Judge Sanderson recuses himself from volatile case, may be under investigation for misconduct

By David Yates | Jan 24, 2018

BEAUMONT – Amidst facing a possible investigation into his conduct, a district judge at the Jefferson County courthouse has opted to recuse himself from a divisive civil suit. 

Last year, Klein Investigations, owned by area blogger Philip Klein, filed suit against Kallop Enterprises and several of its subsidiaries, seeking several hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages for services rendered.

And what started as a routine breach of contract claim has managed to mutate and swallow more than plaintiffs and defendants in the past year, drawing in the attorneys trying the case and the judge who was originally assigned to preside over the litigation, Judge Justin Sanderson, 60th District Court.

Judge Sanderson has since recused himself from the Klein lawsuit, offering no reason as to why in his Jan. 22 order, court records show.

Judge Sanderson  

However, while the judge has refused numerous requests for comment, an individual close to the case may have an idea as to why Sanderson tagged out.

Tom Retzlaff, who is neither a plaintiff nor defendant, told The Record that he has initiated several complaints against Judge Sanderson with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC) for his handling of the Klein v. Kallop lawsuit.

“The person handling the investigation into Judge Sanderson is the number two person in charge of the SCJC, Jacqueline Habersham,” Retzlaff said. “This is not being handled by one of the many, many regular investigators they have, but the deputy general counsel herself. 

“This is a very big deal.”

The Record contacted Habersham, who said she could not comment on whether or not she was investigating Judge Sanderson.

Retzlaff says Haberhsam is investigating all three of his complaints against Judge Sanderson.

His allegations against Judge Sanderson include:

- Issuing an order instructing the district clerk to not file letters authored by Retzlaff;

- Failing to disclose that the process server who served Klein’s lawsuit works for Judge Sanderson’s campaign manager; and

- Lying about communicating with a federal judge who is handling the bankruptcy proceedings of a Kallop defendant. Retzlaff maintains Judge Sanderson said that he was making his rulings and decisions based upon the nonexistent communications and instructions from the federal court.

Retzlaff, who has been tagged as a vexatious litigant, was eventually able to insert his letters into the case through a filing submitted by the defendants’ counsel, Jeffrey Dorrell.

As previously reported, a battle to seal the filing is currently underway.

Also, Klein’s lawsuit was apparently served by Tom Hanna Jr., the son of Judge Sanderson’s campaign manager in 2016. Hanna Sr. did not respond to a request for comment.

As far as the so-called communication with the federal judge goes, Offshore Specialty Fabricators, a Kallop defendant, declared bankruptcy in October. A co-debtor bankruptcy stay was issued.

Retzlaff claims Judge Sanderson ignored the bankruptcy court’s ruling and lied about communicating with the federal judge, permitting Klein and his attorney, John Morgan, to go forward and try to collect on a half-a-million dollar default judgment.

When objections were raised, Klein and Morgan requested the bankruptcy court lift the stay in late December – a request that was denied, court records show.

Retzlaff, Morgan and Klein have been waging courtroom war against each other for the past several years.

Retzlaff also says he exposed Wayne Reaud’s involvement in the case when he spotted the founding partner of the Reaud, Morgan & Quinn at a hearing.

“Judge Sanderson’s continued silence on (these issues) is deafening,” Retzlaff said.

The Record reached out to Reaud for comment but did not get an immediate response.

Judge Olen Underwood, administrative judge of the Second Judicial Administrative Region, will take over for Judge Sanderson.

The SCJC told The Record that it receives around 1,500 complaints a year. The average complaint takes about six months to resolve but can last longer.

Judge Justin Sanderson is the son of former 60th District Court Judge Gary Sanderson.

Cause No. B-199953-A

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