Red Herring Alert

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South Texas Judge Charged With Accepting Bribes for Favorable Rulings

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The FBI has charged a South Texas judge with accepting bribes after a lawyer working as a confidential informant helped agents record the jurist allegedly accepting $6,000 in cash in exchange for favorable rulings.

Federal agents arrested 93rd State District Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado of Edinburg on Feb. 2. Delgado was charged with “bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds,” and released on $100,000 bond. The criminal complaint filed against Delgado alleges the FBI worked with an unnamed lawyer, who confessed he had a history dating back to 2008 of bribing Delgado.

The lawyer-turned-informant, listed in the complaint under the initials CHS, worked with the FBI for over a year and participated in numerous recorded phone calls and meetings with Delgado.

The attorney provided Delgado with pre-recorded government funds on two occasions, according to the complaint. In each instance, Delgado allegedly accepted a bribe to place the attorney’s clients on bond.

The attorney wore a recording device as he met with Delgado at a restaurant to hand off an envelope containing the bribery money on Jan. 17, according to the complaint. Delgado allegedly accepted the bribe and then asked for the client and case number. Delgado placed the attorney’s client on bond the next day.

However, on Jan. 29, Delgado sent a text message to the attorney, which stated, “Good evening, please call me. The campaign contribution needs to be by check. I need to return that to you so you can write a check. Sorry about the confusion, I though you knew and I did not open the envelope till today.”

The complaint alleges the text message was an attempt by Delgado to cover up the bribe.

“Delgado had solicited contributions from CHS in the past, but when CHS offered Delgado the bribe, he did not say that it was a campaign donation. Furthermore, CHS offered and Delgado accepted a thick white envelope full of prerecorded government funds,” the complaint alleges. Delgado did not return a call for comment. Neither did his attorney, Adolfo “Al” Alvarez.

Eric Vinson, executive director of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, said Delgado will automatically be suspended from the bench upon indictment.

The commission normally suspends judges without pay automatically if they are indicted for a felony or a misdemeanor involving official misconduct. Judges are allowed to petition the commission to resume their pay or to return to the bench after an indictment, Vinson said, but the commission has historically not allowed indicted judges to sit in Texas.

“The Feds have 30 days to indict and we’re going to kind of watch and see what happens and go from there,” Vinson said.

Delgado has a history with the commission. He was suspended from the bench in 2005 after a grand jury indicted him in connection with a driving while intoxicated incident. That suspension was later lifted by the commission in 2007 after the criminal charges against Delgado were dismissed by a visiting judge—a decision that was later upheld by Corpus Christi’s 13th Court of Appeals.

 John Council

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RELATED

South Texas Judge Enters Not-Guilty Plea to Bribery Charges

In Minnesota $150 a day `gifts` (bribes) For Judges Is Acceptable

Under a rule judges made for their benefit only, they can take $150 `gifts` (bribes) from lawyers, special interests and anyone else. They can keep these `gifts` (bribes) secret – they do not have to report them to anyone. They can take an unlimited number of these `gifts` (bribes) – as many as they want.

The rule is part of the Canons of Judicial Conduct. The paragraph that states the rule is very convoluted. In simplified language it states that a judge can accept:

`Any other gift, loan, bequest, or other thing of value not exceeding $150, if the source of person is not a party or other person who, directly or indirectly, has come or is likely to come before the judge, or whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge.` 

The rule allows a lawyer or person to appear before a judge even if a partner or associate gives the judge $150 gifts (bribes). Thus, law firms commonly designate a `DE` (designated entertainer) to give judge gifts up to $150 in value. DEs do not appear in court.

To see the rule, go to Minnesota Canons Judicial Conduct  3.13 (C) (2) to see the language quoted above. A judge must report the gift only if it is more than $150 in amount or value.

`That is scandalous` former Governor Quie said when he learned that judges can take up to $150 gifts from lawyers, special interests, and others. It is more than that – it is outrageous. Judges know they can take $150 `gifts` – as many as they want – and keep it a secret. They are well aware of their rules of judicial conduct. Many judges accept these secret gifts. If they do not, the rule would obviously be unnecessary and could be eliminated.

Legislators, legislative employees and employees of the executive (governor`s) branch of state government cannot accept `gifts` (bribes) in any amount over $5. This is because a code of ethics exists for the legislative and executive branches of state of government. There should be such a code for the judicial branch of government but there is not.

