Judge disciplined for jumping at lawyer now faces lawyer in second round of election
Houston, TX Judge Clinton “Chip” Wells Jr. was publicly reprimanded last month for his bizarre and confrontational behavior during an acrimonious 2019 divorce case.
As described in the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct:
“Throughout the trial, Judge Wells expressed his irritation with both attorneys, slamming his fists or books on the bench, bursting into anger at the attorney, using a harsh and sarcastic tone of voice, abruptly announcing recess or leaving the bench in frustration and anger. .”
Toward the end of the proceedings, Wells asked one of the attorneys, Teresa Waldrop, into his office. During the nearly two-hour meeting, Waldrop describes repeatedly asking to leave or for a witness to join them during the heartbreaking rant:
In the commission’s findings of fact, it is stated that while Waldrop was alone with Wells in the chambers, he confessed that he had created an irreparable mess of the trial and admitted that he was known to “have a bad temper,” adding, “the reality has…has come to me that I may not be fit for this.
Waldrop told the commission that she was frightened and intimidated by Wells’ conduct and repeatedly asked to leave or have witnesses present. Wells said he was “horrified by this” and wondered if he should “throw himself out the window”.
At one point, Wells told Waldrop it would have been easier if she had come to his quarters to “annoy him”, continuing, “Then we would have rolled on the floor and choked on each other,” says the report.
When he finally summoned the parties and other counsel to his cabinet, he reportedly described his mistakes in the case. The next day, he recused himself from the case.
During the inquest, Wells also opened up about his behavioral issues:
During the commission’s investigation, Wells admitted his misconduct and said in writing that his actions were inconsistent with a judge’s duty to be “patient, dignified and courteous.” He also admitted he shouldn’t have directed Waldrop to his apartments and said he apologized to her the same day.
“The judge further indicated that he had sought professional advice, … and believes that he has taken responsibility for his actions,” the report continues.
But that, while interesting, is not the end of the story. Following the incident, Waldrop decided to run against Wells in the election for his seat. As Waldrop acknowledged after being briefed on the commission’s warning: “After waiting three years and nine days since this happened, I feel a little lighter today. As a lawyer, I am trained to confront, challenge and report this type of misconduct. This incident is what made me decide to run for this bench.
Additionally, Waldrop forced a runoff in the Democratic primary after winning 46% of the vote. Wells got 28% and a third candidate, Paul Calzada, got 26%. The final chapter in this saga – the second round – is May 26.
Kathryn Rubino is an editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL’s tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).