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Judge Coker resigns; state investigation ends
LIVINGSTON— Judge Elizabeth Coker announced Monday she is resigning as judge of the 258th Judicial District Court effective on Dec. 6. The resignation is the result of an agreement with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct after the commission leveled a variety of allegations against Coker, including alleged instances of inappropriate communication with attorneys and jury panels. The Code of Judicial Conduct regulates communication between judges, prosecutors, attorneys appearing in court and juries. "The Judicial Commission made no finding or determinations of fact in my voluntary resignation, and I have not admitted guilt, fault or liability in my voluntary resignation," Coker said. "While I could have fought these allegations, it would have involved significant time, significant expense, and disruption to everyone involved. I did not feel that was in the best interests of the taxpayers, our court system, my family or myself. "I love this judicial district. The people deserve a judge that is fully focused on carrying out their duties, which would have been impossible for me to do in this situation." In addition, Coker said she is taking a voluntary leave of absence until the resignation takes effect on Dec. 6. Cases in the 258th District Court – which includes Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties -- will now be assigned to visiting judges until a replacement can be found. Gov. Rick Perry could appoint a replacement to serve until the general election, to be held in November 2014. The winner of that election would take office almost immediately after the vote is canvassed. "My dad and grandfather taught me that judges have to be accountable for their actions and conduct," Coker said. "Resigning the bench as well as taking a voluntary leave of absence is the best way for me to take responsibility for this situation in a way that honors the office and serves the best interests of Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties." "It has been a painful decision, but I believe it is the right decision. "I want to express my sincere regret to the people of Polk, San Jacinto and Trinity counties," Coker stated. "The integrity and impartiality of our courts have always been my highest priority, and I am deeply sorry that my actions created a circumstance where that could be questioned" "The Judicial Commission takes the rules surrounding judicial interaction with parties in a lawsuit very seriously, and I will always regret the lapses in judgment that helped create this situation, especially knowing that my conduct as a judge is subject to a higher standard," Coker stated. "It has been an honor of a lifetime serving as judge, and I will always be grateful the people of this district gave me such an amazing opportunity, and I am very sorry for the difficulty this has caused for everyone." "My family has deep roots in Polk County, and now I am raising my girls in the same community that gave me my start. We will be starting a new chapter here for our family, and as always, I ask for your support and prayers. The kindness, friendship and love of so many people in these three counties have always sustained us, and I will always be grateful for that," she added Under the terms of the agreement with the commission, Coker is disqualified from sitting or serving as a judge in the future -- including presiding at weddings -- and from standing for election or appointment to any Texas judicial office. The complaints filed against the judge stem from an August 2012 criminal jury trial in which she is alleged to have conducted improper communications with then Polk County Assistant Attorney Kaycee Jones. Coker is reported to have sent Jones a text message during testimony in the case. The judicial conduct commission noted that it investigated this incident as well as other allegations of improper communications with other members of the Polk County District Attorney's Office, the San Jacinto County District Attorney's Office and "certain defense attorneys" regarding cases pending in her court. The investigation also involved allegations that the judge exhibited "bias in favor of certain attorneys and prejudice against others in both her judicial rulings and her court appointments." Other allegations included that she met with jurors in an inappropriate manner, outside the presence of the attorneys, while jurors were deliberating one or more criminal trials. Officials with the judicial commission also expressed concern that during their investigation, Coker "discussed the commission's investigation and Judge Coker's written responses to the investigation with a material witness prior to that witness' testimony before the commission in an apparent attempt to influence that witness." According to the agreement, the commission officials felt that Coker also "may not have been candid and truthful in her testimony before the commission when questioned about her contact with the witness." The agreement notes that the commission is making no findings of fact regarding the allegations and that Coker is not admitting guilt.