Suspended Dallas appellate judge resigns

By Kerry Goff | Nov 15, 2016

DALLAS -- Fifth Court of Appeals Justice, David Lewis, who agreed to a judicial suspension in November 2015 while continuing treatment for alcohol abuse, signed an agreement to resign Oct. 10, 2016, in lieu of pending disciplinary proceedings over accusations by his colleagues that he exhibited erratic behavior and failed to prepare for and participate in cases.

In the original suspension agreement instigated in November 2015, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC) and Lewis proposed a minimum suspension of six months.

According to official court documents, the SCJC began investigating Lewis in October 2014 after other Dallas appellate judges raised red flags about his behavior and held a hearing that led to his suspension.

Lewis contested the allegations in the complaint from his peers, explaining there were no allegations that he ever drank on the job or that his alcohol abuse affected opinions he authored or opinions issued by the court.

Lewis’ attorney, Perry Minton of Minton Burton Bassett & Collins PC, explained that Chief Justice Carolyn Wright approached Lewis and offered him the opportunity to take paid medical leave. Lewis chose to take full responsibility by entering an inpatient treatment program in March 2015 and continued to work with several different programs in his recovery.

Minton added that Lewis took a paid medical leave because of diabetes aggravated by alcoholism. He has been sober since March, but agreed with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to accept a suspension without pay for at least six months.

"His voluntary agreement to stand down for a period is a consequence of an unfortunate period in his life that included the abuse of alcohol," Minton said in a statement. "There was not a single allegation ... that Justice Lewis was ever under the influence of alcohol while on the job."

“After the voluntary suspension period, Justice Lewis agreed to be evaluated by a medical professional of the SCJC’s choosing — if the report indicates he’s fit to return to work, he can petition the high court to lift the suspension, and if the report indicates otherwise, he can contest such findings,” said SCJC Executive Director Seana Willing said in a November 2015 interview with Law360.

According to the charging document, Justice Molly Francis said she knew Lewis when he was an attorney and that at the time he appeared healthy and capable. Her perspective changed once she started observing that Lewis seemed unable to perform his judicial duties due to a “serious illness,” and that she feared for his safety and the safety of court personnel because of his inability to control himself. 

“The charging document laid out the complaints of fellow justices, who have stated that Lewis delegated his judicial function to staff attorneys, failed to prepare for oral arguments or participate in writ panels, interacted with justices and court staff in a discourteous and hostile manner and indicated his probable decisions to attorneys during oral arguments, among other indiscretions,” an Oct. 13, 2016 Law360 article said.

Lewis signed the resignation agreement the same day the SCJC filed a notice of formal proceedings against him that could have led to his forced removal from the bench. Thus, Lewis will not be returning to adjudicate cases in the jurisdiction where he was elected to serve in 2012 and will never again serve as a judge in Texas, according to the agreement.

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