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Weil Secures Important Legal Ruling Ensuring Continued Independence of Dallas Municipal Court

Case Involves City Council's Attempt to Treat the Municipal Court as Part of Dallas City Government Rather than Part of the Judicial Branch of the State of Texas
International law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP this week secured a major victory in its pro bono representation of Dallas Municipal Court Judge Phyllis Lister Brown, resulting in the issuance of a temporary injunction preventing the City of Dallas and Dallas City Council from removing her from her current position based upon a Dallas City Charter provision that is applicable only to "officers of the city" and their "positions with the city." This is the second case in recent years in which Weil has represented a Dallas municipal judge pro bono to prevent the City from removing her from office based on the same City Charter provision.

Judge Brown is currently seeking election to the 162nd District Court in Dallas County, Texas. The Dallas City Council voted on January 18 to remove her from office, due to her alleged violation of Chapter III, Section 17 (the "Resign to Run provision") of the Dallas City Charter, which states that an "appointive officer of the City" immediately forfeits his or her "position with the City" upon becoming a candidate for nomination or election to any other public office.

In a lawsuit filed late last year against the City and City Council, Judge Brown and her attorneys from Weil contend that the Charter’s Resign to Run provision is inapplicable to a municipal judge and her seat on the Municipal Court, because a municipal judge is not an "officer of the City," nor does a municipal judge hold a "position with the City." To suggest otherwise raises serious issues regarding the independence of the Municipal Court from the City Council, separation of powers and the limitations on the authority of the City Council under the Texas Government Code, the Texas Constitution and the Dallas Charter.

The injunction order, issued by Judge Martin Lowy of the 101st District Court, found that Judge Brown had "demonstrated a probable right to the relief sought in that the City Officer Resign to Run Provision appears inapplicable on its face to municipal judges."

Judge Brown was represented pro bono by Weil partner Glenn West, as well as associates Erin Eckols, Sandra Fusco and Olivia Miller.

"I have taken a keen interest in preserving the independence of the judiciary against any encroachment by city government since our original representation of Judge Frizell in 2006," said West. "Notwithstanding the City's stated position that they created the Dallas Municipal Court, the City Council is not omnipotent. This case is not only about Judge Brown's rights, but about the rule of law itself. The Dallas City Charter and the Texas Constitution limit the authority of our City Council with respect to the Municipal Court. We believe that the City Council's action in purporting to treat Judge Brown as an officer of the City and her bench on the Municipal Court as a position with the City is a violation of the Texas Constitution and the Dallas City Charter."

Guy stated, "We are, of course, glad that the District Court heard the evidence and issued this injunction, which will prevent the City from removing Judge Brown from her bench while our case is pending. We continue to believe that the Resign to Run provision is inapplicable on its face to a municipal judge, who is a member of the state judiciary rather than a city officer. We felt it was important to pursue this legal action, both to protect Judge Brown's right to run for office without forfeiting her job, and to ensure the continued independence and fairness of our judicial system. If the City continues to pursue this action, we will continue to work to protect Judge Brown from being removed from office on the basis of an erroneous reading of the City Charter and Texas state law."

In 2006, Weil represented Associate Municipal Judge Elizabeth Davis Frizell in securing a preliminary injunction preventing the City of Dallas’ removal of her from the bench. Frizell was a candidate at the time for Dallas County Criminal District Court No. 11, a candidacy that led to the City’s attempted removal of her from her position. Frizell ultimately was able to stand for election and won election to the Criminal District Court, where she continues to serve.