Judge Smoots-Thomas is in trouble today because she is not Senator Ted Cruz. Novice African-American Women Judges must reassess their community activities, political conduct, and financial practices to comply with the demands of their new designation.
After a Harris County District Court Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas was indicted and later suspended for allegedly misappropriating $26,000 in campaign contributions, it became obvious that “Black Girl Magic Texas,” might be under disgusting surveillance. Every move, every breath might be under systemic scrutiny. “Black Girl Magic Texas,” represented 19 Black women (17 beginners) who ran for a judge in Texas Harris County–and all 19 won. Together, they made history, becoming the largest group of Black female judges to be elected at the same time in Harris County history.
The fine art of judging is a complex phenomenon provoked by thoughtful application of law and the test of constitutionality.
Smoots-Thomas’s indictment was brutal. For instance, earlier this month, she was led into a federal magistrate’s courtroom in Houston wearing handcuffs where she pleaded not guilty to all charges. Her attorney, Kent Schaffer, said the judge’s prosecution was political. Schaffer, a partner at Schaffer Carter & Associates in Houston, claimed it happened because Smoots-Thomas was an African American and a Democrat. Smoots-Thomas was first elected in 2008 and reelected in 2012 and 2016.
Schaffer was right. Smoots-Thomas is Black and Blue. It was obvious that a sudden change of the County’s court districts from red to blue would come with dire consequences. This strain actually started years back when the “Black Girls Are Magic” campaign mantra was conceived. But this campaign was only a strategic move to elect African-American women in various sectors of the society where they were under-represented. “Black Girl Magic Texas,” was later accomplished in the Judiciary when 19 Black women who ran for a judge in Texas Harris County won.
Prosecutors claim Judge Smoots-Thomas misused nearly $25,000 (not 25 million) in campaign funds between January 2016 and March 2017. Her seven-count indictment reveals that she spent the money on a home mortgage, private school tuition, jewelry, and travel. Texas law required her to report to the Texas Ethics Commission whenever she used campaign funds for non-political expenditures.
But let me be clear, that the aim of this article is not to categorize ethical violations within race and gender. I am simply discussing an uneven justice system; inequity of law prosecution; and unequal treatment of minorities in the criminal justice system, which is one of the most serious problems facing our society. For example, Judge Smoots-Thomas is in trouble today because she is not Senator Ted Cruz.
Texas Senator Cruz had a similar issue and was neither arrested nor handcuffed. The racially privileged Senator was caught in a deep hole of financial fraud. He ascribed his failure to disclose two bank loans totaling more than $1 million in federal election filings as a clerical oversight. An in-depth investigation of these transactions which involved Goldman Sachs Group — where his wife, Heidi Cruz, was employed at the time—and Citigroup was suppressed. Also other details regarding this scandal were under-reported.
There is also this bizarre case of the Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton who conveniently ran for reelection even as he was grounded with a filthy securities fraud indictment. He narrowly won this race. This was in 2018.
The chambers of the fraternity of the “Black Girl Magic Texas,” might be under vindictive surveillance. Our novice Black Judges must therefore watch out for two major evaluation competencies: effective application of judicial practice and exemplary bench demeanor.
The fine art of judging is a complex phenomenon provoked by thoughtful application of law and the test of constitutionality. In fact, the essential qualities of a good judge were explained by Socrates: “Four things belong to a judge: To hear courteously; to answer wisely; to consider soberly, and to decide impartially.” These characteristics, in conjunction with relevant moral necessities, remain the hallmark of effective exercise of the extensive powers of the judiciary.
The Novice African-American Women Judges must not just live up to expectation but also watch out for amoral conduct. This is because the enemies are within the County court districts, tapping phone lines, shuttling courtrooms, listening to every conversation, snooping manila folders–all in search of actionable misconducts and process oversights. While most of these judges are focused on the vision and honor of doing justice and administering the law, they must also make changes in their community activities, political conduct, and financial practices to comply with the demands of their new designation.
♦ Anthony Ogbo, PhD, Adjunct Professor at the Texas Southern University is the author of the Influence of Leadership (2015) and the Maxims of Political Leadership (2019). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org