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DA Creuzot Declines to Investigate Embattled Judge 

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District Court Judge Amber Givens. | Image from Facebook

Letters sent by counsel for 282nd District Court Judge Amber Givens demand that the criminal defense lawyers who accused her of misconduct either retract their statements or correct them.

“Judge Givens requests Ms. Branan and Ms. Grant correct, clarify, and retract their defamatory statements by publishing a true and correct account of the circumstances surrounding the August 3, 2021 matter,” wrote Angela C. Zambrano, attorney for Givens, in the December 23 letter.

The letter was addressed to Attorneys Deandra M. Grant and Amanda Branan, who filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct accusing Givens of neglecting her judiciary duties by allowing the court coordinator to impersonate her during an online proceeding.

In the letter, Zambrano alleges the events that transpired, which were reported to the press and on social media, were misconstrued.

“On the morning of August 3, 2021, in preparation for the Court’s morning docket, Judge Givens unexpectedly experienced technical difficulties while logging into her Zoom account,” Zambrano wrote in the demand letter. “To avoid delay in handling that morning’s few matters, Judge Givens called her court coordinator, Arceola Warfield, to start the videoconference by using Judge Givens’ login credentials from Ms. Warfield’s computer. Upon doing so, Ms. Warfield informed participants that Judge Givens was experiencing technical difficulties and that Judge Givens would be available by speakerphone.”

The accusers, Branan and Grant, are the president and president-elect of the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (DCDLA).

“We want to see a retraction and we are investigating the claims,” Zambrano added. “There’s a period of time that has to elapse before you instigate litigation for defamation under that statute, but there has been no retraction. So, our client is determining what she wants to do with all of this and has made no decision.”

Givens also hired Nicole Knox, a criminal defense attorney. “I do primarily white-collar crime, but I regularly defend people accused of crimes in high-profile situations who are actually innocent,” Knox told The Dallas Express.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot indicated in emails that he was opening an investigation into the matter.

“When you have an incumbent judge running for reelection and an incumbent district attorney who’s also running for reelection saying he’s opening an investigation, the only conclusion you can make is that he’s opening a criminal investigation and that’s why I’m involved,” Knox said in an interview. “It’s not out of the ordinary for me or my practice to get involved before indictment because once an indictment occurs, which is a very easy thing to achieve, then it’s hard to reverse the documentation of that.”

Regarding an investigation, a representative from Creuzot’s office told The Dallas Express that everyone enjoys the presumption of innocence.

“We do not assume that any person has violated the law,” said Claire Crouch, media and community relations manager with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. “It appears, through what’s been publicized, as though Judge Givens’ difficulties lie with the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. We are not engaged in that. We have nothing to do with it.”

Neither Branan nor Grant responded to requests for comment.

“It’s a total political hit job,” Knox told The Dallas Express. “It’s a political move. These are supporters of her opponents who have made these defamatory statements that are one hundred percent false. I don’t know how they were convinced to make up this story or tell lies to the press but they were. The timing of it could not be clearer. You’re doing it in the middle of a campaign. Early voting starts on February 14.”

Givens’ opponents in the upcoming March 1 primary include Andy Chatham and Theresa Hawthorne. All three are Democrats.

“Andy Chatham is the incumbent who she beat out of office in 2015 because this is her third term for reelection,” Knox said in an interview with The Dallas Express. “The other opponent is Theresa Hawthorne who has been reprimanded by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Ethics twice. One of them was for berating jurors for convicting a serial rapist. The other one involved the defense of her nephew.”

Although Givens is one of a handful of judges in Dallas County who are African-American, president emeritus of the Dallas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association John Gioffredi said the allegations aren’t race-based.

“The complaints against Judge Amber Givens-Davis are solely because of her job performance, which does not dismiss the fact that there may be several racists who delight in trying to bring down a black female judge,” Gioffredi told The Dallas Express. “There are racist lawyers, but the complaints I hear are always based upon her job performance, not her race, and especially how she makes it extremely difficult and time-consuming for criminal defense attorneys to do their jobs. She actually seems to delight in making their jobs difficult!”

A Dallas County bailiff, a sheriff’s deputy, a court reporter, and a court coordinator assigned to the 282nd District Court have since produced sworn witness statements that directly contradict allegations made by Branan and Grant.

“These sworn affidavits are from disinterested parties who were present and witnessed the matter,” Knox added. “All four of them are unified in their conclusions: The claims made against Judge Givens did not happen. These statements were made voluntarily under oath and the witnesses will testify to their statements, if necessary.”

Court Coordinator Arceola Warfield stated in part in her December 15 affidavit, “I connected Judge Givens to the Zoom call by speakerphone. At that time, Judge Givens informed the parties that she accepted their agreed bond reduction, that I would read them the bond conditions, and that she was exiting the call. Prior to reading the bond conditions, I jokingly said to Lisa Jackson, our court reporter, ‘Let’s go on the record.’ This was a joke because I said it after Judge Gibbons told the party she was getting off the call. I recall that several people in attendance on the Zoom call laughed in response.”

Court Reporter Lisa Jackson stated in part in her December 15 affidavit, “In my capacity as court reporter, I only create a court record for proceedings in which Judge Givens presides and/or assigns a judge to act under her authority. On August 3, 2021, at 11:18 AM, I received an email from Kristen Jackson requesting a transcript of what she referred to as a hearing. I was confused by the request because there was no hearing and no record was made. I believe all parties involved knew that there was no record. I informed Kristen Jackson that there was no record for August 3 and that only Judge Givens can make a record.”

Sheriff’s Deputy Kenneth Brame stated in his December 15 affidavit in part, “Based on my day-to-day interactions with Judge Givens and Mrs. Warfield, I am highly familiar with each of their voices. Judge Givens and Mrs. Warfield do not sound alike and their voices were clearly distinct during the call. An attorney inadvertently addressed Mrs. Warfield as Judge Givens. Mrs. Warfield immediately corrected the speaker and identified herself. I recall that Mrs. Warfield said at least twice, ‘This is not Judge Givens. This is Arce, the coordinator.”

Bailiff David Podraza stated in part in his November 29 affidavit, “Arceola Warfield never presented herself as Judge Givens and when she was addressed as Judge, Arceola Warfield quickly corrected and identified herself as Arce. If I remember correctly, it was a very short day, completing the docket before noon.”

Note: This article was updated on January 18 at 10:51 a.m. to include a correction.

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