Texplainer: Will Judge Who Beat Daughter Be Punished?

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Hey, Texplainer: What will happen to Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams now that the video of him beating his then 16-year-old daughter has gone viral? 

It's been almost two weeks since Hillary Adams, now 23, posted a 2004 video showing her father, Aransas County Court-at-Law Judge William Adams, beating her with a belt and cursing her when she was 16 years old. The video, which is more than seven minutes long and graphic, has attracted almost 6 million of views on YouTube, and prompted strong reactions from many who are horrified and outraged by the judge’s actions.

What, if any, consequences might Adams face?

The Associated Press reported on Friday that Adams will not face criminal charges stemming from the 2004 video since the statute of limitations on possible child abuse charges expired after five years. Rockport Police Department Chief Tim Jayroe added that federal prosecutors do not believe any federal crimes were committed, according to the AP story.

Adams released a three-page statement through his attorney last last week saying that he “regrets the interruption and inconvenience his daughter’s post has caused for the Aransas County, Texas community.” According to the AP report, Aransas County Attorney Richard Bianchi has relieved Adams from his caseload for at least the next two weeks.

Though he may not have to fear criminal charges, Adams does face other investigations. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services announced that it had opened an investigation, although it did not specify why (Hillary's minor sister still lives with their father), and that it had requested that Adams not hear any cases involving the agency while it is investigating him. 

Most significant is an investigation by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. It issued a rare public statement last week announcing its probe into the incident due to “the high profile nature of the matter.” The statement added that since the video was posted on Oct. 27, the agency has been flooded with telephone calls, faxes and emails and requested that no further contact be made to avoid overburdening the agency’s resources.

Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics of the American Judicature Society, described the range of potential actions the judicial conduct commission might take, ranging from a private reprimand (the least severe) to removal proceedings against the judge (the most severe).

“They can issue a warning, reprimand, a finding of misconduct in an admonition, censure, impose voluntary retirement, or removal,” Gray said. Removal and imposition of voluntary retirement aside, all the other consequences represent “different levels of a public scolding,” Gray said. But as for what, if anything, might occur in this case, she noted, “It’s too early to tell.”

Charles “Chip” Babcock, a Houston attorney with experience in SCJC investigations, said that the investigation could suffer from the same problem faced by the police — a long time lapse between the actual incident and the video becoming public. Though most SCJC investigations stem from complaints relating to judicial matters, the commission does take up complaints relating to “out-of-court behaviors.”

“It is a complicated procedure that could take a short time or could take years,” said Babcock.

Even if no action is taken by the SCJC, Adams could still face one more judgement: that of the voters of Aransas County. Adams is up for re-election in 2014, and on Monday some protesters outside the courthouse demanded that Adams resign. Babcock noted that any future electoral opponent could use the video in campaign advertising. 

Bottom line: Criminal charges stemming from the incident are highly unlikely, but Adams faces calls to resign his post as well as an investigation by the state's judicial conduct commission, which could levy a variety of sanctions up to removal from office before his 2014 re-election race.

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