Judge Darrell Jordan of Harris County Criminal Court 16 was arrested and charged with Official Oppression for charging and improperly sentencing investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino for contempt of court.
Jordan was briefly taken into custody and released last Monday on a $500 bond, and on Thursday the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC) officially suspended him without pay until he was either acquitted or the charges were dismissed. On Friday, Middleton announced he would move to drop the charges, triggering Jordan’s reinstatement to the bench.
The charges against Jordan stem from a June 2020 incident in which Dolcefino entered a courtroom to ask questions. Initially, the two exchanged greetings and small talk, but when Dolcefino began to question the judge about a failure to investigate criminal complaints filed against Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Jordan threatened to hold him in contempt of court.
After Dolcefino continued to pose questions, Jordan ordered him arrested and jailed overnight. The following day, with a slew of media cameras on hand, Jordan had Dolcefino brought into the courtroom in a jail-issued orange jumpsuit and handcuffs. The judge imposed a sentence of three days in jail, 180 days probation, and a $500 fine. After Dolcefino appealed the sentence, Jordan ordered him to also submit to an alcohol monitor and undergo random drug tests.
Following the incident, Jordan maintained that Dolcefino had interrupted a virtual hearing, but the former ABC 13 reporter had recorded the entire episode with a hidden camera and published video indicating that no hearing was taking place.
Months later, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Dolcefino’s sentence, writing, “After a review of the evidence and arguments, the contempt of court allegation is not supported by the habeas corpus record.”
Dolcefino’s attorneys filed a complaint in Harris County, but after District Attorney Kim Ogg recused her office, the case was transferred to the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office and prosecutors moved to indict Jordan last month.
Despite the decision of the high court and the existence of the video, in his motion for dismissal, Middleton acknowledges “probable cause” but declares the “case cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at this time.”
Dolcefino has called for Jordan to resign and accused the judge of pursuing a personal vendetta against him for investigating public officials in Harris County.
“This guy has no business on the bench,” Dolcefino told The Texan. “He lacks the temperament. If he does not voluntarily resign, the state commission should remove him.”
Dolcefino announced Tuesday he would be seeking public records from Middleton’s office including any emails, phone records, or documents related to the investigation of the case.
“This misconduct was caught on tape and the dismissal of the indictment is a miscarriage of justice and we’re not going to let the DA off the hook like he did for Judge Jordan,” said Dolcefino. “The Fort Bend County DA waited until late Friday before a holiday weekend to dismiss this case. His actions are an insult to the grand jury. He talks about transparency, so we look forward to examining all his records, including any other grand jury indictment he dismissed.”
The SCJC also publicly admonished Jordan in May, noting that Jordan had “repeatedly indulged in intemperate conduct” and had exhibited bias against prosecutors and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
First elected in 2016, Jordan is closely allied with Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) and has advocated for an end to bail practices he says keep poor suspects in jail unnecessarily. Jordan wrote a declaration in support of a highly controversial federal consent decree arguing that even suspects accused of threatening or committing violence against a family member could be released pre-trial with non-monetary conditions.
While most misdemeanors involve non-violent offenses, some domestic assault charges are Class A misdemeanors under Texas law. In one high-profile Harris County case, within 24 hours of being released on a Personal Recognizance bond for a misdemeanor charge of assaulting his wife Caitlynne, suspect Alex Guajardo allegedly murdered her and her unborn child, stabbing them more than 20 times.
Middleton also campaigned on promises to reform bail practices and reduce prison populations; Fort Bend County has drawn scrutiny over bail bond practices that have included releasing murder suspects. First elected in 2018, Middleton is unopposed for re-election this year.
Update: Dolcefino’s statements regarding seeking public records from Middleton’s office have been included in this article.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.