Democratic Ex-Judge Carlos Cortez, the Dallas judge who received national media attention when his girlfriend accused him of assaulting her, and leaning her precariously over a balcony, and threatening to kill her, has received a public warning by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct. It was not this action, but his statements taped by his ex-girlfriend about his campaign reports that got him admonished. In its Public Warning, the Commission stated it started its investigation because of “widespread,” local, state, and national stories about his conduct, which included allegations of criminal conduct. The Commission also issued the order because his outrageous conduct cast the judiciary as a whole in a bad light.
Carlos Cortez was the controversial judge of the 44th District Court who was frequently in the media because of his personal escapades, including a defamation action he filed against a fellow judge and some lawyers, and criminal and ethical allegations. The Dallas Morning News has reported that “he has been arrested at least three times, including once on a charge of aggravated sexual assault of a child. All the cases were dismissed without prosecution.”
The Commission on Judicial Conduct started the investigation to look into media reports that the Judge: (1) used illegal drugs and hired prostitutes; (2) violated the Texas Election Code and/or the Texas Penal Code regarding the use of officeholder funds and campaign contributions, and the reporting of travel reimbursement and other expenditures; (3) he was arrested in December 2013 for assault of his ex-girlfriend; and (4) allegations surrounding a criminal investigation by the Dallas Police Department into a report that the judge sexually assaulted a woman at his home in November 2013.
The Public Warning issued by the Commission said that it found insufficient evidence to support a finding that the judge used illegal drugs or hired prostitutes, and noted that the assault of his girlfriend resulted in a grand jury failing to issue a true bill of indictment against him. The allegations of a Dallas Police Department investigation into whether he sexually assaulted a woman in his home in late 2013 said the Commission, was concluded in July 2014 with no charges being filed.
The Dallas Morning News reported in April 2014 that “Democratic Party power brokers knew of his abusive language, a drunken driving charge and sexual harassment rumors. Still, they helped Cortez raise $1 million in a decade — more campaign cash than any other district judge in Texas.”
The Commission stated the allegations the judge used drugs and hired prostitutes came as a result of a court releasing documents Cortez sought to have sealed after a defamation suit was dismissed. The Commission also stated that the allegations surrounding his December 2013 arrest, and the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict him, bought information to light after the judge released audio and video recordings to the media that involved his ex-girlfriend. She was the complainant in the alleged assault case.
The girlfriend held a press conference with her attorney to release her own recordings of conversations with the Judge. The Commission stated these recordings included:
lewd, profane and derogatory language toward his girlfriend; descriptions of physical violence allegedly committed by the judge against the girlfriend; discussions as to the complaining witness’s contention the judge posted nude photos of her on the Internet; and discussions of numerous trips the two had taken together while they were dating. These recordings, which were transcribed and published in the media, would raise questions about whether Judge Cortez properly reported these travel expenses in his campaign finance reports and/or whether he properly reimbursed himself for the travel expenses using officeholder/campaign funds.
Judge Cortez’ own political party rejected him in the Spring 2014 primary election after he had served two terms as a judge. He was first elected to the bench in 2006 and took office in January 2007. He is now a lawyer in private practice.
In its Public Warning, the Commission on Judicial Conduct issued findings of fact and found that:
*On or about August 7, 2013, Judge Cortez filed a political expenditure report with the Texas Ethics Commission for travel expenses incurred in the amount of $6,267.62, for which he reimbursed himself from campaign funds.
*On or about November 19, 2013, Judge Cortez filed political expenditure reports with the Texas Ethics Commission for travel expenses incurred in the amounts of $3,437.10, *$1,932.622, and $3,562.31, for which he reimbursed himself from campaign funds.
*These campaign finance reports, which were signed by Judge Cortez, failed to comply with the reporting requirements set forth in Texas Ethics Commission Rule §20.63.(d), in that the judge failed to disclose details of the travel expenses for which he had been reimbursed.
*In his written responses to the Commission’s inquiries and in his testimony before the Commission, Judge Cortez was unable to provide records to substantiate that he was entitled to reimbursement for travel in the amounts reported to the Texas Ethics Commission.
*Judge Cortez testified that any failure to properly report political expenditures was due to the failure of an attorney hired by the judge to maintain his financial records and complete the reports.
*Judge Cortez testified that the attorney was unable or unwilling to provide assistance in recovering financial records that would support the reported expenditures.
*Judge Cortez acknowledged that he reviewed the campaign finance reports prepared by his attorney and signed them, thereby swearing that the information contained in the reports was accurate.
*Judge Cortez testified that he no longer used the attorney to prepare and file his campaign finance reports, and that the judge prepared and filed the most recent report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission in January 2015; however, when questioned about a $51,000 political expenditure incurred at a restaurant in October 2014, Judge Cortez testified that this information was incorrect and was the result of a “typo.”
*Judge Cortez testified that he intended to correct the “typo” in the January 2015 report and file amended reports with the Texas Ethics Commission that either (a) accounted for the full amounts for which he had been reimbursed, or (b) reflected any offset between what the campaign owed him and for what he may have reimbursed himself that he cannot support with receipts or other financial records.
The Commission found that under Texas Ethics Commission Rules, a candidate or officeholder’s failure to comply with the rules cannot be cured by filing a corrected report after the deadline for filing a corrected report has passed. They also found that audio recordings of conversations between Judge Cortex and his ex-girlfriend that were publicized by the media “cast public discredit upon the judiciary.” Moreover, the Judge failed to admit or deny the ex-girlfriend’s claim that he retaliated against her when they were dating by posting nude photos of her on the Internet after they had a fight.
The conclusion by the Commission was that “Judge Cortez failed to comply with the law when he reimbursed himself from campaign funds for travel expenses that were not properly reported to the Texas Ethics Commission. The judge’s acceptance of travel reimbursements that were not supported by complete and accurate disclosures to the public as required through these reports constituted conversion of public funds to his personal use in violation of the Texas Election Code.”
Cortez was also found to have “engaged in willful conduct that resulted in the negative attention and criticism levied against him in the press during 2013 and 2014, therefore casting public discredit not just on the judge, but on the rest of the judiciary in Dallas County and across the State. While the judge contends that the Dallas County media was biased against him and motivated by a conspiracy of relationships with local attorneys who were adversarial to the judge, there is no question that Judge Cortez, through his own personal conduct, provided any person, including political enemies, and the press with sufficient information that could be used against him.”
The Dallas Morning News has reported that the public warning by the State Commission “opened the door … to a possible criminal prosecution of former Judge Carlos Cortez on financial misconduct charges.” Commission Director Seana Willing was reported to say “We would be responsive to a records request from law enforcement.”
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. Follow her @LanaShadwick2.