Texas Supreme Court Justice up for re-election didn't recuse himself from case involving defendants from former law firm

 February 15, 2024

Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine didn't recuse himself from a lawsuit involving two former colleagues at a Houston law firm and voted in the minority to keep the case from moving forward.

The lawsuit alleging sexual abuse was against former Southern Baptist Convention leader Paul Pressler and his longtime law partner, Jared Woodfill, both of whom Devine worked with on cases for Woodfill & Pressler LLP, their law firm.

The firm was small, and despite Devine's denials, court records found by the Texas Tribune show he was co-counsel with Pressler on a number of cases and worked jointly with Woodfill as well.

Two other justices who worked at the same law firm recused themselves from the case, which involved an accusation by an aide to Pressler who worked at the firm at the same time as Devine that Pressler sexually abused him.

"No basis" to recuse

“There was no basis for me to recuse from the case,” Devine wrote in an email to the Tribune. “I had no financial interest in the case; never participated in it; and had no personal knowledge of the facts."

The case was settled after at least seven total men came forward to say that Pressler sexually abused them.

Reports later said that young aides were sent to work from Pressler's home with him by Woodbine using the firm's funds even though there were reports of abuse at the time. Woodfill was not accused of any abuse himself.

Devine tried to justify his decision not to recuse himself by saying, “Every judge working on a court knows other lawyers. In the practice of law, sometimes you are on the same side of the table, and sometimes it’s the other side. That is not a basis for recusal in a completely unrelated case decades later.”

Quid pro quo?

The guidelines for recusal are vague in Texas, which has allowed Devine to justify his actions, but he had close enough contact with Pressler and Woodfill that it does seem like recusal seems like it would have been a good idea.

All three of these men have identified as conservatives who are against LGBT rights, so it's ironic and kind of hypocritical that Pressler participated in same-sex behavior and Woodfill and Devine in a way facilitated or attempted to facilitate him doing so or escaping the consequences of the predatory nature of his behavior.

It seems to be a longtime quid pro quo, with Pressler having supported Devine's congressional and Supreme Court races since at least 2001.

In addition to Devine's re-election bid, Woodfill is now running for a Texas House seat, backed by Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Devine is challenged by Second District Court of Appeals Judge Brian Walker, who has questioned his ethics around several cases Devine ruled on that involved Woodfill and the Pressler case.

“I have a hard time believing that Judge Devine didn't know about the allegations,” Walker said in an interview. “It's clear to me that he was still trying to help Woodfill and Pressler out when he essentially voted to keep the lawsuit from moving forward.”

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