Judicial conduct board reprimands judge
Sept. 26, 2013 at 4:26 a.m.
A Victoria-based district judge was publicly reprimanded last week for discussing a case outside the courtroom.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct ruled that Judge Juergen "Skipper" Koetter should not have told Victoria attorney O.F. Jones to reconsider mediating his dispute with a former client, Richard Whatley, without Whatley's defense attorney present.
The commission did not release who reported the incident.
Jones sued Whatley to recover attorney fees he said were owed to him.
The commission said Whatley had a right to be heard, so his attorney, Jerry Clark, of Victoria, should have been included in the conversation.
On Feb. 3, 2012, a day after his conversation with Jones, Koetter signed a judgment awarding Jones $45,000 in attorney fees. The document erroneously indicated the parties appeared for a hearing Jan. 18, 2012.
While Koetter admitted to suggesting mediation, he told the commission he based his decision on the evidence.
The 13th Court of Appeals justices reversed Koetter's ruling May 23.
They said he had no right to enter the judgment without hearing Whatley's arguments.
Koetter said Thursday he accepts the commission's decision. He said he would do things differently now.
"It becomes a judgment call whether or not you should visit with them about their concerns," he said. "The comments I made to Mr. Jones had a specific purpose - to help resolve a dispute that had existed between those parties. I had been hearing the case for I think about four years at that point."
He said no scheduling conflict existed that would have prevented Clark from being present during the conversation.
The commission doesn't always make its findings public. It said in its Sept. 17 release that Koetter has been sanctioned before for engaging in similar conduct.
Neither Jones nor Clark could be reached for comment Thursday.
Koetter was elected to the 267th District Court in 2002.
Before beating his opponent, Lidia Serrata, he served as the interim municipal judge.