DALLAS — The Kaufman County District Attorney announced Friday that she was declining to bring criminal charges against a sitting Dallas criminal court judge for letting her court coordinator conduct a virtual hearing for her in 2021.
The Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association lodged a criminal complaint against 282nd District Court Judge Amber Givens for letting her court coordinator, Arceola Warfield, allegedly impersonate her and preside over a Zoom hearing in August 2021.
The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office recused itself from the investigation, and the case was turned over to the Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office, which worked with the Texas Rangers to determine if Warfield had committed a crime of impersonating a public servant, namely Givens, and whether Givens was complicit.
Kaufman County DA Erleigh Norville Wiley wrote in a statement Friday that she and her investigators could find no criminal violations by Givens or Warfield of the impersonation statute that the Texas Rangers referred to her office.
“No one at the hearing believed Judge Givens was on the call,” Wiley wrote. “The evidence showed that the court reporter, and others, chided the court coordinator that they could not be ‘on the record’ because the judge was not on the Zoom call.”
Wiley also said that Judge Givens and her defense team refused to cooperate in the investigation. In the headline to her news release, Wiley called the Dallas judge’s conduct “unprofessional but not criminal.”
“Having served as a judge for 10 years in Kaufman County and conducting hundreds of hearings myself during that time, I believe that Judge Amber Givens should have done better that day and in the days after,” Wiley wrote Friday. “There may be many reasons to censure the conduct of Judge Amber Givens, but as a prosecutor I find there are no criminal reasons.”
"It is extremely disappointing for us as citizens to learn that a sitting judge is getting preferential treatment simply based on her position," said Mark Lassiter, an attorney who once represented DCDLA member-lawyers in recusals out of Givens' courtroom.
Wiley noted that Judge Givens will be held accountable by her constituents.
“The litigants, attorneys, and citizens of Dallas County deserve better, and as such, the future of Judge Amber Givens as a Dallas County district judge will be determined by the voting citizens of Dallas County.”
Judge Givens declined an on-camera interview through her attorney Russell Wilson, who said, although Given was pleased with Wiley’s decision, the Kaufman DA overstepped in her public statements Friday about the case.
“Most ‘criminal investigations’ conclude without any comment or opinion on matters beyond the issue of whether there was probable cause to believe that a crime was committed. This one did not. It should have,” Wilson wrote.
“The Kaufman County District Attorney’s Office opinion as to whether Judge Givens should have done better on any given day, or who deserves what, is political banter. A district attorney’s office does not take positions on matters or issues beyond the scope of their office or jurisdiction. To the extent necessary on another day, the inaccurate factual and procedural representations contained in the release may be addressed in another forum.
“The bottom line is there was never a crime here and it was plainly obvious,” Wilson wrote.
On Friday, Warfield’s attorney Valerie Baston said her client was pleased with the Kaufman DA’s decision not to bring criminal charges.
“Nothing criminal happened here,” Baston said. Warfield retired from county service this summer, Baston said.
Amanda Branan, attorney and former President for DCDLA, tells WFAA the judicial complaints against Givens with the Judicial Conduct Commission are still outstanding.
"Everything is still pending with the judicial commission and so we are waiting for them to make their decision on what they're going to do," she said.