Judge Carlos Cortez flirted with disaster for years. Until recently, politics and good lawyers helped save him.
Democratic Party power brokers knew of his abusive language, a drunken driving charge and sexual harassment rumors. Still, they helped Cortez raise $1 million in a decade — more campaign cash than any other district judge in Texas.
He spent much of it, a Dallas Morning Newsinvestigation shows, on a legal fight to suppress far more damning allegations: that he used cocaine, paid for sex, choked a woman who accused him of fathering her son, and sexually assaulted a little girl.
Court documents detailing those sworn accusations from two women were released Wednesday after a three-year effort by The News and Texas Lawyer. Those documents, along with other records and interviews, depict a civil court judge who has long been plagued by legal crises of his own making.
Cortez, 44, has no criminal convictions and has denied wrongdoing. He and his lawyers did not respond to numerous interview requests for this report.
“The documents should remain under seal because they place Judge Cortez in a false light,” his lawyers argued in one court filing. In another, they stressed that the criminal allegations related only to his personal life and added: “There is no evidence of influence peddling, or bribery, or misconduct on the bench.”
The documents are part of a defamation lawsuit Cortez filed against one of his former lawyers. Material in the records is “embarrassing and offensive,” the appeals court said, but “Cortez’s interest in privacy did not clearly outweigh the presumption of openness” of judicial proceedings.
Dallas police arrested Cortez on the child sexual assault charge in 1999, when he was a young, little-known lawyer. He was never prosecuted and obtained an order destroying most public records of the case.
Police now say they have nearly finished investigating an allegation that the judge raped a young woman at his Uptown condo in November. A police report says the woman accused Cortez of giving her champagne, after which she became dizzy and could not fight him off.
Cortez was arrested in December on a separate felony charge of choking girlfriend Maggie Strother and leaning her over a 20th-floor balcony rail. Later, in seeking a protective order, the woman said she “felt sexually violated by Carlos” several times but feared coming forward. “Carlos repeatedly warned me that disclosing his abuse and threats would not be heard because of his status and position,” she said.
Cortez cast doubt on that woman’s credibility, and a grand jury declined to indict him. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins — one of many prominent politicians Cortez listed as re-election endorsers — dropped the domestic violence case.
Afterward, at a news conference and in a TV interview, Cortez portrayed himself as the victim of a drunken liar and sloppy cops.
His girlfriend responded by releasing recordings in which Cortez screamed curses at her, threatened to post nude pictures of her online, and promised to buy her marijuana if she’d quit mixing alcohol with a medication.
Big-name backers such as Democratic megadonor Lisa Blue abandoned him after the arrest, and he lost his primary election on March 4. That night, he blamed the defeat on recent news coverage.
He said that when his eight-year bench career ends in January, he’ll return to practicing law and “doing what I love, which is helping people.”
SOURCE: BROOKS EGERTON AND MATTHEW WATKINS
The Dallas Morning News