The Devine connection to Woodfill and Pressler

Birds of a feather. A very rancid feather.

In 2022, the Texas Supreme Court declined to kill a high-profile sex abuse lawsuit against former Southern Baptist Convention leader Paul Pressler and his longtime law partner, Jared Woodfill.

For Justice John Devine, the case involved some familiar names: Years before taking the bench, he had worked at Woodfill and Pressler’s small Houston law firm. In fact, Devine’s tenure at the firm overlapped with the time that the plaintiff, a former employee of the firm, was allegedly molested by Pressler.

Two other justices, who previously worked for the law firm representing the plaintiff, recused themselves. Devine didn’t — and instead dissented from the court’s 5-2 decision that allowed the suit to go forward after a challenge to its statute of limitations.

The lawsuit would eventually make public numerous other abuse allegations against Pressler. It also prompted a deposition last year in which Woodfill testified that he had for years used the firm’s funds to pay young men to work out of Pressler’s home despite repeated warnings of his predations. Woodfill was not accused of sexual abuse in the lawsuit.

Devine’s campaign website, Supreme Court biography and profile on WestLaw, a major legal repository, do not mention his work at the firm, Woodfill & Pressler LLP, which had about 10 employees during Devine’s time there.

But the Texas Tribune reviewed thousands of pages of court records in lawsuits handled by Woodfill & Pressler LLP, and found that Devine was listed as an attorney or guardian ad litem with the firm at least 27 times between 2002 and 2008, including nine suits that were filed while the plaintiff in the sex abuse lawsuit worked for the firm as Pressler’s personal aide.

Asked last week about his involvement with the firm, Devine downplayed his work there and said he had no reason to recuse himself because he had “no personal knowledge of the facts” in the lawsuit or a financial stake in the firm or the case’s outcome.

“There was no basis for me to recuse from the case,” Devine wrote in an email to the Tribune. “I had no financial interest in the case; never participated in it; and had no personal knowledge of the facts. Two decades ago, I jointly tried some cases with Jared Woodfill. But we were never law partners; I had no financial interest in his firm; and I had no knowledge of the firm’s inner workings. I never worked with Pressler. My understanding was that he was just a name on the door.”


Devine, a Republican who joined the Supreme Court in 2012, is up for reelection this year, and is the only justice facing a challenger in the March 5 statewide primary. His opponent, Second District Court of Appeals Judge Brian Walker, has centered his campaign on questions about Devine’s ethics, including in the Pressler case and in other instances in which he ruled on lawsuits brought by Woodfill.

“I have a hard time believing that Judge Devine didn’t know about the allegations,” Walker said in an interview. “It’s clear to me that he was still trying to help Woodfill and Pressler out when he essentially voted to keep the lawsuit from moving forward.”

Two other justices, who previously worked for the law firm representing the plaintiff, recused themselves when the suit was considered by the Supreme Court, though they did not provide reasons.

Legal experts acknowledged there are often gray areas when it comes to judicial recusals — particularly in Texas, where justices are elected and can find themselves presiding over legal disputes that involve political allies and supporters.

But they cited the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires judges to preserve the “integrity and independence of the judiciary” and avoid “impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”

“I don’t think that this is a close call,” said Heather Zirke, director of the Miller Becker Center for Professional Responsibility at the University of Akron School of Law. “Judges have a duty to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”

See here for the Paul Pressler files. This story brings a lot more receipts about the Devine/Woodfill/Pressler relationship, so go read the rest. He’s the worst judge on that bench and he deserves all of the pressure that can be placed on him. And there are be plenty of other reasons to vote against Devine, including his role in upholding all of the cruel and life-threatening abortion restrictions the state now enforces. That’s the goal of the Find Out PAC, which is targeting the three Justices who are up for election this year, including Devine. I’m always a little skeptical of these efforts, as it will take a ton of money to move the needle and we don’t have much of a track record in that regard. But it’s there and they’ve picked a good target. A little more attention to this aspect of the Devine dossier couldn’t hurt as well.

Related Posts:

This entry was posted in Crime and Punishment, Legal matters and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.