Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ethics Issues Arise For Houston Judge For Rulings Favorable To Convicted Felon Accused Of Pilfering 23 Properties, Hijacking Dead Granddad's Home

In Houston, Texas, the Houston Chronicle reports:

  • Elected Justice of the Peace Hilary Harmon Green repeatedly ordered the eviction of tenants and relatives on behalf of a five-time felon even though she and her husband, City Controller Ron Green, both had financial and personal ties to the home builder.

    In one case involving Dwayne K. Jordon - a convicted thief who has admitted to repeatedly pilfering people's properties for his residential construction projects - Green evicted Jordon's own uncle despite a dispute over whether Jordon held ownership of the family home.

    That ruling, which later was overturned by a county court, came in 2009 - the same year Green's husband, a lawyer, was paid an undisclosed amount of money to advise Jordon on his criminal case, meet with a Harris County prosecutor and recommend a defense attorney.

    Through her clerk, Hilary Green refused to comment on why she did not recuse herself from more than a dozen matters involving Jordon, who has been her neighbor, her home renovation contractor and for whom her husband has served as a character witness in the pending real estate criminal case.
  • In 2007, the year Green became a justice of the peace for Precinct 7, the Greens lived in a rental house next door to Jordon because their own home, which they nearly lost to foreclosure, was uninhabitable due to unfinished renovations they could no longer afford.

    Impressed by the work Jordon was doing in their neighborhood, they agreed in 2008 to pay him more than $200,000 to renovate their own house. Their contract with Jordon helped the Greens land a $508,000 mortgage, though their house had an assessed value in 2008 of only one third that amount, according to Harris County tax records.

    Ruled in family dispute

    Ethically, Hilary Green should have recused herself on legal cases involving Jordon because of her other associations with him, said Lillian Hardwick, an Austin attorney and expert in judicial conduct who co-authored the authoritative Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics.

    Green's most unusual ruling favored Jordon in a family dispute over the ownership of his grand­father's house in 2009.

    Jordon, who has five prior felony convictions for robbery, kidnapping, firearms, drugs and theft, was raised by his maternal grandfather, Ezekel Jordon Sr., who for decades owned a brick home on Simsbrook Drive only a block from Sims Bayou in Houston, according to records and family members.

    But soon after the elder Jordon died in September 2009 at age 87, Dwayne Jordon changed the locks on his grandfather's house and later claimed to be the true owner by presenting two different wills and a deed that his uncle denounced as forgeries, according to documents filed in related court cases. Dwayne Jordon, who helped manage his grandfather's money, also had taken out a loan against his grandfather's house, according to interviews and public records.

    Even before the funeral, Jordon filed an eviction case in Green's court against his uncle Ezekel Jordon Jr., his grand­father's only son, who had been living in the house for about month before the elder Jordon died.

    Despite disputes over the ownership of the house and the authenticity of documents, Green ruled for Dwayne Jordon and later denied his uncle permission to re-enter the house to collect his personal property, court records show.

    "She illegally evicted me," Ezekel Jordon Jr. told the Chronicle. "She would not let me say anything. … I was trying to tell her that the will was fake and she would cut me off."

    Jurisdiction question

    Ezekel Jordon Jr. said Green never disclosed her relationship to his nephew in court, but he learned of it in a Chronicle article published last week. In November 2009, he won an appeal, according to an order signed by then-County Court at Law Judge Jack Cagle, now a county commissioner.

    Jordon lacked authority to evict his uncle because he never legally established ownership of the property and therefore Green, as a justice of the peace, should not have ruled in the eviction case at all, according to arguments made in the appeal by Jordon's attorney with nonprofit Lonestar Legal Aid.

    According to the Texas Government Code, justices of the peace do not have jurisdiction in matters where more than $20,000 is at stake or in trials to resolve "title to land."

    "Justices of the peace are not supposed to act in an eviction case when there's a dispute about title," said Rich Tomlinson, director of litigation at Lonestar Legal Aid.

    Ezekel Jordon Jr., who was unemployed in 2009 after a recent drug possession conviction, said he was unable to afford a lawyer to fight his nephew's claim to the house by contesting the will and taking it to probate court. Instead, Dwayne Jordon quickly resold the house, records show.

    Lone Star Legal later provided copies of two versions of the disputed wills to the Harris County DA's office for a possible criminal investigation. "The signatures (of the deceased) on the documents do not match," Tomlinson said.

    Jordon's attorney, Chip Lewis, said that Jordon's uncle agreed to give up his rights to the house after being compensated by a $2,500 settlement. Lewis said he knew nothing about the will dispute.

    Jordon is scheduled to be sentenced Friday in the court of Harris County District Judge David Mendoza after pleading guilty to felony theft for his role in a real estate scam. Two 2009 indictments describe how Jordon and an accomplice pilfered 23 different properties, mostly in Sunnyside neighborhoods, used forged deeds to take land from rightful owners and then built houses that were sold to others. Each man blames the other for the thefts.
  • Hilary and Ron Green, one of the city's highest elected officials, appeared in court on Jordon's behalf in March. Ron Green described him as a family "friend" and has urged a lenient sentence for Jordon so that he can pay back his victims. Prosecutors are seeking at least 25 years to life in prison.
For the story, see Ethics issues arise in rulings by justice of the peace (City controller's wife ordered evictions despite her connections to felon).

In a related story, see Houston city controller seeks leniency for con man.

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