U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. “engaged in abusive sexual contact” with a deputy court clerk in 1998, ending her career and sending her spiraling into depression, according to a judicial complaint filed against Smith by a Dallas-area lawyer.
Attorney Ty Clevenger filed the complaint this week with the clerk of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans against Smith, of Waco, and Senior U.S. District Judge Harry Lee Hudspeth, of Austin.
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.
Neither Smith, who has presided over Waco’s federal court since 1984, nor Hudspeth returned repeated phone calls requesting comment.
Joe St. Amant, senior appellate conference attorney for the 5th Circuit, told the Tribune-Herald he could not confirm if the complaint against Smith was filed because complaints against federal judges are not made public until they are resolved. But Clevenger provided the Tribune-Herald with a copy of his complaint, dated Sept. 8, and an email from a 5th Circuit deputy clerk confirming receipt of the complaint.
Clevenger also posted the allegations against Smith on a publicly viewable blog Clevenger owns.
“Unfortunately, the incident occurred in 1998, when the (federal) limitations period for such an offense was five years,” Clevenger’s complaint states. “Nonetheless, Congress’ power to impeach is not subject to any limitations period. Therefore, I request that this matter be investigated, with the results of any such investigation reported to Congress.”
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 determined to be 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 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.”
Ultimately, Clevenger said he agreed to accept a public reprimand to settle the State Bar of Texas grievance. But he included a copy of the woman’s deposition in his complaint to the 5th Circuit. Her deposition is also 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 since 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 had been because he had told her to come see him.
“Well, I didn’t mean, I didn’t realize you meant right now,” the woman testified she responded. “And he said, ‘Yes, I mean right now.’ ”
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.
“It’s affected me pretty badly,” the woman said to conclude her deposition. “I went into a pretty deep depression. I had to be hospitalized. It just caused a lot of stress in my life.”