Ninth District denies Layne Walker's motion to dismiss case filed by investigator

By Angela Underwood | Apr 10, 2017

BEAUMONT – A state appeals court has denied a former Texas judge's request to dismiss a lawsuit brought against him by a man who was arrested for allegedly disrupting the court while attempting to serve the judge a summons.

Former 252nd District Judge Layne Walker no longer has a say in the charges brought against him by Stephen Hartman over a May 2013 incident that he attempted to have dismissed. In an opinion delivered March 30 by Chief Justice Steve McKeithen of the 9th District Appeals Court in Beaumont, the panel found no cause to dismiss the suit. In the appeal, Walker claimed the lawsuit was based on actions protected by the First Amendment. He sought to have the case dismissed, claiming Hartman didn't present enough evidence to support his claims.

But the appeals court panel, consisting of McKeithen and Justices Charles Kreger and Hollis Horton, disagreed in an opinion written March 30, ruling that the former judge – now an attorney at Provost Umphrey – did not meet his burden of proof in defending the claims.

"Having determined that Hartman has met his burden for each element of his claims for malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy and that Walker did not demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence each essential element of a valid defense to these claims, we affirm the trial court's order denying Walker's motion to dismiss the TCPA (Texas Citizens' Participation Act)," the opinion stated.

The lawsuit stems from Hartman's attempt to serve Walker in May 2013. Hartman, a licensed investigator and licensed process server working for Klein Investigations and Consulting, claims he approached the courtroom bar and got the attention of the bailiff, who Hartman told he had a summons for the judge. Hartman claimed he waited until he court was on a break so he didn't disrupt the court. He also claimed the courtroom was the only safe place to serve the summons because during a previous attempt to serve Walker at this home, the judge had a gun.

Hartman claimed that, though he identified himself, he was pushed toward the exit and later arrested. He alleged Walker anticipated Hartman would come to the courtroom and directed the deputies to arrest Hartman when he attempted to serve the summons. Hartman claimed the deputies said they would charge him with "interfering with public duties and disrupting a public meeting," according to court documents.

Hartman claimed many of his constitutional rights were violated when he was wrongfully arrested; including that he was not read Miranda rights, told why he was being arrested, denied his right to counsel and subjected to illegal search and seizure of a video recording pen that taped the entire incident.

Along with a violation of his civil rights, Hartman alleged in his suit that Walker's court coordinator “maliciously sought to revoke Hartman’s professional licenses,” by filing formal complaints with The Texas Department of Public Safety Private Security Bureau, the Texas Process Server Review Board and the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators (a trade association)."

Hartman claimed could not practice as a private investigator, security guard or personal protection officer for three months while his licenses were suspended pending a determination, according to court documents.

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