A Travis County judge who is pushing for criminal contempt charges against one defense attorney now is taking heat for a social media comment she made about another defense attorney.
The appropriateness of a Facebook post in which Court at Law Judge Nancy Hohengarten tells a friend she is being “tortured” by a lawyer in trial was discussed by the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.
The lawyers could decide to file a grievance against Hohengarten with the state bar.
“We’re going to ask for a transcript of the trial,” association President Selena Alvarenga said after the closed meeting. “Right now, we just don’t have enough information to determine if the Facebook post is grievable or not.”
A friend of the judge made a post on June 27 saying he was home with a cold. That friend does not practice law. Hohengarten replied she was feeling bad as well, but had made it to work.
She wrote: “I’ve had the worst cold but instead of staying home I’m being tortured by an attorney in a trial. So, I’m actually jealous of you!”
Court records show at the time of her post Hohengarten was overseeing a drunken driving trial. The lawyer representing the defendant was Skip Davis.
Hohengarten’s comment was a harmless joke, said defense lawyer Brian Roark, who released a statement Monday on behalf of the judge.
“She said this merely as a joke to make her sick friend feel better,” Roark said. “She did not name an actual attorney. This was done during a break in court. She did not have any bad feelings towards the lawyers who appeared in her court that day. The comment should be viewed as it was intended, which was merely as a joke.”
Davis said he didn’t take Hohengarten’s comment as a joke.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised,” he said in a statement. “I don’t think Judge Hohengarten was trying to be funny. She said that on purpose and she was being rude. What she did is a clear and blatant violation of the rules. Her decision to make that post during trial is eye-popping. It’s disrespectful, it’s unprofessional and to top it all off, it’s unethical. It violated my client’s constitutional rights to a fair trial before a fair and impartial judge.”
A jury found Davis’ client guilty of driving while intoxicated.
Davis attended Tuesday’s defense lawyers association meeting and gave his account of events that might have irritated the judge and caused her to make the post.
This isn’t the first time Hohengarten’s patience has been challenged by a defense attorney. In April, she filed a motion to hold lawyer Adam Reposa in criminal contempt for questioning her integrity in jury selection of a drunken driving trial. She alleged that Reposa took an inappropriate tone with the judge and told her he couldn’t get a fair trial in her court. Hohengarten declared a mistrial and sent the jury home.
Hohengarten was prepared to testify at Reposa’s June 19 contempt trial, but Reposa didn’t show up, citing health reasons. A warrant for his arrest was issued by Judge Paul Davis, who recalled the warrant days later. Reposa has returned to practicing law. No follow-up trial date has been set.
Reposa has filed a motion of his own, asking that Hohengarten be charged with official oppression for meddling in his contempt case. He accuses her of appointing special prosecutors even though she lacked authority to do so.
Those allegations haven’t gone to a grand jury.