On Wednesday, October 4, 2022, Michael D. Van Deelen filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas against David R. Jones, the chief bankruptcy judge for the district. The complaint alleges that Judge Jones violated Van Deelen’s constitutional rights by issuing an order that gave Judge Jones perpetual jurisdiction over any future lawsuits Van Deelen files against McDermott International.
On June 24, 2020, Van Deelen filed a lawsuit against three McDermott employees in state court, alleging fraud and a breach of duty. Van Deelen said he and his wife lost their entire investment. The defendants removed the case to bankruptcy court, where Van Deelen filed a motion to remand it back to state court. During this time, Van Deelen received an anonymous letter dated March 6, 2021, alleging Judge Jones had been involved in an apparent conflict of interest and abuse of power dating back to 2016. Judge Jones is alleged to have had a romantic relationship with Elizabeth Carol Freeman, who had clerked for Judge Jones for six years prior to joining law firm Jackson Walker LLP. It was during this time period, between 2010-2016, that their personal relationship is believed to have begun based on subsequently discovered evidence.
In 2016, Judge Jones purchased a $1.4 million home located in Coldspring, Texas. Property records obtained by Van Deelen list the home’s status after Jones’ purchase as “owner occupied,” indicating he shared the home jointly with Freeman at that time, though no concrete evidence besides this has surfaced from that early period.
The relationship is known to have continued through 2017, as real estate documents show Judge Jones and Freeman owning another home together from June 27, 2017, to the present day. This million-dollar home is where they are believed to have cohabitated. Freeman maintained the Coldspring home as her primary residence from 2007 up until sometime in 2020, when her parents briefly moved in, according to residents listing details.
According to the complaint, McDermott International filed for bankruptcy on January 21, 2020, in Judge Jones’ court. Law firm Jackson Walker LLP, Freeman’s employer, represented McDermott. The plaintiff alleges this created a serious conflict of interest, with Jackson Walker’s clients receiving favorable treatment from Judge Jones due to his personal relationship with partner Freeman. To date, Judge Jones has denied the existence of any such relationship or improper conduct despite the accumulated public records.
Freeman’s sudden departure from Jackson Walker in 2021 without notice after the plaintiff made their relationship public knowledge, starting her own rare solo practice, adds credibility to the alleged corruption scheme. Van Deelen filed the letter as part of his motion to recuse Judge Jones, but the motion was denied.
On October 12, 2021, Judge Jones issued an order stating that any future lawsuits brought by Van Deelen against McDermott should be immediately removed to bankruptcy court, threatening sanctions if this did not occur. Van Deelen alleges Judge Jones lacked jurisdiction to make this “Order 1” and that it violated his constitutional rights.
Van Deelen appealed the order, but District Judge Andrew Hanen dismissed the appeal on January 9, 2023, without addressing the constitutionality of Order 1. Van Deelen’s motion for rehearing was denied on August 30, 2023.
The complaint brings a Bivens claim against Judge Jones personally for violating Van Deelen’s constitutional rights and seeks compensatory and punitive damages. It also requests injunctive relief to stop enforcement of Order 1 and a declaratory judgment that Order 1 is unconstitutional.
David R. Jones currently holds the position of chief judge at the United States Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Texas. He was designated to serve on the court on September 30, 2011, and assumed the role of chief judge in 2015. Jones attained his bachelor’s degree from Duke University in 1983, followed by an M.B.A. from Southern Methodist University in 1986. He then obtained a J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center in 1992 and subsequently achieved an LL.M. from Duke University in 2018. His info can be found on Ballotpedia.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.