Issue No. 82
March 27, 2018
In this issue....

  • Lawyers Beware: Agreed Orders Have Been Changed in the 507th Without Notice
  • Election November 2018: Harris County Family Court Candidates
  • New Tax Law Will Affect Divorces in Texas

Amber Alert Canceled for Judge Millard?

Judge Lisa Millard was actually seen in her courtroom for three consecutive days after my March 5 newsletter called on her to resign because she is so seldom at work. Millard even mentioned me when she stood to be recognized at a Houston Bar Association Family Law Section luncheon. However, every time I checked the 310th this past week, Millard was not to be seen. Either Judge Moren was on the bench or the doors to the courtroom were locked (at 10:30 a.m.???).

I received overwhelmingly positive responses from lawyers to my call for Judge Millard to step down if she is unwilling or unable to work full time. I even heard from JUDGES in other counties, who want me to write about similar situations in their courthouses where a judicial colleague just will not show up to work. I say again:

Someone has to finally say what everyone is thinking - Judge Millard should step down if she cannot, or will not, work full-time. At this point, after years of prolonged absences from the bench, it does not matter if it is illness or boredom that is causing Judge Millard to so seldom be at work. She is a public servant paid a large salary to work full-time to do very important and demanding work. Millard owes it to tax payers and the families whose lives depend on her court's rulings to step down if she cannot start working all day every day like she did so well when she was first elected.

I like Judge Millard and consider her a smart, fair judge when she is actually at work. However, these prolonged absences have been going on for years.  I was very disappointed to hear that she filed for reelection this year. I guess she assumed that she could glide through another election without anyone pointing out that she is usually not at work. If Judge Millard retires and steps down, she could still enjoy a career as a visiting judge and not worry about losing the general election this November, which would allow lawyers to freely object to her.
Book Review

I am very much a student of religion even though I am not religious. Christians and all other believers and non-believers should read "The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World" by Bart Ehrman. This book explains very clearly how Christianity won in the market place of ideas and went from a few hundred followers in a small backwater province to become the official religion of the Roman Empire in just 350 years.
This is part of what The New York Times wrote about this book:

So how did Christianity triumph? To put it plainly, Christianity was something new on this earth. It wasn’t closed to women. It was so concerned with questions of social welfare (healing the sick, caring for the poor) that it embedded them into its doctrines. And while there were plenty of henotheist pagans (that is, people who worshiped one god while not denying the validity of others), Christianity went far beyond henotheism’s hesitant claim upon ultimate truth. It was an exclusivist faith that foreclosed — was designed to foreclose — devotion to all other deities. Yet it was different from Judaism, which was just as exclusivist but crucially lacked a missionary impulse.
In “The Triumph of Christianity,” Ehrman describes the Edict of Milan (which was neither an edict nor written in Milan) as the Western world’s first known government document to proclaim the freedom of belief. At the time, Ehrman notes, “Christianity probably made up 7 to 10 percent of the population of the Roman Empire.” A mere hundred years later, half the empire’s “60 million inhabitants claimed allegiance to the Christian tradition.” Ehrman declares, without hyperbole, “That is absolutely extraordinary.”

Over the centuries, countless books have been written to explain this, a great many of them by Christian writers and scholars who take the Constantinian view: Their faith’s unlikely triumph was (and is) proof of divine favor. Interestingly, pagan advisers argued in vain to the first Christian Roman emperors that pagan beliefs had been what won the empire favor in the first place. When the emperor Valentinian II removed the altar of the goddess Victory from the Roman Senate house in A.D. 382, for instance, a pagan statesman named Symmachus reminded him, “This worship subdued the world.”

Very little about the historical triumph of Christianity makes sense. When Constantine converted, the New Testament didn’t formally exist and Christians disagreed on basic theological concepts, among them how Jesus and God were related. For those living at the time, Ehrman writes, “it would have been virtually impossible to imagine that these Christians would eventually destroy the other religions of Rome.”

I really strongly recommend this book to everyone. Very few of my Christian friends know much about the early history of their religion (or really much about the details of the theology of their particular denomination for that matter). The Roman Empire, in the first four centuries after Jesus, was swarming with many different religions, including many so-called Mystery cults centered on the worship of gods violently done to death, only to rise again later. Yet, Christianity prevailed. In the final analysis, the strength of Jesus' teachings of love and inclusion helped Christianity triumph, along with word-of-mouth networking and its absolute intolerance of any other beliefs or gods. Christianity of 1700 years ago, however, was very different from what is practiced in America today and even the first Bible was different than what is used today ( click here for information on the Codex Vaticanus ). Once the Christians were in control of the Roman empire, they did very "non-Christian" things to pagans and their temples and art work.