The legislature should outlaw `gifts` by anyone to judges except from members of their immediate family as other states have done. Judges should be required to publicly disclose all gifts received from anyone other than their immediate family. `Gifts` to judges promote judicial corruption and undermine justice. 
~Dale Nathan~

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One thought on “South Texas Judge Charged With Accepting Bribes for Favorable Rulings

  1. Des Moines Register
    Iowa judge admits hundreds of his rulings were ghost-written by attorneys, raising a host of ethical and fairness concerns
    Clark Kauffman, ckauffman@dmreg.com Published 12:30 p.m. CT March 9, 2018 | Updated 1:15 p.m. CT March 9, 2018
    ‘Ghost-written’ decisions were fraudulent, one attorney claims
    Gavel
    (Photo: File photo)

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    A retired Plymouth County judge has admitted that “a couple hundred” of his rulings actually were written by attorneys involved in those same cases, sometimes without the knowledge of the opposing counsel.

    Former Judge Edward Jacobson’s admission prompted a sharp rebuke from the counsel to the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, who issued a statement Thursday saying Jacobson’s conduct could undermine “public confidence in our system of justice.”

    One Iowa lawyer has labeled Jacobson’s process of issuing decisions written by others as “fraudulent” and an abuse of judicial discretion. Another attorney reported her involvement in the matter to state ethics officials, and a third is alleging that the judge’s actions led to violations of attorney-client privilege.

    While it’s not unusual for judges to ask attorneys to submit proposed decisions for their consideration, those requests are made in the open, and the attorneys’ work is labeled a “proposed decision” and made part of the public court file, separate from the judge’s ruling.

    But Jacobson, who retired from the bench in October at age 69, admitted in a deposition last fall that he sometimes privately requested that attorneys for the winning side write up the decision and then email it to him rather than file it with the clerk of courts as a “proposed decision.”

    Jacobson would then have his own clerk proofread it and file it with the clerk of courts over his signature.

    This process allowed the attorneys who authored those decisions to craft not only the judge’s factual findings but also the legal rationale for those decisions.

    “That is clearly improper,” said Bob Oberbillig of Drake University Law School. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. The court was simply delegating its responsibility to others. The problem with that is it’s almost impossible for an attorney, as an advocate, to write a ruling that is impartial.”

    ‘Ghost-writing is generally discouraged’
    Duane Hoffmeyer, the chief judge of the district where Jacobson worked, said this week that he wasn’t aware of Jacobson’s deposition last fall where he said “a couple hundred” decisions had been written by attorneys involved in those cases.

    District 3B Chief Judge Duane Hoffmeyer
    District 3B Chief Judge Duane Hoffmeyer (Photo: Iowa Courts)

    “What you are telling me I am hearing for the first time,” Hoffmeyer told the Register. “I had no idea there were a couple hundred of these cases.”

    He said Iowa judges are trained, from orientation onward, to refrain from having attorneys write their decisions, adding that the practice of failing to disclose such actions to the opposing counsel is an even bigger concern.

    “Ghost-writing is generally discouraged,” he said. “That is a pretty well-known guideline. It can be allowed under certain circumstances, but it’s just generally preferable not to go down that path.”

    Ex parte communications, in which a judge speaks privately with only one party in a case, are barred by the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct if they result in an advantage of any kind to that party.

    Molly Kottmeyer, counsel to Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady, said in a written statement that “Iowa judges work hard every day to write decisions that explain their rulings. It is very disappointing to learn of allegations that a judge may have engaged in conduct that undermines this important process, and, in turn, undermines public confidence in our system of justice.

    “The allegations are not representative of Iowa’s judiciary. The Iowa Supreme Court will continue to work to ensure that the decisions of Iowa’s trial court judges are made fairly and impartially.”

    The Des Moines Register was unable to reach Jacobson for comment Wednesday and Thursday.

    ‘All I want is somebody to put it on paper’
    In his deposition, Jacobson stated that during his 16 years on the bench he presided over roughly 2,000 divorce cases, in addition to criminal cases and lawsuits.

    Asked how often he had directed an attorney to “write the final ruling after a contested case,” Jacobson replied, “I don’t know. A couple hundred, maybe.”

    He said he would sometimes tell the attorney only the conclusions that he had drawn in the case, leaving it to the attorney to divine his reasoning.

    When asked how often he communicated these directives only to one party in the case, Jacobson said, “If I made a decision, and all I want is somebody to put it on paper. I don’t have any problem telling one counsel to do it without telling the other counsel I told them to do it.”

