Online research has found that lawyers for Joshua Lafountain held a high-powered fundraiser in August of 2016 for the current trial judge in the case, Judge Maricela Moore of Dallas District Court 162. The event held at the offices of Sommerman, McCaffidy, Quesada & Geisler helped generate a large slice of the $193,000 raised in 2016 and 2017 for the judge’s election campaign, according to filings with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Three of the partners for Sommerman, Andrew Sommerman, George “Tex” Quesada and Sean McCaffity, are the lawyers for relator Joshua Lafountain in his Texas Medicaid Fraud Prevention Act lawsuit against 71 dentists and dental entities.
High-powered fundraiser for judicial candidate
The August 2016 fundraiser was for then-judicial candidate Maricela Moore who was a well known and respected Dallas corporate liability attorney at the time.
She is now the trial judge in the Lafountain case which the Sommerman partners are prosecuting on behalf of the state.
The background story is that Judge Moore had thrown her hat into the ring at the last minute for the Democratic nomination for Dallas Court District #162 after the untimely passing of Judge Phyllis Lister Brown, the Democratic incumbent, in May of 2016. There was an urgency to raise funds for her by Democratic supporters who expected a tough election in November.
The announcement of the fundraiser, still available online (click on the “View Details” button), contains a message from George “Tex” Quesada, one of Sommerman’s partners.
“Please come to our offices on August 25th to support Maricela Moore for 162nd Civil District Court. Maricela is the Democratic nominee and has an opponent in the general election.
“This is an important election to fill the seat left vacant by the unfortunate passing of Judge Phyllis Lister Brown. Maricela’s opponent has been campaigning since last year. It is critical that Maricela Moore have a well-funded and effective campaign in this election cycle.
“We are hosting an event at our offices and hope to see you.”
The announcement goes on to list the sponsorship levels and a list of legal sponsors who donated over $65,000, including $5,000 from the Sommerman law firm.
The levels were $5,000 Platinum, $2,500 Gold, $1,000 Silver, $500 Bronze, $250 Copper, $100 Friend.
Fundraiser photos found online
We found photos online of the event on Judge Moore’s Campaign Facebook page.
These photos and any mention of the fundraiser have since been removed from the page.
No check on such events
There is nothing specifically written about this type of fundraiser in the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct nor the Campaign Finance Guide for Judicial Candidates and Officeholders.
We’ve already written about it.
It is a common practice for politicians to turn down donations from individuals who have cases before the courts to avoid the apparency of influence.
How about for judges who have individuals or their lawyers with cases before their court?
The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct does state:
“A judge shall conduct all of the judge’s extra-judicial activities so that they do not:
(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge; or
(2) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.”
A. A judge shall comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
B. A judge shall not allow any relationship to influence judicial conduct or judgment. A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. A judge shall not testify voluntarily as a character witness.
Media stories of political influence in the judiciary
Numerous media stories have been written over the years about the possible influence of political donations on the Texas judiciary.
It is even a recent topic in Newsweek and the NY Times – “Campaign Funds for Judges Warp Criminal Justice, Study Finds – Judges in Harris County, Texas, were far more likely to appoint lawyers who had donated to their campaigns to represent poor criminal defendants.”
The Texas Tribune earlier this year had a feature article – “Speaking statistically, this GOP donor wants to convince you that money buys justice in Texas – After losing a case at the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, millionaire Salem Abraham set out to mathematically test the idea that campaign contributions influence the elected justices. Now he wants to change the system.”
Tom Phillips, a former chief justice on the Texas Supreme Court, a few years back told the Texas Tribune that “Of the ways you can elect judges, Texas has one of the worst systems.”
Judge has excellent background and references
Judge Maricela Moore is a respected attorney and judge. Her bio states that she “has more than 18 years of wide-ranging civil legal experience… Before becoming a judge, she was a partner in a boutique litigation firm, founded her own law firm that focused on employee rights and practiced complex commercial and employment litigation at Baker & McKenzie and Cowles & Thompson P.C. She was also a law intern with the Texas Supreme Court and the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.”
In 2019, she was awarded Trial Judge of the Year by the American Board of Trial Advocates, although this kudo is now missing from her campaign Facebook page. She has the endorsement of the Dallas Morning News and many other respected peers.
In her 2020 Ballotpedia Candidate survey, Judge Moore wrote “I am passionately interested in the legal and justice system. I wanted to be an attorney and a judge from a very young age because I have so much respect for the law and the civilizing influence it has on our society when it is properly administered by a fair, unbiased process. Throughout my career, I have defended the rights of individuals and sought justice. As a judge, fairness always comes first in my court.”