The Watchdog: Future Dallas judge Staci Williams accused of failing client so she could campaign

An unusual sight occurred in a Dallas courtroom. A woman stood before a judge and fired her lawyer. Right there, on the spot.

She accused the lawyer of abandoning her case, leaving her high and dry without a defense. She said the lawyer had ignored her requests for information, failed to show up at a hearing and didn’t file legal papers when she should have.

That alone was unusual, but what makes it more so is that the lawyer she fired is not going to be a lawyer much longer. She has a new and better job.

The lawyer, Staci Williams, is set to become the next state district judge for the 101st Judicial District in Dallas County. Supported by Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, she defeated incumbent Judge Marty Lowy in the March 4, 2014 Democratic primary. No Republican is slated to run against her in November 2014.


Williams’ client, now former client, is Barbara Carr, a longtime DART bus driver. Carr told the court that she wanted to relieve Williams of her duties because Williams was so busy campaigning she didn’t have time to represent her. Williams, hearing that, announced that she wanted to withdraw from the case.

In the courthouse corridor afterward, I asked Williams what happened.

“You know, I’m trying to figure it out right now,” Williams answered. “I have no comment at the time until I figure it out.”

I asked, “Did you abandon your client?”

“No, no,” Williams replied. “I don’t have a copy of her letter, so in order for me to be fair to you to give you an adequate response, I don’t know what the accusations are.”

She was referring to a letter that Carr wrote The Watchdog seeking help.

Later in the week, I called the future judge for more comment, but she didn’t return The Watchdog’s call.

Williams will learn her former client’s gripes soon enough. Carr filed a complaint last week against Williams with the State Bar of Texas. Williams has no previous public disciplinary record with the state bar.

The State Bar says the No. 1 complaint against lawyers is not returning phone calls, and also high on the list are lawyers who don’t pay attention to their cases.

In her complaint to the bar, Carr writes that Williams failed to keep her informed of her case, missed a hearing, didn’t file paperwork on time, accepted nearly $5,000 in fees but never provided a receipt and didn’t bring case files to the final hearing where Carr fired her.

She also writes that “Williams threatened me with $20,000 in legal fees if I exposed her misconduct of my case.” (That conversation supposedly took place after Williams shooed me away so she could talk to Carr privately in the courthouse hallway.)

Williams served as a judge once before, and her tenure was so rocky that she lost her job and filed a federal lawsuit. In 2006, the Dallas City Council appointed her to a municipal judge position. During the next four years she got into a series of scrapes with other judges and the court administrator, whom she accused of sexual harassment. The charge was never sustained.

She was also reprimanded for snooping around the desks of other judges on the court, according to court records obtained several years ago by Steve Thompson of The Dallas Morning News. At one point, she was reprimanded for entering a judge’s office and then a week later, she was accused of doing it again.

The City Council failed to reappoint her in 2010, and she sued the city, saying she was the victim of harassment and discrimination and her loss of the reappointment amounted to a retaliatory action. The federal lawsuit ended in 2013 when both parties agreed to a dismissal.

Carr hired Williams a year ago to represent her as a $250-an-hour lawyer. Williams represented Carr in a hearing last year in Carr’s lawsuit, which is against her employer, DART, and involves her need to get a medical certificate from a doctor.

At first, Williams stayed close to her client, according to records Carr provided me. Carr was pleased. In August, Carr wrote Williams in an email: “If it had not been for you, I’d be jobless. … Staci, you are a genuine person without a doubt, and I know you have my best interest.”

But around December, Carr said, she lost touch with her when Williams stopped answering her emails.

Yet while Carr couldn’t get hold of her lawyer, her lawyer still managed to contact her. Williams sent Carr several emails promoting her campaign. In one, she asked her to volunteer. In another, she asked her to attend a candidate forum to cheer her on.

In February, Carr, worried because she heard nothing about her case, called the court on her own and asked about her next hearing. Told the date, Carr showed up. Her lawyer didn’t.

Then before last week’s hearing, Carr filed her own legal papers asking for a postponement. She didn’t get it, which meant the hearing would go on with or without a lawyer. And because Williams had shown up and was familiar with the facts, a second lawyer whom Carr has asked to attend the hearing convinced Carr that Williams should handle her case at the hearing.

Carr reluctantly agreed to let Williams argue why her case should not be dismissed.

Williams complained in court that she was having difficulty communicating with Carr because Carr was rolling her eyes and refused to discuss the case with her. Williams went ahead and argued on Carr’s behalf.

Williams lost the argument. Carr’s case was dismissed.

Out in the hallway, Carr told me, “She wasn’t prepared.”

All of this could have been avoided, Carr said, if Williams, while busy as a candidate, had simply told her she was hard at work campaigning and didn’t have time for her anymore.

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