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Don Jackson

No replacements named for vacant County Court benches

Commissioners Court declined to name replacements at this time for two County Criminal Court benches that are currently vacant.

Judge Reagan Helm resigned last week. Judge Donald Jackson also resigned in December after being sentenced to 30 days in jail for abusing his authority. Helm’s resignation came six months after a judicial intervention in which he agreed to retire because he was suffering from dementia, according to the administrative judge over the courts.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack had wanted to appoint a replacement for Helm, who is on the public payroll until Commissioners Court appoints a replacement.

“We have a judge being paid that’s not at work,” Radack said. “We’ll look at it again, I imagine, next month.”

County Judge Ed Emmett opposed naming replacements so soon before a primary election, saying that doing so would “interject ourselves into the political process.”

Substitute judges are handling the courts’ caseloads for the time being. I presume that the winners of the GOP primaries will get the nods when the Commissioners take this up again, but I suppose that the subs could stay in place through the election.

County Court Judge Reagan Helm steps down

From the Chron:

Harris County criminal Court-at-Law Judge Reagan Helm resigned this week, more than six months after a judicial intervention in which he agreed to retire because was he suffering from dementia, according to the administrative judge over the county criminal courts.

“He acknowledged he was having some medical issues and talked about retirement,” County Court-at-Law Judge Jean Hughes said. She said Helm told her it was dementia.

Helm, 68, agreed to retire in September and would have received disability benefits, but changed his mind, she said.

News of Helm’s resignation came on the eve of a recusal hearing in which the Harris County District Attorney’s Office wanted to remove him from “any and all” cases involving accusations of domestic violence because of “deep-seated bias and prejudice.”

Helm, 68, has denied the district attorney’s allegations.

I refer you to Mark Bennett for a discussion of the domestic violence case allegations. Helm was not running for re-election, so this does not affect the primary, in which there are three candidates vying for the Republican nomination. I’m going to guess that the winner of that primary will be named by Commissioners Court to fill the bench for the remainder of Judge Helm’s term; they’ll likely do the same for the Don Jackson vacancy as well.

Judge Jackson resigns

Harris County Criminal Court At Law Judge Donald Jackson, who was recently convicted of misdemeanor official oppression, has resigned his bench, effective Thursday. Given his conviction, I’d say this counts as no surprise. Jackson was one of many judges up for re-election in 2010, and he had accumulated three primary opponents in addition to Democratic challengers, so the question is who will be appointed to finish out his term. I assume that since this is a county court and not a district court that the responsibility for that falls on Commissioners Court. I wonder if they’ll want to wait till the Republicans have chosen a nominee, which could be as late as April if there’s a runoff, or if they’ll seek out someone who will simply serve out Jackson’s term and won’t run for another.

Judge Jackson convicted

You may recall the case of Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law Judge Don Jackson, who was indicted in August on a misdemeanor charge of official oppression, after being accused of offering a DWI defendant a chance to get out of her charge in return for sexual favors. Today he was convicted of that charge.

The misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Earlier Friday, defense attorneys for Jackson told the jury they were ashamed of the veteran jurist’s behavior in meeting with a drunken driving defendant, but that it was not illegal.

“Shame on him. Shame on you, Judge Jackson,” Dan Cogdell said while pointing at his client during closing arguments. “What he did was wrong, but what my friend and professional colleague did not do was commit a crime.”

Cogdell and Lewis Dickson have argued that Ariana Venegas, 28, manipulated Jackson to get a better court-appointed lawyer to get her DWI case dismissed.

“They keep trying to blame the victim,” Harris County Assistant District Attorney Lance Long said in his closing. “They grilled her for hours and hours about her DWI and her Facebook photos. I hope you were offended.”

Included in the evidence was a photo of Venegas from the popular social network Web site that showed her posing for an informal picture in khaki shorts and a white tanktop.

I did not follow this trial, but apparently there was a bit of controversy kicked up when it was reported that ADA Long had signed a petition for an opponent to Jackson in the upcoming Republican primary. I tend to agree with Murray Newman that such a thing isn’t really a big deal, though as Mark Bennett notes, the situation could and probably should have been avoided. Anyway, having noted this case at the beginning, I thought it was worth mentioning at the conclusion.

More on Judge Jackson

Prosecutors aren’t done investigating Harris County Criminal Court Judge Don Jackson, who was indicted this week on charges of official oppression.

Donna Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said investigators in the public integrity division want to know whether there are other people who have any knowledge of similar behavior in Jackson’s court.

It seems likely to me that if this charge is true that there are other incidents like it. I suppose it’s possible that a 17-year veteran of the bench, who had a good reputation among the attorneys who argued before him, would become sufficiently obsessed with a defendant to offer her a deal in return for sexual favors, but it strikes me as more probable that such behavior is part of a pattern. That’s assuming the charge is true – Judge Jackson is very much innocent until proven guilty, and we have no idea what his defense will be. But if others come forward with similar stories to tell, it shouldn’t be too big a surprise. Mark Bennett and Miya Shay have more.

Harris County criminal court judge indicted


A Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law judge was indicted Thursday on a misdemeanor charge of official oppression, accused of offering to get a DWI defendant in his court help getting her case dismissed in exchange for a sexual relationship.

According to the indictment, Judge Donald W. Jackson, 59, offered to get the young woman “a different attorney to get her case dismissed if she would be interested in the defendant and enter into a relationship with him that was more than a one-night stand.”

If convicted, the 17-year judge could face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Although only one incident is alleged, prosecutors said Jackson committed the offense in three possible ways on Feb. 19: unwelcome sexual advances, a request for sexual favors and verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

The subject of the judge’s alleged actions, Ariana M. Venegas, was charged with driving while intoxicated on Feb. 1 and her case ended up in Jackson’s court. The 27-year-old Tomball woman gave a Harris County grand jury a sworn affidavit and is cooperating with prosecutors in the case, her attorneys said.


The charge was handed down amid rampant courthouse speculation fueled, in part, after Jackson recused himself from Venegas’ case on June 3.

Joe Stinebaker, spokesman for Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, said County Court-at-Law Judge Jean Hughes, the administrative judge over the county criminal courts, will appoint a special judge to take over Jackson’s docket.

Stinebaker said the district attorney’s office will notify the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, which will decide if suspension is appropriate, and if so, whether the suspension should be with or without pay.

Bob Wessels, courts manager for the County Criminal Courts at Law, said Jackson was expected to remain on the county payroll drawing a $140,000 salary while the case is pending.

Jackson posted bail of $1,000. The charge, a misdemeanor, will be handled by the 351st state District Court, a felony court, because of Jackson’s position.

There had been rumors about Judge Jackson resigning from the bench for at least two weeks, which is when I first heard about this. Hair Balls made fun of local defense attorney/blogger Paul Kennedy for jumping on what turned out to be a premature report, then having to retract it. Turns out that Kennedy, who posted a copy of the indictment, got to say that he was right all along. I look forward to hearing what Judge Jackson’s defense is.