There is still time to buy a wedding gift for Judge Alicia Franklin before her April 4 wedding. Whether you are motivated out of friendship or more practical purposes, Franklin made it very easy for you to buy her a gift on-line. Until Tuesday, anyone on the planet was able to see her Honeymoon Pixie site and quickly order her gifts for her honeymoon. Suddenly, after a very critical article was posted on the Republican blog Big Jolly about this unseemly situation, the links disappeared. Then, the site required a password then within hours the public could again see the couple’s gift wish list and buy them gifts. Try clicking this link to possibly see it for yourself. A Google search for “Alicia Franklin Doug York” pulls up this gift registry website and several others. Here is part of what you were able to see until this week about the Franklin – York wedding:
Judge Franklin and Mr. York are also registered on a variety of sites for gifts, including The Knot and Williams-Sonoma. These on-line wedding registry sites are now common. However, if you are a judge, there is something unseemly about soliciting gifts from the general public. Two well-off professionals, one of whom is an elected judge (who was paid over $800,000 in recent years in court appointed fees on CPS cases), could perhaps have told their wedding guests to make charitable donations in their names out of a sense of propriety and, as it turns out, to avoid criticism from fellow Republicans.
I question the wisdom of this excited bride (who happens to be a judge) for signing up for these public wedding gift registries. However, I feel that the criticism of Judge Franklin in the recent Big Jolly Republican blog went too far, even though my name is mentioned in the article.
The Republican, David Jennings, who wrote the blog, was a Franklin supporter against Pratt and last year he defended Franklin in his blog against my complaints over her billing as a CPS ad litem. Jennings wrote this week in part:
This stuff makes me ill. I was contacted by a family law attorney that does business in Judge Alicia Franklin’s 311th District Court. The attorney complained that she felt pressured to give money to Judge Franklin’s for her upcoming honeymoon. Say what? Sure enough, Judge Franklin and her finance, Doug York, have a website asking for contributions to pay for their honeymoon….
THIS IS WHAT PASSES FOR A FAMILY JUDGE THESE DAYS?
Sheesh, when I get it wrong, I get it wrong!
Folks, we aren’t talking about a couple of lovestruck teenagers that are starting a new life together and need a wedding shower or two. We are talking about two very successful attorneys and an elected district judge. Heck, Franklin received over $800,000 from Harris County taxpayers alone for appointed cases. Which reminds me, where again is Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson? It has been over six month since Greg Enos filed a criminal complaint against Judge Franklin (click here to read more about that complaint) and still NOTHING from the DA. NADA, ZIP, ZILCH. Do you think the DA would have been silent if Judge Franklin had run as a Democrat? I surely don’t.
Franklin and York are obviously classless and tasteless. One attorney I talked to about this said that there is no way he would beg for money for a honeymoon – if he couldn’t take care of his new bride, she shouldn’t have married him. That’s funny. But the bigger issue is a judge sitting behind a bench pressuring the attorneys in front of her to pay for her pleasure activities. And a DA that sits on her hands when a Republican is involved.
Can’t we do better?
Click here to see the complete article from Big Jolly.
I now want to shock the world and defend Franklin (partially). I agree that York and Franklin do not need small gifts to fund their two week honeymoon (to Paris and the Maldives, not Paris and Rome, as reported by Big Jolly). But, I truly do not think Judge Franklin has been pressuring any attorneys to buy her wedding gifts. Maybe some attorneys worry whether they should send a wedding gift even if they (like me) were not invited to the wedding. But, “feeling pressured” is not the same as being pressured to give a gift. I really do not think Alicia Franklin is whispering from the bench to lawyers how many table settings of silverware she still needs. One prominent family attorney who is willing to stand up to any judge e-mailed me to say:
I have seen Franklin on the bench enough to come to the conclusion that she would not ask a lawyer for a donation to her honeymoon. I am so disappointed by all this. I found the article completely offensive.
I do completely agree with Jennings in Big Jolly that a judge soliciting wedding gifts on a public web site simply does not look or feel right. Apparently, Franklin agreed, at least briefly, because on Monday night she suddenly stopped the public from being able to see all of those wedding registry sites she signed up for. By Tuesday afternoon, she had changed the settings and again made some of them public. The whole thing shows very poor judgment, but Big Jolly should have skipped the personal attacks on Franklin and York and let folks draw their own conclusions.
To be clear I am not being hypocritical, I got married in December and did not ask for gifts or register anywhere, although a few friends did bring gifts. The concrete galoshes from Denise Pratt were particularly thoughtful. I am actually happy for Doug and Alicia and, believe it or not, I wish them the best. They clearly have a lot in common and deserve their share of happiness. Unlike most happy couples, however, one of them is a judge and they need to act accordingly.
I have known about Franklin’s on-line wedding gift registries for months but I chose not to write about them. This did not become news until a Republican blogger who has supported Franklin against Pratt and me wrote a blistering attack in Big Jolly and now other news outlets have picked up the story. The Houston Press blog has now also published a story about the Franklin – York gift registry, which includes a statement by Doug York defending his betrothed and invoking the Almighty in their defense. Click here to read that article in The Houston Press. This is what Doug York told the Houston Press:
York wrote that he and Franklin “are giving this story the courtesy it deserves by completely ignoring it….It is most unfortunate that such a special day would be attacked, especially when the registry was only for close friends and family, as is the case in all weddings. At no time was there solicitation for funds or gifts from anybody. Period, end of story.”
