UPDATED Houston Lawyers Call for Judge Denise Pratt to Step Down

Categories: Courts

pratt.png
Screenshot from Judge Denise Pratt's campaign site.
Is Pratt like a "4th grader"?
Thirty-two family law attorneys have signed a letter calling for the resignation of Harris County Family Court Judge Denise Pratt, who is accused of backdating records.

Lawyer Greg Enos of Webster last month filed a complaint against Pratt with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, likening her to "a 4th grader who, on the day after parents got the report with the 'F' for not doing homework, stayed up late and did her homework assignments and dated them six weeks before."

Pratt's lead clerk retired after Enos publicly aired his complaint.

The Houston Chronicle reported that "county and other sources" say the DA's Office's public integrity unit is "looking into" Enos's allegations and "has contacted attorneys to arrange interviews."

According to Enos, Pratt would "rush and create an order or ruling and backdate the document as if she had done what she was supposed to have done weeks or months before" only when the Court of Appeals -- or Enos, in his newsletter -- "publicly chastised" the judge.

Now, Enos has found some confederates to publicly back him up: Thirty-two attorneys have put their names to a letter, dated November 3 and sent to other family lawyers, asking them "to join in our effort to get Judge Denise Pratt off the bench for the good of the family bar, the families and children of Harris County, and the many excellent family court judges whose re-elections might be endangered with Judge Pratt on the same ballot with them."

The letter states that the lawyers who signed their names are "'sticking our necks out' to stand up for what is right" and are asking others to contact the DA's Public Integrity Unit if they know of other backdated orders.

It also states: "For too long, a 'Code of Silence' has prevailed in family law that kept attorneys from speaking out about Judges who were really, really bad and not following the law [sic].....speaking out about this very serious situation is the right thing to do and will ultimately protect our current and future clients."

We've reached out to Pratt for a comment and will update if and when we hear back. We've also reached out to some of the attorneys listed under the "prior endorsements" section on her site and will also update accordingly.

According to Pratt's campaign Web site, she was appointed by Governor Rick Perry to the Texas Board of Social Worker Examiners in 2007, and is a member of the Texas Tea Party Republican Women, Magic Circle Republican Women, Daughters of Liberty, Ronald Reagan Republican Women and others.

The "prior endorsements" listed on her site include the Houston Police Officers' Union, the Houston Chronicle and the National Latino Peace Officers' Association-Southeast Harris County Chapter, among others.

UPDATE: Pratt's criminal defense attorney Terry Yates tells us that his client has done nothing illegal and is cooperating with authorities in order to "get to the bottom" of things. He also alleged that the Harris County District Clerk's Office has had a problem with filing Pratt's orders in a timely manner, and that Pratt has been working with the Clerk's Office on the issue for months, even before Enos publicly raised the allegations. Yates also told us the allegations are politically motivated.

However, Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel has a slightly different story. he told us that, based on a preliminary review, Pratt did not notify his office of any alleged issues involving backlogging (a build-up of court documents that haven't been filed) until after the 14th Court of Appeals partially granted a writ of mandamus -- Latin for "when a judge screws up and doesn't do their job, yo" -- against Pratt, in a case where she failed to rule on a parent's visitation rights for over ten months. (More on that in a bit).

Daniel told us that the first his office learned of any possible concerns about the 311th Court was from Enos in October, other than that Pratt told the District Clerk's Office that she needed earlier notification of clerks' vacation times.

He said his staff immediately conducted their own investigation, resulting in the resignation of Pratt's lead clerk, a 25-year veteran. Daniel also said that his staff quickly remedied any filing problems, but they're still getting more complaints from litigants in Pratt's court who say they've been screwed. These complaints are immediately corrected and sent to the District Attorney's Office for review, Daniel said. (A spokesperson for the DA's Office has said they cannot confirm or deny if its Public Integrity Unit is investigating the allegations.)

Daniel also pointed out that nearly all of Enos' allegations focus on people other than District Clerk's Office staff, and that the District Clerk's Office looked into the one allegation specifically directed at the aforementioned clerk.

Enos and other lawyers say the whole backdating problem arises from Pratt allowing cases to languish for months, and that such inaction unfairly (and unconstitutionally) penalizes many families in her court.

