The chief judge of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has appointed a special committee to investigate sexual misconduct allegations against U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., of Waco.
In a letter dated Thursday to Dallas-area attorney Ty Clevenger, Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart told Clevenger that he has referred the attorney’s complaint against Smith to a special investigative committee composed of himself, 5th U.S. Circuit Judge Catharina Haynes and U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi.
It’s the second communication from the court since Clevenger alleged that Smith “engaged in abusive sexual contact” with a deputy court clerk in 1998.
Clevenger received a letter dated Sept. 24 from a deputy clerk from the court, which is based in New Orleans, Louisiana, asking him to provide names and contact information of potential witnesses connected to his complaint against Smith, of Waco, and Senior U.S. District Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth, of Austin.
Clevenger provided copies of both letters to the Tribune- Herald.
The complaint alleges Smith attempted to sexually assault an employee of the federal clerk’s office in his chambers and that Hudspeth, then chief judge of the Western District of Texas, “failed to take appropriate action” after learning of the woman’s allegations.
Smith said Friday through his court administrator that it would not be ethical for him to comment about an ongoing case. A clerk in Hudspeth’s office said he also would have no comment.
“It is a major step in the right direction,” Clevenger said Friday. “They very, very rarely appoint an investigative committee, so the fact that they have appointed a committee is an indication that they are taking it seriously.”
Clevenger, who has filed several complaints against judges and lawyers in the past few years, filed the complaint against Smith and Hudspeth on Sept. 8. He provided the Tribune-Herald a copy of the complaints, a copy of a deposition from the former clerk outlining her description of the alleged incident and a certified letter the woman wrote to Smith in February 1998 after the reported assault.
In her 1998 letter to Smith, the former clerk said his “proposition to me completely caught me off guard.”
“It frightened me and has caused me much grief and emotional anguish,” she wrote. “It was very inappropriate and I did nothing to provoke it.”
Clevenger’s dispute with Smith began five years ago when Clevenger filed a racketeering lawsuit against an elected official and an attorney from Robertson County. The suit alleged the men and others conspired to improperly acquire the rights to royalties from landowners with oil and gas interests.
Smith dismissed the lawsuit and sanctioned Clevenger $25,000 for filing what the judge ruled a frivolous lawsuit. The Robertson County attorney filed a grievance against Clevenger with the State Bar of Texas, and it was while defending himself against the bar grievance that Clevenger subpoenaed the former federal deputy clerk and took her sworn deposition in March.
“I sat across the table face to face from her and she swore under oath to tell the truth,” Clevenger has said. “I believe everything she said. He wrecked her life and ended her career.
“She said in the deposition how hard it is for a woman without a four-year degree to find a good career, and she needed that job. I think he needs to answer for it. I don’t care if it was 17 years ago. That was 17 years on the bench when he shouldn’t have been on the bench.”
Clevenger agreed to accept a public reprimand to settle the State Bar of Texas grievance, he said. But he included a copy of the woman’s deposition in his complaint to the 5th Circuit. Her deposition also is part of the record in his State Bar grievance case in Collin County, he said.
According to the woman’s testimony, on the day she says she was assaulted, she ran into Smith at the third-floor water fountain in the Waco federal courthouse, and he invited her to visit him in his chambers. She said it was 8:30 a.m. and he had a “pretty strong smell” of liquor on his breath.
The woman said she was puzzled by his request because they had barely spoken and rarely crossed paths at work.
She said she went back to her desk and her phone rang. She said it was Smith asking where she was because he had told her to come see him.
When she went to the judge’s office, Smith closed the door behind her, put his arms around her and kissed her, she testified.
“I just froze. I couldn’t move. And he said, ‘Let me make love to you.’ And I, and I, I just freaked out,” she said in the deposition.
She said Smith tried to touch her inappropriately, but she pulled away and told him she had to get back to work.
The woman testified that after the incident, Smith sent her flowers at work and continued to make advances.
She told her supervisor, who reported the alleged incident to Hudspeth, the presiding judge over the federal district that includes Waco.
She testified that Hudspeth called her at home but seemed dismissive about her charges.
“He asked me, ‘What do you want me to do about it?’ ” she testified.
Clevenger claims in his complaint that Hudspeth committed a crime by failing to report the alleged sexual abuse by Smith.