Sanction: Dallas Judge’s Law License Suspended 5 Times While on the Bench
The Texas Constitution says district judges must be licensed to practice law. But a Dallas judge kept failing to pay her bar dues on time, and her law license was suspended five times since she was first elected in 2007.
When lawyers don’t pay their annual bar dues on time, it means a law-license suspension.
When judges do it, the consequences are more severe, as 191st District Judge Gena Slaughter learned this month when she was publicly reprimanded for violating judicial ethics rules and the Texas Constitution.
Her law license was suspended five times since she was first elected in 2007, according to a public reprimand that the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct released Thursday.
It’s the second public reprimand the commission has slapped on Slaughter in five months. She was sanctioned in October 2019 for holding an improper ex-parte communication, and delaying her ruling in a case for more than a year.
In Texas, annual bar dues must be paid by Sept. 1 of the year. But Slaughter paid late—in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, the Feb. 7 reprimand said.
When it happened first in 2013, the judge addressed the issue quickly, so that her suspension only lasted days—from Sept. 1 to Sept. 6. But as the years progressed, Slaughter’s suspensions spanned longer and longer intervals. For example, in 2017, she was administratively suspended from practicing law for September and October, the reprimand stated. When she didn’t pay her dues on time in 2018, her law license was suspended for about nine months—from September 2018 to June 2019.
As the judicial conduct commission investigated, and reached out to the judge in 2018 and 2019, Slaughter initially failed to respond, the reprimand said. After the commission instituted formal proceedings against her, the judge finally responded and confessed to letting her bar dues go unpaid. She stated she had decided to delegate the duty of paying her bar dues to the treasurer of her officeholder account. Slaughter also stated she only learned of the lapses in her law license in 2017.
The judge added that until the judicial conduct commission reached her in April 2019, she hadn’t known that her 2018 bar dues remained unpaid. She stated she immediately attempted to pay her bar dues. However, the public reprimand noted that Slaughter’s law license wasn’t reinstated until the end of June 2019.
The Texas Constitution requires district judges to be licensed to practice law, the reprimand noted.
The commission found that Slaughter’s conduct broke a judicial-ethics rule that requires judges to comply with the law and to act in a way that promotes public confidence in the judiciary. It found Slaughter also violated provisions in the Texas Constitution that allow sanctions against judges for willful violations of judicial canons; for willful, persistent conduct that is inconsistent with the judge’s duties; and for behavior that casts public discredit on the judiciary.
Slaughter didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.
BEFORE THE STATE COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT
CJC No. 19-0390
During jts meeting on December 4-5, 2019. the State Commission on Judicial Conduct concluded a review of the allegations against the Honorable Gena Slaughter, 19151 Civil District Court Judge, Dallas County, Texas. After considering the evidence before it, the Commission entered the following Findings and Conclusions:
FINDINGS OF FACT
- At all times relevant hereto, the Honorable Gena Slaughter was Judge of the 191st Civil District Court. Dallas, Dallas County, Texas.
- Judge Slaughter was duly-elcctcd as judge in November 2006 and was sworn in on January 1,
- She was re-elected to the bench in November 2010.
- On September 1, 2013, Judge Slaughter’s Texas law license was administratively suspended by the State Bar of Texas for failing to pay her bar dues. She was reinstated on September 6, 2013.
- Judge Slaughter was re-elected in November 2014 and was sworn in on January 1,
- On September 1, 2015, Judge Slaughter’s Texas la w license was administratively suspended by the State Bar of Texas for failing to pay her bar She was reinstated on September 15, 2015.
- On September 1, Judge Slaughter’ s Texas law license was administratively suspended by the State Bar of Texas for failing to pay her bar dues. She was reinstated on September 22, 2016.
- On September 1, 2017, Judge Slaughter’s Texas law license was administratively suspended by the State Bar of Texas for failing to pay her bar dues. She was reinstated on November l, 2017.
- On September 1, 2018, Judge Slaughter’ s Texas law license was administratively suspended by the State Bar of Texas for failing to pay her bar
- Judge Slaughter was re-elected in November 2018 and was sworn in on Janua ry 2019. She was administratively suspended from the practice of law at the time she took her oath of office.
- On February 2018, Commission Staff sent a letter of inquiry to Judge Slaughter’s oourt regarding her repeated failure to maintain her Texas [aw license in good standing. She did not respond. In early April 2019, Staff contacted Judge Slaughter’s court to inquire as to the status of her responses to the letter of inquiry. The following day, Staff received a phone call from Judge Slaughter’ s court coordinator who advised that the judge did not receive anything in the mail from the Commission. She requested that Staff send a copy of the materials to Judge Slaughter via email. Staff sent an email to Judge Slaughter at the address provided by her court coordinator on April J, 2019. No response was received.
- On May 31, 2019, the Commission instituted formal proceedings against Judge Slaughter, pursuant to Texas Government Code Section 022 and Rule IO of the Texas Procedural Rules for the Removal or Retirement of Judges.
- On JLLne 24, 2019, the Commission received Judge Slaughter’s Response to the Notice of Formal Procee Judge Slaughter acknowledged Lhat she had Let her bar dues go unpaid. She blamed the lapses in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and part of the lapse in 2018, on her decision to delegate the duty to the ” treas urer of her officeholder act:ount.”
- Judge Slaughter stated, “[u]ntil 20I 7, I was not aware tl1at my dues had not been timely paid every
- Judge Slaughter stated that she only became aware that her 2018 bar dues had not been paid on or abou t April 3, 2019, when she received an email from the Commission inquiring about her failure to respond to the February 2019 letter from the Judge Slaughter expl1;1ined that she “immedjately began attempting to pay Q1er] bar dues.”
- Judge Slaughter’s bar license was not reinstated until June 26, 2019.
- On December 6, 2019, the Formal Proceeding against Judge Slaughter was withdrawn.
Based upon the record before it and the factual findings recited above, the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct has determined that Judge Slaughter should be publicly reprimanded for failing to maintain her Texas law license in good standing in violation of Canon 2 of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and Article V. § l-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution.
Furthermore, the Commission finds that Judge Slaughter violated Article V, § l-a(6)A or the Texas Constitution, as defined by Section 33.00 l(b) of the Texas Government Code, by failing to cooperate with the Commission.
The Commission has taken this action pursuant to the authority contained in Article V, 1-a(8) of the Texas Constitution, in a continuing effort to promote public confidence in and high standards for the judiciary.
Issued this the 7th day of February, 2020
Honorable David C. Hall,
Chair State Commission on Judicial Conduct