On April 18th, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a host of constitutional claims brought against a former Texas district court judge. Thompson Coe attorney Andrew Johnson was lead appellate counsel for the judge and argued the case before the Fifth Circuit.
In Hartman v. Walker, process server Stephen Hartman alleged that his constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested in Judge Layne Walker’s court. According to Mr. Hartman, he was improperly taken into custody and his property was improperly searched. Mr. Hartman pled claims for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, malicious prosecution, and civil conspiracy, among others.
Judge Walker filed a motion to dismiss in the trial court, which was granted. The primary ground for dismissal of the claims was Mr. Hartman’s pen camera recording, which was attached as an exhibit to his complaint. The pen camera recorded the courtroom incident which, according to the trial court, conclusively shows that the deputies properly arrested Mr. Hartman for disrupting a public proceeding.
Mr. Hartman appealed the dismissal to the Fifth Circuit, arguing that the trial court misapplied the legal standards and misinterpreted the pen-camera recording. During oral argument in New Orleans, the judges asked many questions about a Texas judge’s ability to control his courtroom and the trial court’s reliance on the pen-camera recording. In the Court’s per curiam opinion, it concluded that the trial court properly considered the recording and dismissed all of Mr. Hartman’s claims.
Mr. Johnson is pleased with the Fifth Circuit’s ruling: “The plaintiff failed to state any claim on which relief can be granted. As the Fifth Circuit noted, the plaintiff’s allegations do not trump the hidden video taken by the plaintiff, which negates his claims against Judge Walker.”
Andrew Johnson is a Senior Attorney in Thompson Coe’s Houston office and is board certified in civil appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.