Criminal court judge Kelli Johnson arrested for DUI

Not good.

Judge Kelli Johnson

A state district judge behind some of Houston’s most high profile criminal trials was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving after weeks of spotty attendance on the bench and a traffic stop by law enforcement in April.

Houston police arrested Judge Kelli Johnson around 2:45 a.m. Tuesday in the 7600 block of Kempwood Drive on a driving while intoxicated charge — a first time misdemeanor offense for the 52-year-old jurist, according to court records.

Prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office accepted the charge and requested bail conditions but later announced plans to hand the case to another jurisdiction. She has since been freed on a general order bond — a form of bail that does not require the defendant to pay or deposit money to be released, records show.

“Our office will have no comment, and we will be recusing ourselves,” said Joe Stinebaker, a spokesman for the DA’s office.

Johnson, a former prosecutor running unopposed for her third term on the 178th District Court, had not appeared in court Monday despite having presided over the bench last week.

She did not preside over the court for most of May and several weeks this month following the April 12 traffic stop, with records showing her coordinator made several requests for visiting judges to oversee the court in her absence. Documents provided by the Eleventh Administration Judicial Region of Texas show the coordinator attributed her absences to illness and personal emergencies.


The [State Commission on Judicial Conduct] lists driving while intoxicated on its website as “out-of-court behavior” that could be deemed judicial misconduct.

Jacqueline Habersham, the commission’s executive director, declined to comment on Johnson’s arrest, citing state law that deems complaints against any Texas judge — or the investigations that follow — confidential.

Johnson has not addressed the specifics of the traffic stop following repeated requests for comment. It was not known if Johnson had retained a lawyer to represent her on the DWI charge as of Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve never been in this situation before,” Johnson told the Chronicle briefly on Friday.

It’s possible for a drunk driving arrest to be the result of an isolated lapse of judgment on the driver’s part. That’s not to excuse the behavior, just to note that it is the sort of thing that could happen to someone who may not have been aware at the time that they were putting themselves in that position. When there’s more than one such arrest, especially in quick succession, that strongly suggests there’s an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

I don’t know Judge Johnson and I don’t know what may be going on in her life. What I do know is that she needs to take responsibility for her actions and do what she needs to do to ensure this doesn’t ever happen again. That may include stepping away from being a judge for a period of time, or even stepping down, if that’s what it takes. Whatever is going on, I hope she’s able to get any help she might need.

As noted in the story, the question of whether she can continue serving as judge until the legal issues are resolved may not be up to her. As with her colleague Judge Aguilar, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct may suspend her from the bench in the interim. We’ll find out at some point what if any action they take. The rest is up to her, and as I said I really hope she takes responsibility and does what she needs to do to address her behavior. She has put herself and others in danger, and that can’t be allowed to continue.

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5 Responses to Criminal court judge Kelli Johnson arrested for DUI

  1. Jason Hochman says:

    according to the Chronicle, the April traffic stop was also for driving intoxicated, and resulted in a “warning.” Now, if you or I were out driving intoxicated and stopped, there would be no “warning” a book would be thrown at us, and this judge would probably be one of those winding up to make the toss. Therefore, to avoid all appearance of hypocrisy, justice must be swift and sure in this case, including a lifetime ban for this judge to ever obtain a drivers license.

  2. John says:

    Also in April she pulled the “do you know who I am, and call your boss the Sheriff to come out here” Clearly she is above the law and if she had an ounce of integrity she would step down as judge

  3. C.L. says:

    Dr. Hochman, I’m reasonably sure the State of Texas doesn’t revoke a drivers license in perpetuity after a ‘warning’ and a valid, DUI conviction, nor after two DUI convictions…

    “A first-time DWI conviction includes a driver’s license suspension of 90 days to one year. A second or third DWI conviction includes a driver’s license suspension of 180 days to two years.”.

  4. C.L. says:

    Ch. 2 is now reporting that, per her Attorney, the Judge volunteered to, then blew a 0.00 breathalyzer test reading after being pulled over. I guess Kuff, Dr. Hochman, and John can safely stow away the pitchforks, at least for the time being.

    My, how we’re quick to rush to judgement these days.

  5. Pingback: Judge Kelli Johnson appears in court | Off the Kuff

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