Did Patterson Violate Judicial Ethics?

Former state Rep. Glen Maxey says Patterson violated code of conduct

Jan Patterson
Jan Patterson

Former Austin Democratic state Rep. Glen Maxey this morning filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, arguing that 3rd Court of Appeals Judge Jan Patterson violated judicial ethics when she told the Chronicle last month that Gov. Rick Perry had approached her to apply for an appointment to the Travis Co. civil court bench.

Citing our stories (here and here) in his complaint, Maxey argues that Patterson has violated Canons 2 and 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which concern avoiding impropriety and the "appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities," and refraining from "inappropriate political activity." In part, Maxey argues that in violation of Canon 5, Patterson has "knowingly or recklessly" misrepresented facts about herself when she told us that Perry had pursued her to apply for the local civil bench made vacant by the untimely death of Judge Scott Ozmun. Patterson initially told us that Perry's office had approached her several times asking her to apply for the seat. Later, Perry's office told us this was not true, and that it was Patterson who came to them seeking the appointment. Patterson's deception raises "important issues of judicial integrity that require a full investigation," Maxey said in a press release. (Interestingly, Patterson is one of 13 members and vice-chair of the SCJC, which would hear Maxey's complaint. Presumably, Patterson will have to recuse herself from hearing the complaint.)

Indeed, the Third Court is the state's most powerful intermediate appellate bench because it has jurisdiction over matters of statewide importance – including state ethics cases and all rulings concerning state agencies. The court has become increasingly partisan in recent years, and there is no doubt that giving Perry the chance to appoint a Republican to take Patterson's place a year before her term would have ended would be a great way to help ensure that her seat, and the court, which covers 24 Central Texas counties, would tip to the Republicans. Patterson's nomination was not approved by Sen. Kirk Watson, according to documents obtained through an open records request, and Perry ultimately appointed Jeff Rose, former deputy first assistant attorney general, to replace Ozmun.

Meanwhile, however, Patterson is leaving her seat on the appeals court next year anyway, to run for the county's 201st district bench. Maxey argues that Patterson's conduct in seeking the appointment to the 353rd court was so out-of-line that she should step aside in the 201st race and let someone else run. "Not only is this a violation of judicial ethics, this is a stab in the back of the Democrats who have supported her in the past. Jan Patterson should withdraw her candidacy for any judicial contest in 2010 and enable an uncompromised nominee," Maxey wrote in a press release. "[F]or her own political gain, Jan Patterson was willing to just give this court to a Republican majority and this seat to another Rick Perry right-wing appointee. This is the ultimate betrayal of the Democrats who have given her this seat. It does not belong to her to trade for another judicial seat. It belongs to the voters."

So far, Patterson has not drawn an opponent – Democratic or Republican – in the race for the 201st.

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Jan Patterson, Rick Perry, Elections, Election 2010, Courts, Glen Maxey, State Commission on Judicial Conduct

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