A Broken Trust

Denton County judge fails another ethics test

“A judge shall not allow any relationship to influence judicial conduct or judgment. A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.”

– Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 2, Section B

In eight lawyerly canons, the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct outlines basic ethical guidelines for our state’s judges, from justices of the peace to justices on our highest courts.

That includes Denton County Probate Court Judge Don Windle, although he apparently doesn’t see it that way. His disregard of these standards is breathtaking.

As Dallas Morning News reporters Kevin Krause and Brandon Formby revealed, the issue is Judge Windle’s handling of the elderly Veatch sisters, Mildred Erle and Helen, and their joint estate, worth nearly $825,000.

Probate courts typically preside over cases involving those unable to care for themselves and their estates, mental health and custodial issues and guardianships.

Told that neither Veatch sister was able to manage their assets, Judge Windle placed them under guardianships in his court, moved them to a nursing home and restricted access to them.

And that might have been fine, except for this: When Mildred Erle followed her sister into death last summer at age 95, her will – rewritten less than a year into her guardianship – left a large amount of the estate to Judge Windle, his court or people he assigned to manage the estate. Among the new beneficiaries? The judge’s former wife and his personal accountant. Legal? Possibly. Ethical? You be the judge.

Judge Windle and other principals reached for comment said they were shocked to find their names in the will and disavowed any claim to the money.

And that almost would be fine, except that Judge Windle, after a 10-month investigation, received a public reprimand two months ago from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, its most severe sanction.

Its report said he compromised his impartiality by using his office to advance the interests of one of his former investigators and a business partner.

That former investigator, Beverly McClure, is the woman Judge Windle married and divorced, the ex-wife who turns up as a beneficiary in the Veatch case.

How does it smell now?

Our sister newspaper, the Denton Record-Chronicle, has called for Judge Windle to resign, and we find it hard to disagree.

If he won’t, we hope Denton County voters – the people who depend on his court in extraordinarily sensitive matters – will remember his unique brand of ethics if he ever runs for office again.

The Dallas Morning News, Sunday, November 26, 2006

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~ by anick on November 26, 2006.

One Response to “A Broken Trust”

  1. This is not the only story. My family has the real nightmare story and the way that all the crooks have taken my in-laws families lives, money, homestead, and has left the rest of the family homeless. All supposebly for the best interest of the wards. Trust me they all said that we were a danger and were stealling from my in-laws, but they are all the ones with over $250,000.00 cash and land in their pockets. That is all I can say for now just incase we get our day with real justice.

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