Judge John F. Phillips

Texas Judicial Wall of Shame

Destruction of Families

Judge John F PhillipsAfter their parents tested positive for excessive drug use, two infants were sent to live with their grandparents, Yolanda and Arnold Del Bosque. Yolanda and Arnold were mature, safe, and responsible, and had been verified as stable by CPS and other agencies in numerous reports. The Del Bosques’ home was exactly the sort of environment the kids, Luis and Rafael, should be in. However, that did not stop Judge John Phillips from tearing the children from their grandparents and sending them to foster homes.

“Too Old”

The original extraction from the Del Bosque home was for the trial to determine whether the parents of Rafael and Luis were fit to raise them. After the parents were found to be unfit, Judge Phillips refused to return the children to their grandparents. A hearing was held on August 14, 2013, during which the judge banned not only custody of the kids but also visitation rights. No allegations were made against the Del Bosques about the stability of their home. No allegations were made about the grandparents’ qualifications for raising the kids. No allegations were made about the safety of the grandparents. The justification for keeping the children out of the home? The grandparents were too old. Yolanda is 59, and Arnold is only 52. In the hearing Judge Phillips said that the boys would need guidance in their late teens and 20s “and the stark reality is there’s a very good chance” their grandparents “will be dead at that time.” The remarks came as a blow to the Del Bosque family. Despite raising the kids since infancy, providing a nurturing and safe home, the grandparents were told they were going to be separated simply because of their age. “I don’t know when the judge became God,” said Arnold Del Bosque to the Houston Chronicle. “I didn’t know there was an age limit on being a grandpa or grandma.” Even after repeated testimonies and accounts supporting the grandparents in their attempt to regain custody, Judge Phillips stood against them.

False Accusations

Finally, a follow-up hearing was scheduled for September 11, 2013, in which the grandparents were not even allowed to take the stand to defend themselves. Instead, they sat through repeated rounds of claims made against their character and home that were blatantly false. Judge Phillips appointed an attorney, Michelle Bush, for the kids. Ms. Bush filed a report against the grandparents that contained numerous errors, falsely claiming that Arnold suffered from epilepsy and a heart condition and that the children would be living in a home filled with “holes in the floor and roach infestations.” Also included in the report was a false statement by the mother of the children, claiming that the grandparents had allowed drug use in their home. The blatant error was remarkable and is now being investigated. Even more appalling is the treatment of the case by CPS. Despite glowing reports filed after years of research, once Judge Phillips showed his disapproval for the age of the grandparents, the reports started to change due to “new information that came up” related to the information addressed by Ms. Bush.

The timing is undeniably odd and has raised many suspicions. As Barbara Stalder, a volunteer attorney for the Del Bosques, put it, “When you have glowing reports about these individuals, whom they’ve had more than a year to evaluate, and then at the eleventh hour, you’ve got these other allegations being thrown in there, I’m sorry, it’s a smokescreen.” The grandparents quickly filed complaints and requests for a jury trial to reexamine their right to raise the kids, but Judge Phillips denied the requests without comment or any verbal reason. Finally, after an official investigation was filed by Ms. Stalder, Judge Phillips recused himself from the case. By letting his gavel drop against the Del Bosques, Judge Phillips established for himself a reputation as being against families.

Lack of Accountability

Whether Republican or Democrat, no one likes the presence of corruption. Judge Phillips has continually fought having a public defender’s office in Harris County, and many cry foul. Public defenders serve a valuable role in most metropolitan areas, providing a safe choice for defendants who would normally have a lawyer appointed to them by the judge. With a public defender’s office, “attorneys get training, support, access to investigative services, and decent salaries. Nearly every report on the issue indicates that a public defender’s office is better than a system of court appointments on every level,” says law student William DuBose. Harris County, where Judge Phillips resides, is the only major metropolitan area that does not have a public defender. Despite the obvious advantages of the office, Judge Phillips continues to block every motion to implement one inside of the district. The reasons becomes obvious once the current process is examined.

Favoritism in Appointments

Inside of Harris County, only 23 attorneys out of 165 qualified candidates are regularly appointed to represent defendants in the juvenile courts run by Phillips and two other judges. With all of the cases going through only two dozen attorneys, many are overworked and underprepared for the trial. Falicia Stroud, the mother of two boys tried in Harris County, said, “Once they sign the paper, the lawyer doesn’t want to talk to you.” The stretched hours create huge barriers to effective justice inside of the courts. Attorneys often strongly recommend defendants plead guilty to crimes they claim they did not commit, simply because the attorney is not being paid enough to go to trial.

Campaign Finance Corruption

In addition to the logistical problems with appointments, Judge Phillips often gives positions and cases to close friends and supporters of his campaigns. Two public defender board members wrote a letter pointing out that Harris Country has clung to “an outdated system of crony appointments.” Glenn Devlin is Judge Phillips’ campaign treasurer and former law partner. He received multiple cases from Phillips’ court and was paid more than $167,465 for his work. Another top earner, and campaign contributor, Oliver Sprott Jr. made more than $200,000 working part-time as an appointed attorney in Harris County–more than double what public defenders in Dallas County are paid for their services. Judge Phillips receives more than 90% of his campaign donations from lawyers whom he appoints in court to oversee his cases–with the taxpayers’ money.

Selecting Reckless Attorneys

Things have gotten so out of hand that formal complaints were filed against Judge Phillips in 2004 and 2006 by Mark Isenberg, a local attorney who had been appointed numerous times previously by Judge Phillips. After the complaints were filed, Mark and his wife Miriam were both removed from the list of “qualified candidates” by a vote from the three judges in Harris County. While qualified and responsible lawyers are being blacklisted, incompetent and reckless attorneys are being supported and even relied upon by Judge Phillips’ court. Mark Sandoval was arrested for intoxicated manslaughter in 2007 and was suspended from the Texas Bar Association in 1997 and 2000. Yet he is still appointed to multiple cases by Harris County judges.

Judge Phillips is running an unbelievably convenient racket, and it is coming at the expense of taxpayers, of defendants, and of the law. He refuses to improve the situation in Harris County with a public defender’s office or other measures designed to limit cost and cronyism, and so it is time for the voters to improve the situation themselves by making sure Phillips no longer has a court to corrupt.

Defense of CPS’s Illegal Actions

Most recently, in the infamous Theresa Allen case, Judge Phillips continued his trend of striking down families and tearing apart stable homes. When CPS sought to take the grandchildren of Theresa Allen, despite no evidence against her, they went to Judge Phillips and received a court order allowing the removal of the kids. Allen fought back, and Judge Phillips stood with CPS and opposed all attempts to return the kids to their own home. For 11 months, CPS had control of the kids and finally returned them to Allen after a long battle. Two and a half years after the case was closed Theresa Allen contacted Judge Phillips and demonstrated how the report filed by CPS was flawed and erroneous. Judge Phillips replied that he was outraged and would immediately reopen the case against CPS. This attempt to cover over his earlier mistakes and inability to effectively control CPS in his own courtroom does little to mitigate the damage done by reckless protective service agents.

His record of ruling against families and supplanting parental rights shows a clear conflict with the principles of conservatism and freedom that THSC supports. Judge Phillips is not just using his courtroom to benefit himself, his friends, and campaign supporters, but also to recklessly destroy Texas liberties.