"Vexatious Litigant" Madeleine Connor Prepares to Take the Bench
Here comes the judge!
By Michael King,
8:00AM, Thu. Oct. 29, 2020
In January, barring some unexpected obstacle, Madeleine Connor will become judge in the 353rd state District Court. Following previous defeats as a Republican (twice) and a Democrat (once), Connor narrowly defeated incumbent Judge Tim Sulak in the March Democratic primary.
She has no Republican opponent in November.
Meanwhile, another episode has occurred in the ongoing melodrama of Madeleine Connor v. The World. As we’ve reported before, Connor has twice been judicially declared a “vexatious litigant” (in a state and a federal court), meaning she cannot initiate new personal lawsuits without permission from an administrative judge. Connor has appealed that designation, and remains engaged in ongoing lawsuits originating from a years-old neighborhood dispute over the construction of a sidewalk. What normally might have been confined to a hyperbolic Nextdoor thread has become (in Connor’s words) a “neighborhood argument gone nuclear” – almost entirely because Connor has repeatedly launched new legal missiles.
Her efforts have thus far spectacularly backfired. Most recently, in September a rental house she owned was sold at auction – a “Sheriff’s sale” – in order to pay a $70,000 federal judgment against her. The house, in the southwest Lost Creek area (where Connor also lives), with a 2020 TCAD appraisal of $577,700, was sold for $435,000 in order to pay the defendants (or their attorneys) in one string of Connor’s unsuccessful lawsuits. (The Pct. 3 Constable’s office says that the excess went to Connor, after fees.) Connor filed a flurry of last-minute legal pleadings, but failed to stop the sale.
That might have ended the matter … in some other universe. Connor declined to speak on the record to the Chronicle, but referred questions to attorney Bill Gammon, who explained that he is not formally representing her but had agreed to act as an unofficial intermediary, in an attempt to have Connor pay the judgment directly and avoid the foreclosure sale. He says she did so, but that Travis County officials determined that the transaction had occurred too late – literally on the morning of the courthouse sale (Sept. 1) – to forestall the transfer of the property. The Constable’s staff insists that they handled the matter legally and according to established procedures, trying to steer clear of disputes with either side.
There are at least a half-dozen lawyers now jockeying around the aftermath, with the likely outcome of new suits and countersuits before too long, with soon-to-be-judge Connor very likely to be one of the litigants – vexatious or otherwise – and Travis County officials also somewhere in the mix. With any luck, the original neighborhood defendants may well find themselves receding into the shadows ...
To make a very long story somewhat shorter, in 2015 Connor got crossways with members of the Lost Creek Neighborhood Association and its Limited District board (which oversees the common areas), initially when she represented a homeowner who objected to a sidewalk planned for the right-of-way easement on his property. That dispute ballooned into what Connor considered “defamatory” communications by NA members and board members, and eventually a claim of “intentional infliction of emotional distress” against somewhere between 10 and 20 neighbors, some by name and others by implication: one of her filings cites claims against “1-14 Jane/John Does.” Connor (currently general counsel to the Texas Veterans Commission) filed, re-filed, appealed and re-appealed the consistently dismissed lawsuits, until the judges ran out of patience. The courts repeatedly found her lawsuits meritless, her appeals more so – and specifically ruled that an attorney should have known better.
In a February, 2020 ruling that confirmed the federal financial claims (primarily attorneys fees) and sanctions against her, Judge Robert Pitman wrote in part: “Repeated admonitions and the threat of sanctions both by this Court and the Court of Appeals have not deterred Connor from continuing to litigate in bad faith … The Court concludes that severe monetary sanctions are necessary to send the message to Connor that bad faith litigation brought for the purpose of harassment will not be tolerated, especially by an officer of the Court.” In a separate state action with a similar history, another smaller judgment against Connor remains pending, while she awaits an appeal ruling from the Fifth Circuit.
Despite that February ruling, Connor waited until late August – a few days before the scheduled and announced Sheriff’s sale – to file a flurry of additional motions intended to enjoin the foreclosure. Those were denied as well, the house was sold – and Connor insists she will continue to battle this miscarriage of justice.
The defendant-neighbors – most of whom were represented by attorneys from the Texas Municipal League, via their board liability insurance – are from long and harsh experience reluctant to comment on the record, on either the lawsuits or Connor. But the unofficial word is that some Lost Creek voters were very disappointed to find no alternative (Republican or otherwise) on their November 3 ballots, and are alarmed at the prospect of “vexatious litigant” Connor actually assuming the bench. Considering her legal record, her judicial temperament appears an uncertain quality. It also remains to be seen whether she’ll have the time to be a judge in the 353rd Court, or spend more of it devoted to the endless legal consequences of suing her neighbors.