Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas surrendered to federal authorities. She’ll make an initial appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Bray.
A Houston jurist, 164th District Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas, was indicted for wire fraud, according to a Friday news release by U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
The judge’s Oct. 24 seven-count indictment was unsealed Friday when Smoots-Thomas surrendered to federal authorities. She’ll make an initial appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Bray, the news release said.
The indictment alleged that the judge embezzled campaign contributions through people and political election committees, promising to use the funds on her reelection campaigns in 2012 and 2016. In reality, she paid for noncampaign expenses such as her mortgage payments, private school tuition, travel, luxury items and cash withdraws, alleged the news release. She concealed her wrongful spending through her campaign treasurer and false Texas Ethics Commission filings, it said.
Wire fraud charges can be punished with up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 maximum fine.
Smoots-Thomas earned her law degree from South Texas College of Law Houston in 2001, and was licensed to practice in 2002, said her State Bar of Texas profile. She does not have any public disciplinary history as an attorney. The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct also does not list any public discipline for her.
She worked at Brown McCarroll in Houston right out of law school and stayed until 2007, when she opened a solo practice, according to her profile on her campaign website. Her private practice centered around insurance law, commercial litigation, construction litigation and real estate.
Under her former name, Smoots-Hogan, the judge was elected to the 164th Civil District Court in 2008. She was reelected in 2012 and 2016.
In her personal life, Smoots-Thomas is raising two boys, the campaign website said.
According to the judge’s Twitter profile, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and needed surgery and chemotherapy. She tweeted in September that she’s progressing well through treatment and “starting to see the light at the end.”
When judges are facing criminal charges, it’s fairly routine for the judicial conduct commission to suspend them from the bench as their cases wind through the criminal justice system, said Austin solo practitioner Lillian Hardwick, who practices judicial ethics law.
If the allegations in the government indictments are proven in court, and Smoots-Thomas is convicted, then it’s the type of crime that could boot her from the bench for good, Hardwick said. She could either resign instead of facing discipline, and promise never to run for election again, or the Texas Supreme Court could remove her, Hardwick explained.
“The judge has to comply with the law, and that has been interpreted as in dispensing the law and in personal behavior,” Hardwick said. “If you look at the constitutional provisions, about willful or persistent conduct that’s inconsistent with the proper performance of judicial duties, nobody would argue this behavior, if proven, is consistent with judicial duty.”