How would you feel if your jurist husband filed for divorce and coincidentally had his divorce petition assigned to his courtroom? Hard to believe, but that is exactly what occurred with Texas Judge Miguel (Mike) Herrara.
In Judge Herrara’s discipline hearing he acknowledged that the same day he filed his divorce petition he learned it had been assigned to his courtroom. He didn’t think it was a problem because he and his wife, Melissa Carrasco were “trying to save the marriage and he did not want to do anything on the case”. (In my 28 years of practicing family law I have never seen a litigant file a divorce petition, while seriously “trying to save the marriage”).
He explained that he saw his role in the divorce as that of a husband, not an attorney or judge and justified his behaviour, saying:
“I did not care to place my family in the same position as other litigants find themselves, in conflicts and court hearings, which, for the most part only benefit the attorneys financially. It is really sad and embarrassing to see the reputation of some of the litigants being dragged in the mud in these court proceedings.”
Judge Herrara’s breach of ethics may have escaped scrutiny if he and his wife reconciled, but that didn’t happen. Instead, she retained lawyer Angelica Carreon who filed a counter-petition for divorce against Judge Herrara.
This did not please the judge who asked his wife why she was involving Ms. Carreon who he alleged did not like him. In his testimony he admitted that he refused to recognize the “legitimacy” of Ms. Carreon’s representation because she had improperly solicited his wife as her client, had campaigned against him during judicial elections, and was “dishonest, unethical and unreasonable”.
Several months after the judge’s original filing he terminated his divorce petition, leaving his wife’s counter-petition to be determined. At this stage, Ms. Carrasco’s lawyer filed a motion requesting the judge to produce certain documents. Judge Herrara responded by filing a motion in his court for an order to extend the time beyond the normal time-frame for responding to the document request. He also filed a motion for a protective order.
Again, Judge Herrara did not recognize the absurdity of filing motions in his own court, saying that he did nothing wrong as he did not rule on the motions. But that wasn’t the end of his problems. His wife’s lawyer began filing motions requesting that he recuse himself from officiating over a number of other cases that were scheduled to be heard in his courtroom. Ms. Carreon alleged that Judge Herrara could not be fair and unbiased, because of the difficult professional relationship that had developed between them over her representation of Ms. Carrasco.
Many of the recusal motions were resolved by moving the cases to another judge, but several others remained in his courtroom and were not referred out. But, Herrara wasn’t done yet. He filed yet another motion to intervene in certain recusal cases because he wanted his views to be heard by the court. He testified that if he agreed to recuse himself he would be admitting the truth of Ms. Carreon’s allegations and would suffer at the polls in the next election.
The Texas Discipline Commission found that Judge Herrara failed to comply with the law, demonstrated a lack of professional competence, and engaged in wilful and persistent conduct that was inconsistent with his judicial duties.
They also determined that Judge Herrara showed no genuine remorse and continued to believe his conduct was justified.
His discipline? Six hours of instruction with a “mentor”. In 2016 he was re-elected for an additional four-year term.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang