Judge resigns on eve of recusal hearing

February 3, 2010 8:29:18 PM PST
A local judge is retiring months after making comments some found offensive. It's a story we first told you about in November. Judge Reagan Helm was supposed to be in court Thursday. The district attorney wanted him recused from any and all domestic violence cases. Instead that hearing was cancelled late Wednesday, shortly after the judge tendered his resignation.

The cases assigned to Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 1 hang are always changing, but now one thing that's been constant here for 15 years is gone.

"I think he ultimately did the right thing," said KTRK Legal Analyst Joel Androphy.

Under fire for berating domestic violence victims, expressing deep-seated bias and trivializing the seriousness of proceedings according to court papers, Judge Helm resigned, effective Wednesday.

In a resignation letter to county commissioners, he cited his 15-year tenure and upcoming 69th birthday, but the move comes less than 24 hours before our legal analyst predicts the allegations would have only gotten uglier for him.

"One would only suspect here that there was more information about the judge that both sides didn't want to have revealed," Androphy said.

It was already bad enough. The district attorney wanted Judge Helm removed from all present family violence cases. That's a total of 74 cases. A recusal hearing was set for Thursday morning. A motion filed in November details why.

In a case involving a man who was about to be deployed to Iraq and accused of beating his girlfriend, the motion says Judge Helm indicated the country needed men like him to fight for their country and asked the prosecutor if she wanted him here attacking women or fighting the enemy abroad.

In another case, according to the motion, Judge Helm asked a woman seeking a protective order against her husband, "'How are you going to pay for groceries without him around?'"

Leticia Manzano of the Houston Area Women's Center calls the allegations egregious.

"That's victim blaming and not supporting the victim," said Manzano.

Those kinds of comments, she says, discourage victims from seeking help. If true, she believes the judge did the right thing for victims.

"This is definitely a good move for victims. We want a judge to be fair and impartial, but we also want them to be educated around the issues of domestic violence," said Manzano.

Judge Helm, a Republican, was elected in 1994. He did not return our call for comment. A substitute judge has already been assigned.