On Wednesday, April 26, 2023, the Special Court of Review of the State of Texas issued an opinion stating that the commission did not meet its burden of proving that Hon. Justin Wayne Low, judge of 161st Judicial District Court, in Ector County, has willfully violated the Code of Judicial Conduct for referring to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” in open court.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Justine Low,” with case no. SCR 22-0003.

The charges cited the Texas Code of Judicial of Conduct 3B(4) or Canon 3B(6) and Article V, Section 1-a(6) of the Texas Constitution.

This matter arose from the issuance of the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct of  a public admonition and order of additional education against the respondent for the comments he made during a prequalification for jury duty where he called COVID-19 the “China Virus”

The Order states:

“During prequalification, Judge Low referred to COVID-19 as the ‘China Virus” and stated ‘Yeah, I said it!” and “the attorneys would be upset I said that.” to potential jurors. When some of the potential jurors whooped and clapped their hands at his comment, Judge Low encouraged their behavior by laughing and nodding. A potential juror, who is Asian American, stated she felt unsafe and uncomfortable after Judge Low’s comment, especially in light of the recent Asian American hate crimes.”

The Order continues:

“Judge Low also called some of the pre-requisite questions “stupid” and commented, “I don’t know why I have to ask this”. Judge Low testified he was trying to expose bias and/or prejudices among the potential jurors and he knew it could be offensive to some potential jurors, but he was doing it for a higher purpose.”

The Order further states:

“Based upon the record before it and the factual findings recited above, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has determined that the Honorable Justin Low, 161st District Court, Odessa, Ector County, Texas, should be publicly admonished and ordered to obtain additional education for his unprofessional demeanor during jury selection which demonstrated bias and prejudice against potential jurors through his words and actions, in violation of Canon 3B(6) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and casted public discredit on the judiciary in violation of Article V, Section I-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution.”

Invoking his right to review the commission’s discipline against him, the respondent requested the appointment of a Special Court of Review to hear and determine the said matter. A trial was made on January 12, 2023, in lieu of the request.

In opposition to the allegations against Judge Low, the Special Court of Review believes that the comments made by the respondent, when viewed in context, do not constitute a violation of the above-mentioned Canons of the Texas Constitution.

The Special Court of Review stated that evidence presented at the trial reflects that Judge Low was attempting to encourage potential jurors to speak freely to reveal any biases to the attorneys who would be conducting voir dire. The evidence does not show that he intended to accept or condone the term “China Virus” while conducting prequalification. The court emphasized that although it recognizes that Judge Low’s comments, particularly those directed at the pandemic, are potentially problematic, it does not find that Judge Low spoke with a conscious objective of manifesting impatience, discourteousness, bias, or prejudice discouraged by the Canons or the Constitution.

Based on the foregoing analysis and evidence submitted before the court, the Special Review Court of the State of Texas believes that the Commission has failed to meet its burden of proving that the respondent violated the canons of the Judicial Conduct.

The Conclusion states:

“We conclude the Commission has failed to meet its burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that Judge Low willfully violated the Canons of Judicial Conduct or Article V, Section I—a(6)(A) of the Texas Constitution. We dismiss the Commission’s Public Reprimand and Order of Additional Education and find Judge Low “not guilty” of all charges. See TEX. RULES REM’IJRET. JUDG. R. 9(d).”

Judge Low’s courtroom is located at 300 North Grant, Room 316 Odessa, TX 79761, and can be reached at (432) 498-4260. His info can be found on texasbar.com.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.