A dramatic day in court Tuesday as County Court at Law Judge Randy Michel appeared before another judge, pleading guilty to a crime, and losing his job. He wasn't the only one who pled guilty and was reprimanded.
Judge Michel and attorney Patricia Harrison appeared before visiting judge Olen Underwood. After negotiating a plea bargain, Michel pled guilty to abuse of official capacity. Harrison pled guilty to improper influence. Both are Class A misdemeanors, and both defendants received the same punishment: a $4,000 fine for each, and a shared fine of more than $13,000.
This is a convoluted case that dates all the way back to a car accident in 2002 that injured a young girl.
At the time, attorney Chad Jones was appointed as guardian ad litem to take care of the injured child's interests. But the family chose Jones to be their attorney to work on other settlements in the case.
Judge Michel then replaced Jones as the guardian ad litem, and chose another attorney, Patricia Harrison. Harrison would later claim Jones owed her thousands in guardian ad litem fees, and Judge Michel agreed. Michel sanctioned Jones, forcing him to spend thousands on attorneys fees.
But through all of this, allegations arose that Michel and Harrison were talking behind closed doors about this case, which led to today's hearing.
Chad Jones read a statement in court this morning, issuing a stinging indictment of Michel.
"Our court system works in part because we trust our judges to be honest, unbiassed, and let each party have a fair opportunity," Jones said, standing mere feet from Michel. "Randy Michel while in a position of power, a judge, acted deceifully, dishonest, dishonorable, and abused his power to treat me unjustly. He attempted to cover up his actions with efforts of discrediting me.
"Randy Michel's behavior is a stain on the judiciary and a stain on our legal system," Jones continued. "It undermines the public's faith in our legal system.
"I'm working towards forgiving Randy Michel, but I will not forget his actions," he said. "And I hope our community will remember his actions when dealing with him in the future and when choosing our elected officials."
"I thought we had legal issues," said Michel's attorney, Jim James, referring to the fact that he thought a trial could exonerate Michel. "But those legal issues were not as important to Randy as getting this matter resolved so it doesn't hang."
"The private representations, the private conversations between them [Michel and Harrison] had to do with the case itself and how to argue it and what to say and what witnesses to bring," said Shane Phelps, who represented the district attorneys office. "It was a pretty lopsided circumstance."
"Our system based on our judges being honest and giving everybody a fair shot," said Jones following the proceedings, "and I know there's an election for that seat, so I hope everybody will take that into account when choosing that official."
Judge Michel released a statement today stating he has withdrawn his name from the 2006 election. In part, he wrote, "Words are not adequate to describe the mortification I feel for the anguish I have caused anyone and everyone directly or indirectly involved in, or affected by, my failure to live up to the highest standards of conduct."
Once the appropriate paperwork reaches his desk, County Judge Randy Sims will entertain candidates to fill Michel's seat until the November elections. Other judges at the county courthouse will take on Michel's docket in his absence.
Attorney Joe Bailey issued a statement on behalf of Harrison. "Be assured that no malice was ever intended toward anyone," he wrote. "Patricia is extremely remorseful for the pain this has caused everyone. She is especially sorrowful for the effect this has had on her family, her friends, and those members of this community who have shown her support throughout this difficult time.
"She has accepted responsibility for her conduct and is ready to put this very painful experience behind her," he continued. "Her wish is that others will do the same and let a healing process begin."