I cannot wait to discuss this book with Judge Jim Squier -- my inspiration for kindness and openheartedness and my favorite Christian!
I may not win every case (even if in my heart I expect to). I just want an efficient system in which my client gets a fair hearing before a judge who works hard, knows the law, and does not play favorites. I also expect judges to appoint qualified amicus attorneys who zealously look after children (and who actually personally visit their minor clients in their homes). Is that asking too much? Stay tuned.
Greg Enos
The Enos Law Firm
The Enos Law Firm
  17207 Feather Craft Lane, Webster, Texas 77598
 (281) 333-3030
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Lawyers Beware: Agreed Orders Have Been Changed Without Notice in the 507th
Judge Julia Maldonado has changed agreed orders signed by the attorneys and parties and then not let anyone know she altered the orders. Lawyers seriously need to go back and review orders they have submitted to the 507th to see if this has happened to them. I hope that this unconstitutional practice has now stopped in the 507th, but I feel lawyers need to know about this so that they can check and see if it has been done in their own cases in the last 15 months.

Consider this modification case: the pro se mother moved to Florida and now never sees the teenage boy, who is living with the father in Houston. The father hired a lawyer and filed a modification case. The pro se mother signed an agreed order that gave the father custody of the child. The father and his lawyer appeared before Judge Maldonado and presented testimony to explain the new order, which had been e-filed and was handed in paper to the judge on the bench. There is no settlement agreement, just the agreed order signed by the parties that was proven up. Judge Maldonado rendered her ruling that she was approving the order and she said she would sign it after a wage withholding and order on health insurance was e-filed. This is reflected on the docket sheet typed by the judge.
The order submitted to Judge Maldonado and approved by her in open court was signed by the parties and the father’s attorney. I have redacted the names of those involved.
The attorney in January had her staff request a certified copy of the signed order and they sent the order to the father. The father called the lawyer upset because the judge had changed the order. The judge, or someone working for her, typed in new wording into the agreed order. In the order that the attorney can view on line, the changes are actually in blue print. I have blacked out the parties names below. The changes shown are alterations to the parental rights. Even though the parties agreed to certain rights, the judge AFTER she had orally approved the order and received the signed order, changed those parental rights and did not inform the lawyer or parties of those changes to the agreed order.
Judge Maldonado then signed the order she had altered and no one was told that the agreed order had been changed.
There were very specific reasons why the father did not want the mother to have the normal rights, such as the right to attend school functions. The mother approved the order that did not give her those rights. Judge Maldonado in open court and on her docket sheet, approved that order. Then, she altered the order without any further testimony, without notice to anyone and without another hearing. This is a gross violation of due process and common sense.

A judge has the right to make an order fit her ruling or to resolve disputes between parties over the wording of an order based on a settlement. But, even then, the parties should be notified of the judge’s ruling, which should come after some sort of hearing.

However, every other judge in Texas would know it is not proper to secretly alter an agreed order which the parties and lawyers signed and the judge had already approved. What if the judge changed the visitation order or the child support amount or even who has primary custody of the child? Obviously, that would be grossly improper.

In this case, the father decided not to file a motion for new trial, and so the order Maldonado secretly altered is now final.

I do not think what Judge Maldonado did in this case involved the crime of tampering with a government record, because Texas Penal Code Sec. 37.01(1) and (2) define a government record to include a court record and "Court record" means,“a decree, judgment, order, subpoena, warrant, minutes, or other document issued by a court of: (A) this state...” The agreed order signed by the parties and the attorney and submitted to the court had not yet been “issued by a court of this state.”

We already knew that Judge Maldonado (or her associate judge) were spending a lot of time closely comparing orders to settlement agreements and raising issues about minute differences between them (something no other judge I have ever heard of does). While odd and often aggravating, that is at least in theory a proper thing for a judge to do (if she has that much time on her hands). But, secretly changing agreed orders without notice or any testimony or further hearing simply has to stop. I strongly feel that Judge Maldonado’s heart is in the right place and she is smart enough to reflect on what she has done and stop secretly changing agreed orders.   If this is a freak one time event, then a lesson should be learned.

Denise Pratt was known to have changed agreed orders without telling anyone. A judge who does that violates the most fundamental principles of due process and is essentially making rulings in secret without any evidence or input from the attorneys. Such behavior should make anyone seriously question the judge's basic judgment and understanding of how our judicial system works. If such behavior continues, it should be grounds for removal.

I urge lawyers to go back and double check every order they ever submitted to the 507th since Maldonado was sworn in to see if their orders were secretly altered. Please let me know if you find any more examples.

I contacted Judge Maldonado about this story in advance and provided her the example shared above of how she changed an agreed order signed by the parties and then did not tell anyone she had altered the order. I posed specific questions and suggested that the 507th simply not change orders unless attorneys have been called back into open court to discuss the judge's concerns. This is Judge Maldonado's response to my inquiry:

Dear Mr. Enos:
Thank you for your email.
The 507 th will sign an agreed order if it comports with the parties’ testimony and any representations by counsel. Any non-innocuous changes are made after attorneys are informed of the court’s concern. If necessary the order will be reset for entry and the attorneys will be notified of the new entry date to provide an opportunity to be heard.
It is the Court’s policy that all Agreements Incident to Divorce shall be filed with the clerk. Attorneys may request that the AID be sealed.
Best regards,
Judge Maldonado

In the above example I have provided, the changes to the order were not "innocuous" and the lawyer and pro se party were NOT informed of the changes the judge made to the order. If this is a statement of how Judge Maldonado intends to conduct herself in the future, then I concur that this is how a judge should handle agreed orders and I applaud Judge Maldonado for deciding to handle orders like all her fellow judges do. I recognize that Judge Maldonado works really hard and her heart is clearly in the right place. I believe her that she will handle orders differently. However, like Ronald Reagan, I believe in "trust, but verify," so I will keep checking and I urge lawyers to do so as well.

