AUSTIN – Evidently, a lawyer’s time is more precious than a pro se person’s, at least in the eyes of one Democrat justice of the peace candidate, who promised attorneys they’d go to the “front of the line” during a fundraiser for her campaign earlier this year.
In November, Sylvia Holmes will go head-to-head with Republican Martin Harry in the race for Travis County Justice of the Peace Court, Precinct 3.
Holmes defeated incumbent Susan Steeg in the March Primary.
Three months earlier, Holmes held a campaign event called “Lawyers for Sylvia Holmes” on Jan. 11 at an Austin law firm, where she promised the attorneys in the room that they would “get priority” when in her court.
“If you’re a lawyer you are running as defense attorney from court to court to court – you’re trying to remember which clerk likes it this way and that way,” Holmes said at the fundraiser. “When you show up, you’re going to get to come to the front of the line. I love pro se people, they are just as valuable, but you have a job and you’re there for a purpose; I get it.
“You get to go to the front.”
Holmes’ remarks at the event recently prompted her Republican opponent, Harry, to file a grievance, asserting violations of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct – guidelines that promote integrity and fairness in Texas courts.
“Holmes’ promise to lawyers of a scheduling preference is wrong. It’s inconsistent with the requirement of impartiality and … promotes the private interests of lawyers,” Harry told the Record. “It violates impartiality. Discrimination based on any status is inherently inconsistent with impartiality.”
Ultimately, Harry believes a scheduling preference for lawyers and their clients could put pro se parties at a disadvantage.
In his grievance, filed May 2 with State Bar of Texas, Harry also points to campaign finance reports showing attorneys present at the event gave money to Holmes – attorneys who practice law in justice courts, including Precinct 3.
“After making the promise of preferential treatment, Holmes made a direct appeal to the lawyers for money, asserting it was a good time to make an ‘investment’ in change,” the grievance states. “In response to this solicitation, many of those present contributed to her campaign.”
Records show Holmes has raised thousands of dollars, a sizable portion of which came from area attorneys.
“In my view, when we accept anything of value as a gift, a sense of personal obligation arises to reciprocate as a natural human response,” Harry said. “If the donor later appears in court before the recipient of the gift, an opportunity to reciprocate then exists and a classic conflict of interest results.”
Holmes did not respond to requests for comment.
At present, there are 20 elected judges in Travis County – all are Democrats.