James Patrick “Jim” Sharp Jr. (pictured), a justice on Houston’s 1st Court of Appeals, is appealing a public reprimand he received last month from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. And on Oct. 8, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson penned a letter to three intermediate justices appointing them to a Special Court of Review to hear Sharp’s appeal. The panel will include Kerry Fitzgerald, a justice on Dallas’ 5th Court of Appeals; Diane Henson, a justice on Austin’s 3rd Court of Appeals; and Bill Meier, a justice on Fort Worth’s 2nd Court of Appeals.
The commission reprimanded Sharp Sept. 5, after concluding that he “lent the prestige of his judicial office to advance the private interests of his friend and her daughter” by trying to “intimidate” Brazoria County employees into releasing the 15-year-old from juvenile custody.
The commission's public reprimand to Sharp notes that he identified himself as a justice on the 1st Court when he called two officers and the assistant director of the Brazoria County Juvenile Detention Center on Jan. 17, asking what he could do to secure the release of a friend's daughter from the facility. When told the girl would be detained overnight, Sharp told the assistant director, “[Y]our county is going to be sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars for this. You'll have picked the wrong little girl that has friends in high places to mess with,” according to the public reprimand. Among other things, Sharp also stated to the assistant director, “Well, I can tell you this, things are about to change in Brazoria County. You guys are a bunch of back woods hillbillies that use screwed up methods in dealing with children . . .,” according to the public reprimand.
Sharp issued a written apology after receiving the reprimand. In the statement emailed at the time by his spokesman, Houston lawyer Brian Wice, Sharp said, “When a young girl who could have been anyone's child was jailed overnight simply because of Brazoria County policy, I let my heart overrule my head, and for that I apologize. Having learned a valuable lesson, I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of the First Judicial District of Texas.”
Sharp did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Tom Watkins, a partner in Austin’s Brown McCarroll who represented Sharp before the commission, says Sharp is appealing the reprimand because “he was upset about what was happening in Brazoria County.”
Seana Willing, executive director of the commission, declines comment on Sharp’s appeal.
She notes that under Texas Government Code §33, the commission has 15 days to file a charging document against Sharp. The appeal will be heard de novo, she notes.
Speaking generally about how the process works, Willing says, “The charging document can include all of the information that was before the commission that resulted in the reprimand, or it can include new charges.” After the charging document is filed with the clerk of the Texas Supreme Court, the special court of review has 30 days to conduct a hearing on the charging document under §33, although continuances of that hearing are common, notes Willing.
— John Council