York added, “We are not angry, but are very disappointed that such a private happy occasion would get attacked by political underlying reasons. It takes a special person to do something this low. We, however, forgive the person who initiated this process, as our faith is strong, knowing all persons will face God to answer for their actions. We look forward to a wonderful life together, and this untruth will have no effect on such a great occasion.”
It is not clear who York assumes is the “person who initiated this process” for “political underlying reasons.” Either Franklin or York initiated this process by signing up for a public website that solicits wedding gifts. Apparently a female family lawyer who felt pressured to give a wedding gift contacted the REPUBLICAN who wrote the Big Jolly blog to complain. With all due respect to Mr. York, the Honeymoon Pixie website for his wedding was never password protected or limited to just close friends and family.
Channel 13 news ran a story on this controversy and I agreed to be interviewed in order to defend Franklin once it was clear they were going to run a story whether or not they spoke to me. This newsletter goes to many news directors, editors, columnists, television and print reporters in the Houston area and I often work with my news competition on stories. I prefer not to be on television if I can help it, but this time, when Miya Shay called me, I wanted to make sure that this controversy was considered in proper context. Of course, most of what I said was edited out from the final snippet that was shown on television.
Click here to see the video of the ABC13 News story about Judge Franklin’s wedding registry.
What Franklin did was perhaps tacky, unseemly and unwise, but it was not illegal nor did she violate the ethical rules for judges (based on what is known so far). There were many good reasons for Franklin to not sign up for public gift registries like other brides simply because she is a judge and she is held to a different standard. I feel bad that this controversy has marred the week before her marriage, but Franklin could have avoided this entire mess by heeding the simple words of the Preamble to the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct:
Some of Judge Franklin’s supporters took to Facebook to claim that the wedding registries were supposed to have been private and password protected. That is simply not true.
I have looked at Judge Franklin’s gift website for months at Honeymoon Pixie and it was never password protected (except for a few hours this week after the article in Big Jolly was first published). It is certainly not password protected today as I write this article.
Ethically, it would appear that Alicia and Doug’s genuine friends can give gifts,”commensurate with the occasion and the relationship.” So, I assume really good friends with a really big relationships can give the couple really big gifts, even if they happen to be lawyers who practice in the 311th.
The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 4(D) says:
(b) a judge or a family member residing in the judge’s household may accept ordinary social hospitality; a gift, bequest, favor, or loan from a relative; a gift from a friend for a special occasion such as a wedding, engagement, anniversary, or birthday, if the gift is fairly commensurate with the occasion and the relationship; a loan from a lending institution in its regular course of business on the same terms generally available to persons who are not judges; or a scholarship or fellowship awarded on the same terms applied to other applicants;
(c) a judge or a family member residing in the judge’s household may accept any other gift, bequest, favor, or loan only if the donor is not a party or person whose interests have come or are likely to come before the judge;
District Judges are required to file a form with the Texas Ethics Commission by April 30 of each year which reports, among other financial matters, gifts received during the prior calendar year. So, we will have to wait until next year to see what Judge Franklin reports. The instructions for the Personal Financial Statement tell officials to list: “gifts worth more than $250 received by you, your spouse, or a dependent child, other than 1) a gift required to be reported by a lobbyist as a lobby expenditure, 2) a political contribution, or 3) a gift from a person related to you within the second degree by consanguinity or affinity.” Interestingly, all of the gifts Alicia and Doug have listed on their wish lists at these wedding gift sites cost less than $250 (even the Williams Sonoma KitchenAid Stand Mixer Pasta Roller Attachment for $199), so perhaps they will not be reporting any of their wedding gifts with the Texas Ethics Commission after all.
Two other considerations aside from the appearance of impropriety should perhaps have caused Judge Franklin to not be so open in her solicitation of wedding gifts. It would seem that physical security should be considered before a judge, who deals with crazy people in court, posts details of when and where she is honeymooning. Someone with bad intent, perhaps a disgruntled but wealthy litigant, could send the judge a gift and later make a stink when she accepts it. The Texas Penal Code makes some gifts to a judge a crime.
Sec. 36.08. GIFT TO PUBLIC SERVANT BY PERSON SUBJECT TO HIS JURISDICTION.
(e) A public servant who has judicial or administrative authority, who is employed by or in a tribunal having judicial or administrative authority, or who participates in the enforcement of the tribunal’s decision, commits an offense if he solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept any benefit from a person the public servant knows is interested in or likely to become interested in any matter before the public servant or tribunal.
(h) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
Sec. 36.10. NON-APPLICABLE. (a) Sections 36.08 (Gift to Public Servant) and 36.09 (Offering Gift to Public Servant) do not apply to:
(2) a gift or other benefit conferred on account of kinship or a personal, professional, or business relationship independent of the official status of the recipient;
(6) an item with a value of less than $50, excluding cash or a negotiable instrument as described by Section 3.104, Business & Commerce Code;