Ethics probe into Texas bankruptcy judge ends following resignation

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Jones, who announced he is stepping down from handling cases, is seen during a virtual interview with Reuters in December 2020

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Jones, who oversees more major Chapter 11 cases than any other U.S. judge, is seen in a screenshot from video shot during a virtual interview with Reuters done from Houston, Texas, U.S. December 11, 2020. REUTERS/Staff/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

  • 5th Circuit probe into former Bankruptcy Judge David Jones ends
  • DOJ’s bankruptcy trustee seeking return of fees from Jackson Walker

Nov 16 (Reuters) – A federal judicial ethics probe into former U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Jones’ failure to disclose his romantic relationship with a lawyer whose firm regularly appeared before him has come to an end following the Houston judge’s resignation.

The chief judge of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Priscilla Richman, in an order on Wednesday said further action was “unnecessary” after Jones last month submitted his resignation as a Southern District of Texas bankruptcy judge.

Jones announced plans to resign on Oct. 15 after acknowledging to the Wall Street Journal that he had been in a years-long romantic relationship with bankruptcy attorney Elizabeth Freeman and shared a home with her.

Freeman until recently worked at Jackson Walker, a local law firm that worked on many corporate bankruptcy cases in Jones’ Houston courthouse.

Jones’ resignation came shortly after the 5th Circuit had launched an ethics inquiry and Richman’s filing on Oct. 13 of a misconduct complaint that found there was probable cause to believe Jones violated the codes of conduct that govern judges.

Richman’s complaint said Jones never recused himself from cases involving Jackson Walker or disclosed his relationship with Freeman. He also approved attorneys’ fees sought by the firm for work on matters in which billing records showed Freeman performed “substantial” services, Richman said.

Jones and Freeman’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. Vikram Chandhok, the 5th Circuit’s chief mediator, declined to elaborate beyond Wednesday’s order.

Wednesday’s order ending the investigation came the same day Jones’ resignation became effective. Only sitting judges, and not former ones, can be subject to remedial action under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980 and related rules.

Those regulations, though, would have permitted the 5th Circuit Judicial Council to still assess “potential institutional issues” related to the complaint even if Jones could no longer himself be disciplined.

The 10th Circuit Judicial Council, for example, relied on that authority last year as part of a probe into a then-New Mexico magistrate judge’s workplace environment to still examine institutional issues even after her term on the bench expired.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s bankruptcy watchdog, the Office of the U.S. Trustee, is seeking to force Jackson Walker to return fees it earned in cases Jones presided over. It said the firm earned about $13 million in at least 26 such cases, including J.C. Penney’s and Neiman Marcus’ bankruptcies.

The 500-lawyer law firm in filings on Monday said that after learning of the allegations in 2021 from a disgruntled litigant, it confronted Freeman, who said she had ended her relationship with Jones the prior year. The firm said it sent the allegations to the Houston bankruptcy court under seal.

Read more:

Law firm tied to bankruptcy judge resignation says former partner lied

US seeks return of fees from law firm tied to bankruptcy judge resignation

Bankruptcy judge’s sudden resignation causes 3,500 cases to be reassigned

Top US bankruptcy judge resigns amid ethics inquiry

Top US bankruptcy judge, under ethics review, steps back from major cases

US bankruptcy judge should have disclosed personal relationship – experts

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at [email protected].

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