routine for old cases to be dismissed after proper procedures are followed, the “mass dismissal of hundreds of cases in complete disregard for the law” is not routine.
Yates, of Terry W. Yates & Associates of Houston, said Pratt invites litigants who want their cases reinstated to file motions to reinstate. He said only about 25 such motions have been filed as of Jan. 15.
Yates also said that Enos “shows his true motivation” by providing copies of the “criminal complaint” to reporters on the same day he filed it with the D.A.’s office.
The complaint is the second Enos has filed with the DA’s office against Pratt. In a complaint filed in October 2013, Enos alleged Pratt was slow to rule and may have backdated orders in some cases. On Dec. 20, 2013, a Harris County grand jury no-billed Pratt.
At the time, Yates said, “We’re pleased the grand jury issued a no-bill today that supports what we’ve said all along … that Judge Pratt was not guilty of any wrongdoing of tampering with government documents.”