It’s unprecedented’ | Under-investigation Dallas County district judge is recused from dozens of upcoming cases after attorneys allege bias
A combined 13 attorneys filed 50 requests for Judge Amber Givens’ recusal in their cases, claiming a record of bias. Givens voluntarily removed herself from most.
DALLAS COUNTY, Texas — A regional administrative judge granted multiple attorneys’ requests to recuse Dallas County District Judge Amber Givens from their cases after they raised repeated claims of potential bias from the judge during a Friday afternoon hearing.
Judge Ray Wheless, presiding judge of the First Administrative Judicial Region in Texas, held the hearing over Zoom after lawyers representing dozens of defendants filed motions seeking to recuse Givens from their cases.
Just before the hearing, Givens, the presiding judge of the 282nd Judicial Court, already voluntarily recused herself from the majority of cases after 13 lawyers filed a combined 50 motions for her to do so.
“I have not heard of any judge facing that many recusals in their entire judicial careers, let alone at one time,” said former district judge and current attorney Scott Becker with McCathern Shokouhi Evans Grinke. “It’s unprecedented.”
WFAA has reached out to Givens and the 282 Judicial District Court for comment, and is awaiting a response.
Mark Lassiter, one of the lawyers who was present in the Zoom meeting, represented 12 lawyers who filed the motions.
“In all of the motions to recuse — which are identical — we list all of the same issues regarding impartiality, her retaliatory nature, her requesting and suing DCDLA as an organization,” Lassiter said.
Givens sued the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and one of her primary opponents for defamation after the organization’s claims that Givens had used her court coordinator to preside over a hearing in her absence.
The suit is called a 202 lawsuit, which Lassiter said is a preliminary suit for gathering information to see if a lawsuit in full should be filed.
“It’s done in very rare circumstances,” Lassiter said. “It is not allowed by public figures just to try and intimidate their opponents.”
Danielle Uher, another lawyer requesting her recusal, told Wheless she was appointed to a sexual assault of a child case in Givens’ court, and that during a hearing, Givens brought to attention the fact that her client had asked for a new court-appointed lawyer.
“Givens asked why, and [the client] said something to the effect of, ‘My attorney told me she’s sorry, she has children and can’t represent me on a case like this,’” Uher said. “The judge asked me for my response, and I said, ‘I don’t even have children.’”
Givens’ response to the defendant, Uher added, was that the judge had concerns about Uher’s representation — and, as such, would remove Uher from the case. Uher said she felt Givens was commenting on her abilities as an attorney in the court, which is one of the reasons why Uher said she wanted Givens removed as the judge presiding over her clients’ cases.
Lassiter, who represented Uher during the hearing, said Uher had stated clear grounds that would constitute a basis for recusal. The standard for recusal, he said, is whether or not a reasonable person would question the judge‘s impartiality.
Additional motions for recusal were granted for attorneys Allan Fishburn and Manny Haddad during the hearing. Both had similar reasons for requesting Givens’ recusal.
“I have the same serious concerns about Givens’ ability to be impartial and unbiased,” Haddad said.
All motions for recusal were granted without objection from the state.
In late November of last year, the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (DCDLA) levied allegations against Givens in a complaint filed with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Givens denied these allegations when they were first reported in December.
The complaint alleged that Givens had her court coordinator illegally conduct a court hearing in her place on Aug. 3.
But in sworn affidavits signed in December — and obtained by WFAA in early January — Givens’ court coordinator, court reporter and bailiff all denied the allegations, and said what they witnessed did not align with what the defense lawyers association’s complaint portrayed.
On Jan. 11, Givens’ attorneys filed the 202 lawsuit in civil court, seeking oral and videotaped depositions from attorneys Amanda Branan and Deandra Grant, who filed the complaint against Givens on behalf of the DCDLA. The petition also sought depositions from former district judge Teresa Hawthorne, an opponent of Givens’ in the March primary and a candidate Grant had endorsed on social media.
DCDLA had accused Givens’ court coordinator, Arceola Warfield, of impersonating Givens during a court proceeding that was held over Zoom on Aug. 3.
The allegations against Givens claimed that only her picture — not a live video — appeared on the Zoom call, and that the voice conducting the court proceeding came from Warfield and not Givens.
WFAA confirmed that Texas Rangers are investigating the allegations of impersonation.
The Kaufman County District Attorney’s office has also been assigned to investigate the alleged courtroom impersonation after the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office recused itself from investigating the claims.
The 202 lawsuit has since been dismissed by a judge.
In 2021, Givens earned the lowest score among criminal court judges in Dallas County who handle felony cases, according to a 2021 DCDLA Judicial Poll from the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
Out of a possible 30 points awarded by the anonymous poll, Givens scored a 9.6. The next lowest score was an 18.1.
In a statement to WFAA following the initial claims of having a court coordinator impersonate her during an official proceeding, Givens said the grievances filed against her were “motivated to suppress the will of the community and to pressure me to discontinue the progress we are making toward change in the court system. I was elected to serve the people of Dallas County, TX and I will not fold under misinformation. I remain committed to the administration of justice.”
In March, Givens won the Democratic primary to retain her position as judge for the 282nd District Court. She avoided a runoff by earning 52.6 percent of the vote over her challengers Hawthorne and former district judge Andy Chatham.
She is running unopposed in the upcoming general election for the seat on November 8.
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