A three-judge panel of the 14th Court of Appeals apparently agreed: in their opinion, the judges stated that Pratt hadn't ruled for more than ten months on a visitation motion, and that "a parent's right to access to his child is a fundamental liberty interest more precious than property rights." (Hair Balls would equivocate -- it sorta depends on how cute the kid in question is, and whether the property is a really cool car, or perhaps an oil well. But we digress.) The judges also wrote that "it is the public policy of this state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in their best interest...."

The panel did not rule on whether Pratt should decide in favor of the parent seeking visitation, and instead ordered her to get off her judicial keister and make a decision already.

Send your story tips to the author, Craig Malisow.



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6 comments
TashaWhite
TashaWhite

It is sad what is happening to the children caught in the 311th. Case reset over and over again because Pratt simply did not come to work. Ruling not made at all. Her moral compass used to rule instead of the law she vowed to uphold.

I pray she is removed, soon, for the sake of all the families suffering under her.

truther
truther

They can say what they want, but she is a top-notch judge. I, too, had her as my attorney 20 years ago and she was very knowledgeable and focused.  I've worked in the courts since then and have monitored her career. She is probably the most competent judge in Houston and Harris County.

 What you don't hear; she volunteers her time to many different interests, including fostering kids and Girl Scouts and stuff like that. She's also been appointed Amicus and such because she is more than qualified as well as trusted. She is an advocate for fairness and minimizing the impact of a divorce on the children involved. I've never seen her deviate from the law, seen her be impartial to the parties, as well as watch out for the interest of the children.

 You also don't hear about how the alleged problems lead to the clerk's office. It gets reported by Greg Enos that the Lead Clerk was fired. No, they resigned... and hired an attorney. The judge has nothing to do with their clerk; they don't hire them, fire them, train them, etc. If there was a problem, it wasn't with the judge. It was with the District Clerk.

 You also don't hear about things that prolong a case; disagreeing attorneys, unyielding parties, inept representation, jurisdiction issues, etc. A case that ONLY took a year? OK. Mine lasted 3.5 years. Mostly because of a disagreeable and unreasonable ex. So I "won". But what was won? Really? This is what Judge Pratt understands and how she operates. Be fair, be forgiving, and realize that the parents aren't the only ones involved in the divorce. There ARE extenuating circumstances and nothing is black and white, ESPECIALLY in a divorce or family matter....

jeffs77
jeffs77

I had a two year divorce under this Judge and her flunkies oversight. It cost me in excess of $200K and the custody of my daughter. Sure let all the criminals (lawyers and judges) gather and protect each other. This Judge walks and isn't held accountable under the law that all these criminals (lawyers and judges) profess to uphold? No one is held accountable for all the people who's lives were ruined while the malfeasance and criminal activity occurred? Time for me to go to the FBI and make my complaints formal.

conebaby
conebaby topcommenter

The testimonials on her website are pretty spectacular.

jeffs77
jeffs77

@truther She was your attorney 20 years ago and your divorce took 3.5 years? That was around 1993- 1997?  You assume she hasn't evolved, learned changed since your divorce?   She has only been a Judge for ~ 4 years.  Thank you for monitoring her actions for the last 20 years. I am certain you have not missed anything (except what you want to see and write).  If she and her flunkies are innocent she is an attorney and can easily defend herself.  Remember in America you are innocent until proven guilty.  She is a sitting Judge who refuses to respond why doesn't an innocent person simply defend herself?  If you had her as an attorney 20 years ago upon what grounds and qualifications do you allege she "She is probably the most competent judge in Houston and Harris County."?  If she and her flunkies are innocent they don't need to take plea bargains to avoid prosecution.  Perhaps you are right.  Perhaps the volunteering you have seen neither qualifies or disqualifies her from being a quality Judge and is her heartfelt passion and she should follow that rather than allegedly violating the law for which she is appointed (she wasn't elected) to enforce.  God will judge her and neither you or I will have to but she evidently refuses to be judged by the Judicial system that you or I would be judged if we were involved in a civil or criminal suite. Actions speak louder than words.  

regbaker1954
regbaker1954

@conebaby Forgive me, but having great testimonials on her own website means exactly what in this case? I'm pretty sure that if it was me (or anybody else for that matter), ALL testimonials on my website would be outstanding.

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