December 18, 2013
By Kiah Collier
A Harris County family court judge under investigation for allegedly backdating court records was removed from eight more cases by a visiting judge Wednesday.
The requests to recuse Pratt were among 16 filed in recent weeks by lawyers hoping to have the family court judge removed from their cases after the district attorney began an investigation into accusations that Pratt had backdated court documents to cover up her tardy rulings. The accusations were made in a criminal complaint filed by Webster family lawyer Greg Enos, who also publicized them in his online monthly newsletter, The Mongoose. Enos filed the complaint, now under review by a Harris County grand jury, with the district attorney’s office and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The accusations first sparked an investigation by the Harris County District Clerk and led to the resignation of Pratt’s lead clerk. District Clerk Chris Daniel said he found backdated documents came out of Pratt’s court in at least two cases before asking the district attorney’s office to take over the investigation.
Pratt, through her lawyer, has denied any wrongdoing.
Houston lawyers Matthew Waldrop and David Brown, who filed the eight motions granted Wednesday, argued that Pratt, by repeatedly making tardy rulings and then backdating orders, is biased and could not rule impartially as she has a demonstrated history of antagonizing lawyers and their clients.
“In so many cases she didn’t make a ruling until weeks and months after the case was heard,” Brown said. “Well, she couldn’t possibly remember what had occurred with the number of cases on her docket.”
More than 3,900 cases have been filed in Pratt’s 311th Court so far this calendar year, according to the District Clerk’s website.
Blames court clerks
Judge David Farr, the administrative judge for the family courts, said he was not surprised that Ritter, a longtime judge, had ruled on all eight motions at once because they all contained “common reasons” for why Pratt should be recused.
Brown and Waldrop subpoenaed Enos and another Houston family lawyer, Robert Clark, to testify Wednesday. They unsuccessfully subpoenaed the head of the district attorney’s public integrity division, as well as Pratt and her former lead clerk Marilyn Epps, who pleaded the Fifth Amendment.
Clark, who has more than a dozen cases in Pratt’s 311th Family District Court, said he plans to request recusals for four or five of them by week’s end.
“I think she’s probably going to be off the bench before the other 10 are actually affected by her,” said Clark, who testified that Pratt had dated an order in one of his cases when it still was in trial. “If she actually survives a grand jury and survives the primary, then I’ll file the rest of them.”
Pratt has blamed any problems on court clerks. She is running for a second term next year.
“There’s absolutely no evidence she backdated any documents,” her attorney Terry Yates said. “A lot of the problems in that court emanated from the various clerks that were in her court. I think now there’s been well over 20 in, you know, almost three years.”
Pratt has garnered four challengers in the March Republican primary.