Judge Suzanne Stovall
You didn’t see Suzanne Stovall’s name on the ballot when you elected judges in Montgomery County, Texas.
Stovall retired ten years ago after 34 years on the bench. Yet, she is still on the bench often dispensing justice as an unelected visiting judge. That means that voters cannot remove her from the bench in the next election, even if they wanted to.
In his appeal pending before the Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont, attorneys for Tarek Maalouf argue that Judge Stovall’s ruling should be reversed based on her conduct and comments during Tarek’s trial. They also argue that Judge Stovall should have recused herself from Tarek’s Motion for a new Trial because her appearance of impartiality could be questioned and she appeared to have a personal bias or prejudice against Tarek Maalouf.
The trouble in Tarek’s case started the very first day. Halfway through opening statements, Judge Stovall and Steve Jackson, the attorney for Tarek’s ex-wife Marissa Maalouf, veered off topic began reminiscing about how long they’d known each other.
Can you imagine the judge in your case reminiscing with your ex’s lawyer and talking about how long they’ve known each other and how close they are – and doing it on the first day of trial before you’ve even called your first witness?
Things didn’t improve on the second day of trial. While discussing which parent should be able to give written consent for the children to get tattoos, it became clear where Judge Stovall stood on Tarek’s tattoos. In an unprompted and bizarre side bar, Judge Stovall expressed her clear discontent with Tarek’s heavily tattooed hands.
Watch Tarek discuss his tattoos and their impact:
Later in the day, Tarek’s lawyer attempted to call the witness accused of causing physical injuries to Tarek’s children – his ex-wife’s former fiancée Timothy Bruxvoort. Judge Stovall refused to permit the witness to testify. Stovall claimed that Bruxvoort didn’t need to testify because he wasn’t “involved” – even though he was accused of causing physical injuries to the very children that the trial was concerning.
"i'm asking for tracy's gun."
Unfortunately, the situation got worse. Judge Stovall’s most stunning and offensive conduct came on the final day of trial.
Judge Stovall indicated that she had heard enough evidence and was prepared to make a ruling in the case. Only two witnesses had testified. Tarek hadn’t testified. Neither had his ex-wife. Judge Stovall had refused to allow Tarek to call Timothy Bruxvoort. It was at this time that Tarek’s attorney advised him to not call any more witnesses and to not put on any additional evidence. Naturally, Tarek began asking questions – simply trying to ensure that he understood what he was agreeing to. Judge Stovall quickly grew impatient with the situation and asked the bailiff for his gun.
It was at this point that Tarek agreed to waive presenting additional evidence and allowing Judge Stovall to make her ruling. This effectively coerced Tarek to concede to what Judge Stovall wanted despite his consistently expressing his confusion and lack of understanding of the agreement. This stopped Tarek from being able to present further testimony and evidence which would have been essential in deciding what was best for Tarek’s children.
Judge Stovall’s frustration with Tarek’s refusal to concede to what she wanted and her bias regarding Tarek’s appearance is inappropriate and frankly, unacceptable conduct for a member of the judiciary. Judge Stovall’s relationship with Mr. Jackson and her actions and comments to Tarek clearly establish that not only was Judge Stovall prejudiced against Tarek, but that she had made her decision in the case before any evidence was even presented.