A lawsuit claiming that one Tarrant County judge violated the first amendment rights of another Tarrant County judge has been filed in federal court.
Tarrant County was also sued because county officials took no action after being informed about the alleged violations, the lawsuit claims.
Diane Scott Haddock, associate judge for the 233rd State District Court, filed the lawsuit, alleging that 360th State District Judge Patricia Baca-Bennett retaliated against her because she failed to muzzle her husband’s political commentary on social media as Baca-Bennett requested.
M. Keith Ogle and David Hudson, attorneys with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office who are representing Tarrant County, filed a motion in federal court Wednesday to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the county cannot control judges and should be excluded from all hostilities.
Haddock’s lawsuit states that because of Baca-Bennett’s Facebook attacks on her, “Diane now lives in fear of continued retaliation.”
The lawsuit alleges that Baca-Bennett wanted Haddock’s husband, Gerald, to stop supporting James Munford’s opponent during the March 2018 Republican Primary for the 322nd District Court judge’s position. Munford was successful in his Republican Primary bid and faces Maryellen Hicks, the Democratic candidate, in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
William Harris, the presiding district judge in Haddock’s court and Haddock’s supervisor, did not seek re-election, and a new judge is expected to take over the court in January.
Prior to the Republican Primary election, Haddock’s suit says Baca-Bennett threatened to engineer her firing and made false claims that Haddock was resigning, while openly supporting Munford. Haddock had positioned herself to run for the 322nd judge’s position, but decided later to withdraw her candidacy, the lawsuit states.
According to the suit, Baca-Bennett ordered Haddock into her chambers on Oct. 23, 2017, and demanded that she talk to Gerald Haddock. She said he and his organization Tarrant Families Matter needed to stop badgering Munford.
“Baca-Bennett reminded Diane that there was a connection to Diane’s employment status. (‘I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that you guys [the Associate Judges] technically work for me’),” the lawsuit says.
Haddock was so dispirited by the Facebook posts that she sought counseling and started a regimen of heart medication “to deal with the constant sabotage,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit says that Haddock hired an attorney after informing Tarrant County officials of the continued harassment and political retaliation, and that after those officials requested additional time to investigate, nothing was done.
“After PBB (Patricia Baca-Bennett) harassed Diane on social media, then terrorized her at the courthouse in the lawyer’s lounge and beyond, Diane ceased going to work on weekends where she would be unprotected, and during the work week, Diane is now never outside the presence of her bailiff,” the lawsuit states.
The motion to dismiss states that Haddock’s lawsuit suffers from a lack of the types of facts that she needs to make a good case.
“[A] complaint must do more than name laws that may have been violated by the defendant; it must also allege facts regarding what conduct violated those laws,” the motion states.
Attorneys representing Tarrant County argue that county officials have no control over the hiring and firing decisions Tarrant County district court judges make about associate judges. District court judges are answerable to state officials, not county officials, according to the motion.
“Associate judges serving a single court serve at the will of the judge of that court,” the motion said.
The Tarrant County motion also states that assertions in the lawsuit suggesting that Haddock cannot be fired for political reasons are wrong.
“She can be,” according to the motion. “Diane is subject to a patronage dismissal.”
The motion also addressed the question of whether judges should be forced to employ associates with spouses who have actively campaigned against judges who make associate judge appointments.
“Diane and Gerald vigorously participated in the politics of the Tarrant County Family District Courts and must face the consequences of [their] choice,” the motion states. “In politics, it is a common sense rule that the winner gets to call the shots.”
The lawsuit, which was filed on Oct. 3, seeks an undetermined amount of money and an order permanently restraining the named parties from retaliation, in addition to other relief.
Some of the exhibits filed with Haddock’s complaint follow: