This week, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct posted filings showing that Judges Bill Gamez of the Poteet Municipal Court and Clarice Watkins of the Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 in Marshall received public admonishments on October 27, 2023.
In the case of Judge Gamez, the Commission found that he failed to complete the required 16 hours of continuing judicial education for the 2021-2022 academic year as required for municipal judges in Texas. Judge Gamez also did not seek a waiver for the education requirement. When the Commission sent Judge Gamez letters of inquiry regarding the matter, he failed to adequately respond. As a judge, Gamez is required to comply with all laws and maintain professional competence in the law. His failure to complete the mandatory judicial education and cooperate with the Commission’s investigation was found to be in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
For her actions, Judge Watkins was publicly admonished for endorsing a candidate seeking her vacant judicial seat while she was still serving as the Justice of the Peace. In 2021, Watkins announced she would not run for re-election and would retire at the end of her term in December 2022. However, that October she was interviewed by the local newspaper and endorsed her clerk, Demisha Crawford, who was running as a Democrat in the next primary election. Watkins then shared news articles about the endorsement on her personal Facebook page and appeared with Crawford at a campaign event while wearing a campaign t-shirt.
The Commission found these public endorsements to be in violation of Canon 5(2) of the Code, which states judges cannot authorize the public use of their name to endorse another candidate for public office, with exceptions only for indicating support for a political party. In her response, Watkins acknowledged she was unaware of this prohibition and said she would not have publicly endorsed Crawford if she knew it was against the rules. Both judges were apprised of the Commission’s concerns in letters but failed to adequately address the issues in their initial responses.
The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct is responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct or incapacity. After reviewing evidence, the Commission can take disciplinary actions ranging from issuing private or public sanctions to recommending the removal of judges from office. In these cases, the Commission determined public admonitions were warranted given the violations of ethical standards.
For Gamez, it was his failure to maintain competence in the law by not completing required judicial education and lack of cooperation with the Commission’s probe. In Watkins’ situation, her public endorsements of a candidate while still on the bench undermined the impartiality and integrity expected of judges.
Going forward, the public admonitions are aimed at promoting higher compliance with ethical rules to protect public confidence in the judicial system. Judges in Texas are required to adhere to provisions like continuing education, cooperation with oversight, and political impartiality to uphold the integrity of the bench.