No Additional Pre-Judgment Interest and No Recusal

Among other issues, appellants argued that the trial court erred in the amounts awarded in pre-judgment interest and by denying a motion for recusal.  The amount of pre-judgment interest could have been increased to include the time between when appellants submitted their proposed final judgment, which delineated the exact amount of prejudgment interest, and when that judgment was signed.  However, the court of appeals found that appellants waived this argument by not excepting to the judgment or bringing the complaint to the trial court’s attention.  The court affirmed the pre-judgment interest award, noting that the “invited error doctrine” precludes appellants from complaining when the trial court enters the appellants’ requested judgment.  The court of appeals also affirmed the denial of appellants’ motion for recusal, finding that a single comment by the Judge, and the reversal and remand of the Judge’s prior judgment did not evidence bias.

David L. Assocs. v. Stealth Detection, Inc., No. 05-12-00073-CV

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Though we usually restrict ourselves to business related cases here at 600 Commerce, this criminal case was too interesting to ignore, so enjoy:

After William Youkers pleaded guilty to assaulting his pregnant girlfriend, he subsequently failed to abide by the his community supervision requirements. Youkers made a bunch of excuses for his failure to comply, but ultimately the trial judge sentenced him to eight years in prison. Youkers moved for a new trial, arguing that the trial judge’s undisclosed Facebook “friendship” with the father of his girlfriend biased the court’s decision.  During the hearing on Youkers’ motion for a new trial, the judge testified that he knew the father only because both had run for public office in the same election cycle, and nothing more.  Despite this fleeting relationship, the father had, through this Facebook friendship, sent a message to the judge, asking him to go easy on Youkers. The judge replied by telling the father that the communication was improper and that he didn’t even read the entire message once he figured out what it was about.  The judge then put a copy of the Facebook message in the court file and told the lawyers for both sides about it.  No other messages were exchanged.

On appeal, the Court noted that no Texas case has ever before addressed this topic.  It then explained that, as a general matter, “judges are not prohibited from using social media.”  Following the ABA’s commentary on this subject, the Court advised that simply being a  Facebook friend with someone does not provide any evidence of the degree of the parties’ relationship in the real world, and that further context is needed to determine whether bias exists.  On the facts in this case, the Court found that there was no suggestion of bias and that the trial judge acted just as he should have upon receiving the message.  The Court therefore sustained his denial of Youkers’ motion for a new trial and moved on to other issues.

Youkers v. State

No Reconsideration of Recusal

The court granted a writ of mandamus to preventing an administrative judge from granting a rehearing of her recusal order. Relator Amos filed a motion to recuse the trial judge presiding in her criminal case, and the administrative judge assigned to hear the motion orally found “the appearance of impropriety, the appearance of prejudice . . . sufficient” to justify recusal. The administrative judge ordered recusal and transferred the case to a new judge. The trial judge filed a motion for reconsideration challenging the merits and arguing that she had not received notice of the hearing and the opportunity to present or challenge evidence. The administrative judge granted the motion for reconsideration and set a new hearing on the motion to recuse. Amos filed a petition for writ of mandamus seeking relief.

The court held that once a judge refers a motion to recuse to another judge, the challenged judge can take no further action, especially to influence the outcome of the matter. Moreover, once the administrative judge decided the motion and transferred the case to a new judge, she no longer had authority over the matter. Finally, the trial judge had no due process interested in presiding over the particular case. Thus, the motion for reconsideration was improper and any action on that motion was contrary to settled law. Mandamus was an appropriate remedy to prevent waste of judicial resources and interference with the new court’s jurisdiction over the case.

In Re Amos, No. 05-12-01500-CV

Two Options: Recuse or Refer

Just before trial, Victor Enterprises Incorporated (“VEI”) moved for recusal.  The trial judge, however, denied the motion as untimely.  The case proceeded to trial, and the judge entered a final judgment in favor of Defendant, Clifford Holland.  The Court of Appeals reversed the recusal decision and voided the judgment.  Turning to the text of TRCP 18a, the Court unequivocally found that “in the event a recusal motion is filed, a trial judge must promptly enter one of two orders which are permitted:  recusal or referral.”  Because the trial judge denied the motion as untimely, she did not follow either of the two permitted courses.  Thus, she did not comply with Rule 18a and abused her discretion.

Victor Enterprises v. Clifford Holland, No. 05-10-01592-CV