    Jacobson said the process lightened his workload and enabled him to meet the court system’s 60-day deadline for judges to rule on cases awaiting a decision.

    “I really, really tried hard to never have anything go over the 60-day rule,” he said, “and if I was under time constraints, that’s usually when it happened.”

    Asked how many lawyers had authored final rulings for him after a contested case, Jacobson said, “I wouldn’t have any idea. Somewhere — 200 or less.”

    As a district court judge, Jacobson was paid $144,000 per year. He was appointed to the bench in October 2001 after spending 26 years in private practice and serving as county attorney for Ida County.

    ‘I didn’t write this thing’
    Jacobson’s deposition took place last November in a Plymouth County divorce case, but the transcript first became public Thursday as an exhibit in the case.

    According to court records, in June 2016 Jacobson telephoned Elizabeth Rosenbaum, one of the attorneys for the wife in the Plymouth County case, telling her to write up a final divorce decree that reflected his decision to rule in her favor on every issue that was argued in the case.

    After Rosenbaum wrote and emailed him the decree, the judge sent an email back to Rosenbaum, writing, “Thanks, Elizabeth. That was a great help. Fixed one typo and filed.”

    The opposing counsel was unaware that Jacobson didn’t write the decree until the following December when vague language in it became the focus of a court hearing.

    At that hearing, Jacobson looked at the decree that bore his signature and reportedly became angry.

    “I remember Judge Jacobson getting very upset,” Rosenbaum said in a November 2017 deposition. “I remember it sounded like he slammed his fist down and said, ‘I didn’t write this thing.'”

    ‘I don’t want to hear anything’
    In her deposition, Rosenbaum said that about a month later Judge Hoffmeyer called her into his chambers at the courthouse and immediately raised his hand in front of her face to signal that he wanted her to remain silent.

    “He said, ‘I don’t want you to say anything. I don’t want to hear anything. I’m just going to tell you that there are rumors out there, and one of the rumors is that you wrote a document and sent it directly to a judge and didn’t copy (opposing) counsel on it.’ And I said, ‘Uh — ,’ and he said, ‘No,’ and he held up his hand again. And he said, ‘Don’t say anything. I don’t want to hear anything. But if that did happen, you should self-report to the bar.'”

    Rosenbaum said Hoffmeyer waved her away with his hand and she subsequently self-reported her conduct to the Attorney Disciplinary Board of the Iowa Supreme, which last September dismissed the matter without recommending disciplinary action.

    The December 2016 hearing has led to a flurry of additional litigation in the divorce case.

    Earlier this week, Brandon Brown, the attorney for the husband, filed court papers alleging that what had once been a simple divorce proceeding had become a “complex matter involving questions of fraud, irregularity, ex parte communication (and) judicial discretion.”

    “Giving one party the secret authority to prepare the final decree,” Brown wrote, “gives that party a procedural, substantive and tactical advantage — and it is not reasonable to believe otherwise.”

    R. Scott Rhinehart, one of the attorneys for the wife, has argued that the husband’s efforts to set aside the decree should be dismissed since no one can say “how the result would have been different if the court had drafted its own decree.”

    The case has also led to complaints of ethical violations by attorneys in the case.

    In November, Rosenbaum filed a formal ethics complaint against the husband’s original attorney, Tara Vonnahme, alleging Vonnahme tape-recorded a conversation between the two of them.

    In court papers, Vonnahme said the information about the recording was gleaned from a lawyer who worked for Vonnahme at that time — and so the disclosure to Rosenbaum represents a violation of attorney-client privilege.

    Additional hearings in the divorce case are expected, and it’s possible Jacobson could be called to testify about how the decree was written.

    Steve Davis, communications director for the Iowa Judicial Branch, noted that in a 2010 case involving the Iowa Department of Human Services, a district court judge had adopted, verbatim, the state agency’s proposed findings of fact and also quoted at length from the agency’s proposed conclusions of law.

    The court pointed out that in such cases, judges’ decisions tend to reflect “the findings of the prevailing litigant rather than the court’s own scrutiny of the evidence and articulation of controlling legal principles.”

    The court added: “We once again encourage our district courts not to adopt verbatim the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law prepared by counsel. It is the district court’s duty to independently determine the facts, articulate the controlling law, and apply the controlling law to the facts. A court should never abdicate this essential duty of the judicial branch of government to counsel or the parties before the court.”

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