I decided to publish this story even after receiving the judge's response because the legal community needs to know this has happened and lawyers need to check the orders they have submitted to the 507th to make sure this was not done to their clients.

Most lawyers who regularly represent real rich folks in divorces feel it makes no sense at all to require parties to file the confidential Agreements Incident to Divorce with the clerk as required by Judge Maldonado, unlike every other family court judge in Texas. This defeats the entire purpose of AID's, which are done to keep the details of the property settlement out of the public record. However, Judge Maldonado may well be right on this point. Texas Family Code Sec. 7.006 on Agreements Incident to Divorce does not mention at all the procedure of not filing the AID and incorporating the secret agreements by reference into a divorce decree. Why should the details of a plumber's property agreement be a public record and not the details of the billionaire oil man's divorce? What law authorizes the use of secret property agreements? How is the judge supposed to approve the agreement unless it is shown to her and then how do you secretly show the judge the document? Is it made an exhibit and then immediately withdrawn from the record? Again, Judge Maldonado has challenged the way things have always been done and she is probably correct on the AID's. But, she was dead wrong to have secretly changed agreed orders and that simply must stop.
Election November 2018: Harris County Family Courts Candidates
We now know which party nominees Harris County voters will have to choose from on November 6, 2018:
I will continue to provide features on each of the Democratic candidates, who most lawyers do not know. The news each day provides me more reasons to believe that the Democrats will sweep Harris County, as much as I want to keep judges like David Farr and Roy Moore (who both almost certainly wish I would stop predicting their imminent electoral demise).

Here are five more reasons I see a Democratic tidal wave coming:
  • Stormy Daniels (click here to see her 60 Minutes interview Sunday night) because it is the coverup that matters, not the original immoral act.
  • Stormy Daniels because alienated college educated women in the suburbs will be the nail in the GOP coffin (click here and click here for recent articles on this topic and remember that Harris County Republicans must win big in the suburbs to carry the county.
  • The largest protest march in Washington D.C. history which took place Saturday for common sense gun control while Trump fled to golf in Florida for the 98th time since he was sworn in. The passion and enthusiasm this election year involves those who will vote Democratic.
  • Rick Saccone's defeat at the hands of Democrat Conor Lamb in a Pennsylvania R+11 district which Trump carried by 20 points in 2016.
  • The continued turmoil in the administration. More resignations and firings are expected in the next week or so.

New Tax Law Will Affect Divorces in Texas
Trump's only legislative accomplishment, his tax cuts for the rich, will not just save Bobby Newman some spending money next April. The "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" (TCJA) of 2018 actually makes changes to the Tax Code that will impact many divorces in Texas. I strongly urge you to print and read this excellent article by lawyer Tom Huyhn (who will hopefully start work for me as soon as he gets his LLM in tax):

Click here to download "Divorce after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" by Tom Q. Huynh, J.D., which explains:

  1. Starting January 1, 2019, alimony will no longer be tax deductible (This change in tax law for alimony payments will apply to payments that are required under divorce or separation instruments that are: (1) executed after Dec. 31, 2018 or (2) modified after that date if the modification specifically states that the TCJA treatment of alimony payments applies).
  2. Personal exemptions are no longer available, so it does not matter who can claim the exemption for the child
  3. The child tax credit is increased
  4. The head of the household standard deduction is increased
  5. The tax effects of home sales and mortgage interest are changed
  6. 529 plans have been expanded

These changes may well affect your own income tax obligation starting this year, so you really should read this article.

Note: Several readers contacted me after my last issue to correct my use of "effect." Here is a review of this tricky subject for my fellow grammarians: "Affect" is usually a verb (" This newsletter may affect my law practice "), and it means to impact or change. Effect is usually a noun, an effect is the result of a change (" The effect of my article on the judge was clear as soon as I walked into the courtroom "). Click here to read a very detailed article on how to properly use these two words. Warning: "Affect" can be a noun and "effect" can be a verb! ("The judge's affect was flat and somewhat frightening").
Thank you for your support! Together We Can Make Our Profession Better and Our Courts Fairer
Attorney Greg Enos has been through his own divorce and child custody battle (he won) and understands what his clients are going through. Enos graduated from the University of Texas Law School and was a successful personal injury attorney in Texas City before he decided his true calling was to help families in divorce and child custody cases. Greg Enos is active in politics and in Clear Lake area charities. He has served as President of the Bay Area Bar Association and President of the Board of Interfaith Caring Ministries. The Enos Law Firm serves clients in Galveston County, Brazoria County and Harris County, Texas.
Greg Enos
Board Certified in Family Law, Texas Board of Legal Specialization
The Enos Law Firm
www. divorce
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