Alumni Association president under fire

premium_article_headlineBy Sierra Baumbach
Staff Writer

The 258th State District Judge Elizabeth E. Coker, who is also president of the Baylor Alumni Association, is under review by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct for a text message allegedly sent during court that was thought to aid the prosecution in a felony charge of injury to a child.

According to an article published on Jan. 18 in the Houston Chronicle, the text was allegedly sent five months ago from Coker at the bench to assistant prosecutor Kaycee Jones, who was not working on the case but was in the courtroom.

She then passed the information in the text to lead prosecutor Beverly Armstrong.

The contents of the note said, “Judge says … baby pooped on (Reeves) – if he threw a dog off the bed because the dog peed on bed what would he do if baby pooped on him?” This appeared to prompt a question in favor of the prosecution, the Chronicle reported.

The defendant, David Reeves, had earlier testimony in the trial that showed after Reeves became angry when a new puppy soiled his bed, he threw the animal off of the bed. Additional testimony showed that Reeves’ baby had severe diarrhea the night the child was injured, according to the Chronicle article.

“The prosecutor who received the communication was not assigned to the court in which the trial was held and was not participating in the trial of the case. However, it appears that the substance of the communication from the judge was indirectly communicated to the prosecutor who was trying the case,” Polk County Criminal District Attorney William Lee Hon wrote In an e-mail to the Lariat.

According to the Chronicle article, Polk County Investigator David Wells was sitting beside Jones in the gallery.

Jones asked to borrow Wells’ notepad and it was from this exchange that Wells discovered the interaction between Coker and Jones.

Wells reported the interaction to Hon.

“Following a jury trial conducted in August of 2012, it was reported to me by a member of my staff that there had been a communication during the trial between the presiding judge and an assistant prosecutor regarding possible testimony in the case,” Hon told the Lariat.

Following an internal inquiry within the office, Hon said it was determined that the communication did not influence any line of questioning or strategy employed during the trial, nor did it influence the ultimate outcome of the trial.

The defendant was acquitted of all charges against him.

Hon said that because of the investigation, it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the precise details of the communication or the administrative steps which were taken after the investigation began.

“The office will cooperate fully, however, in response to any such investigation,” Hon wrote in the email.

Coker declined to comment on the investigation.

Attempts to get in contact with other members of the Baylor Alumni Association went unanswered.

Multiple faculty members at the Baylor Law School declined comment when asked about the ethics of the case.

However, Deborah Rhode, Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford University, offered an explanation of why Coker may be under investigation.

“Conferring on any subject in court without the knowledge of all parties is wrong,” Rhode said. “Even when the contact is indirect, it’s still problematic. A judge should be neutral and not confer with anyone about a trial outside of the parties involved. It undermines the title.”

Coker transferred from Sam Houston State University to Baylor her where she graduated from in 1989. She got her Juris Doctorate from Baylor Law in 1992.

She is a second generation Baylor graduate and a third generation Texas judge.

Coker was a lifetime member of the BAA and was asked to serve on the board in 2009.

She was asked to serve as the BAA president a year later.