Every day, it seems, brings more concern about the operation of state District Judge Amber Givens’ court.
The news now is that a local administrative judge has ordered dozens of additional felony cases to be transferred out of her court amid questions about her impartiality by defense lawyers.
We commend the swift action by First Administrative Judicial Region Presiding Judge Ray Wheless in the interest of getting the cases out of limbo and back on track. And we continue to be troubled by Givens’ actions. Her refusal to voluntarily step aside in the cases smacks of stubbornness in the face of criticism.
Criminal defense attorneys have filed more than 100 recusal motions this year against Givens, who they allege issues unfair rulings and treats lawyers with disrespect in her courtroom.
Some of their concerns also stem from their filing an official complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. According to that complaint, Givens allegedly directed a staffer to hold an off-camera Zoom hearing in her place last year. The commission referred the complaint to the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Rangers are now investigating the matter. Givens has denied any wrongdoing and has said the recusal efforts are an affront to the will of the people who elected her.
To be clear, such motions are rarely sought by attorneys in the courthouse, and often just the filing of them causes judges to remove themselves voluntarily. That so many have been filed against one judge is highly abnormal.
Between February and July, Judge Givens did agree to voluntarily remove herself in 48 cases, which were then transferred to other felony courts, according to the judicial region. But she refused to do so in dozens more, leaving the matter in Judge Wheless’ hands and delaying justice in those cases.
Following a mass hearing on July 15 to consider the additional cases all together, Judge Wheless has so far signed 23 recusal orders and is awaiting paperwork from defense lawyers to sign at least 20 more, his office tells us. That’s in addition to the 11 he had already signed before the hearing.
Wheless looks to have even more work ahead. Deandra Grant, the president of the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, told us she expects more motions to be filed. And it isn’t just defense lawyers who have taken issue with Givens. Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot earlier this month asked her to recuse herself from a case in which a defendant had remained in jail more than a year after she ordered that he receive drug treatment. She failed, however, to sign the paperwork for him to be released into treatment. Givens only agreed to remove herself from the case after this newspaper raised questions Wheless then transferred the case to another felony court, and records show the man is at last receiving treatment.
What a mess. Givens, who has consistently received abysmally low ratings from the Dallas Bar Association, should spare the judicial region the time and trouble and voluntarily remove herself from cases in which defense lawyers contend she cannot be fair.