Where's Judge Kelli Johnson? High-profile justice hasn't sat on the bench for weeks

Jessica Willey Image
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
High-profile Harris Co. judge hasn't sat on the bench for weeks
Judge Kelli Johnson hasn't presided over the 178th District Court since May 1. Houston police said the justice had a crisis intervention response.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- One of Harris County's longest-serving current judges has not been to the courthouse in weeks.

ABC13 has learned that Judge Kelli Johnson has been absent from the 178th District Court since May 1.

The high-profile judge has recently presided over some of the most significant trials and had another one on the docket before a reset.

Amanda Cain, communications director for the Administrative Office of the District Courts, initially told ABC13, "No comment," when asked about the judge's absence. Nine days later, though, she said, "Judge Johnson is out for personal matters."

ABC13 spoke to people who work in the courthouse. One described Johnson's manic behavior and said, "She's a danger to herself and to the community."

A Houston police report from May 4 described Johnson's involvement in an incident near her home. An officer cited a "disturbance/CIT," a police acronym for crisis intervention.

"At the end of the day, one of the responsibilities of the judge is to be able to serve," Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said.

Whatever is happening, Jones said the people of Harris County are owed more of an explanation or context.

"We already know our courts in Harris County are severely overburdened, and so, any missing judge means cases effectively stop in her court," Jones said. "The end result is justice delayed for both the victim and those accused of crimes."

A visiting judge has handled some court matters, and last week, retired Judge Jim Wallace presided over a trial.

Judge Susan Brown, the administrative judge for the region, would not say whether there is a timetable for Johnson's return.

Voters elected Johnson to the bench in 2016. Last month, she found Brian Coulter guilty of killing his girlfriend's young son. She was also the judge in all three of the A.J. Armstrong capital murder trials.

SEE MORE: Judge takes 20 minutes to convict man in 8-year-old's 'horrific' beating death from 2020

Brian Coulter is guilty of beating 8-year-old Kendrick Lee to death and leaving his body to decompose in an apartment where the boy's brothers lived.

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