Polk County judge resigns amid texting controversy

Source: Polk County Website
Source: Polk County Website

LIVINGSTON, TX (KTRE) - As a result of an agreement with an ethics commission, Judge Elizabeth Coker has resigned from her position over the 258th district following allegations that she texted a prosecutor during a trial.

In a statement released Monday, Coker stated her resignation takes effect Dec. 6. However, she will be taking a voluntary leave of absence until that day.

Coker said the resignation is part of an agreement with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which regulates communication between judges and lawyers.

"The Judicial Commission made no finding or determinations of fact in my voluntary resignation, and I have not admitted guilt, fault or liability in my voluntary resignation. While I could have fought these allegations, it would have involved significant time, significant expense, and disruption to everyone involved. I did not feel that was in the best interests of the taxpayers, our court system, my family or myself" Coker stated. "I love this judicial district. The people deserve a judge that is fully focused on carrying out their duties, which would have been impossible for me to do in this situation."

"My dad and grandfather taught me that judges have to be accountable for their actions and conduct. Resigning the bench as well as taking a voluntary leave of absence is the best way for me to take responsibility for this situation in a way that honors the office and serves the best interests of Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties" Coker stated. "It has been a painful decision, but I believe it is the right decision."

"I want to express my sincere regret to the people of Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties," Coker stated. "The integrity and impartiality of our courts have always been my highest priority, and I am deeply sorry that my actions created a circumstance where that could be questioned"

"The Judicial Commission takes the rules surrounding judicial interaction with parties in a lawsuit very seriously, and I will always regret the lapses in judgment that helped create this situation, especially knowing that my conduct as a judge is subject to a higher standard," Coker stated.
"It has been an honor of a lifetime serving as judge, and I will always be grateful the people of this district gave me such an amazing opportunity, and I am very sorry for the difficulty this has caused for everyone."

"My family has deep roots in Polk County, and now I am raising my girls in the same community that gave me my start. We will be starting a new chapter here for our family, and as always I ask for your support and prayers. The kindness, friendship, and love of so many people in these three counties have always sustained us, and I will always be grateful for that."

In his report, Investigator David Wells said that he was sitting in the audience during a trial in 2012 when Kaycee Jones, the assistant district attorney, who is now a judge for the 411th District Court, asked him if she could borrow his notepad. He says Jones had received a text message from Coker and that Jones wrote word-for-word on the notepad what Coker had said.

He says that Jones asked him to deliver the note to lead prosecutor Beverly Armstrong. He says once he looked at the note he saw that it said "judge says, baby pooped on (Reeves)-if he threw a dog off the bed because dog peed on bed what would he do if baby pooped on him?"

Ryan Deaton was the defense attorney in the case.

"Most things that happen in our trials and court system that aren't fair, never come to light," Deaton said. "This is something that just happened to come to light. It's pretty obvious that was inappropriate, but let's face it, our judicial system isn't always fair."

According to an agreement released to KTRE Monday, the commission was also aware of allegations that Coker engaged in other improper ex parted communications with other members of the Polk County and San Jacinto County district attorney offices, as well as other defense attorneys about cases pending in her court.

The document also stated Coker allegedly showed bias in favor of certain attorneys and a prejudice against others in her rulings and appointments. It also states there were allegations she met with jurors while they were deliberating in trials.

"I'm glad this thing has been resolved," said San Jacinto District Attorney Richard Countiss. "I'm looking forward to working with whomever is selected to take her place."

Countiss said he testified in front of the commission concerning an incident in which Coker allegedly showed up in his office and told him what his prosecutor failed to do during a trial.

"I didn't report it because I didn't tell my prosecutor what she told me to," Countiss said. "But when I appeared before the commission, I was told to report anything improper"

The text of the commission's agreement stated that Coker may have been dishonest in her testimony.

"The commission also expressed concerns that Judge Coker discussed the commission's investigation and Judge Coker's written responses to the investigation with a material witness prior to that witness' testimony before the Commission in an apparent attempt to influence that witness, and that the judge may not have been candid and truthful in her testimony before the Commission when questioned about her contact with the witness," the agreement stated.

According to the document, Coker's Dec. 6 resignation, as well as her leave of absence, are all part of the agreement. She had to send a formal letter of resignation to the governor.

She's entering into the agreement to resolve the complaints in lieu of disciplinary action by the commission.

She is disqualified from sitting as a judge in the state, standing for election to judicial office, or "performing or exercising any judicial duties or functions of a judicial officer in the State of Texas, including the performance of wedding ceremonies."

If she violates the agreement, it would result in the "commencement of formal proceedings" against her and the release of an agreed statement of facts in support of the Commission's charges against her.

By execution of this agreement, Coker, who signed the agreement on Saturday, does not admit any guilt or liability regarding the allegations.

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