Woman testifies judge sought relationship in return for favor

Harris County, Texas, Court-at-Law Judge Donald W. Jackson told a 28-year-old woman with a pending drunken driving case that he could get her a lawyer who could win her case if she became interested in him, but that if she did not, she would be convicted, the woman testified Tuesday.

Jackson is on trial for misdemeanor official oppression, accused of propositioning Ariana Venegas in February.

“He said, ‘Let me put it to you bluntly, I’m interested in you. I don’t want a one-night stand, I want a relationship.’ ” Venegas, 28, said on the witness stand.

“He told me that if I wasn’t going to get interested, that I would get convicted because he’s the judge.”

Earlier in the day, jurors heard Jackson tell his side of the story on a tape secretly recorded by an investigator who spoke to the judge in his chambers.

On the tape, Jackson is heard telling an investigator that Venegas approached him in a hallway outside of his courtroom to complain about her court-appointed attorney. He agreed to call her later that day.

His defense lawyers have argued that Jackson’s actions were foolish but not criminal — that he was ensnared by a temptress who used her looks to try to manipulate her way out of a DWI charge.

“I wanted to feel like someone was interested in me. I was flattered by a very young woman who had an agenda,” Jackson told Harris County District Attorney‘s investigator Dan McAnulty.

“I told her I would try to get her a better lawyer, regardless.”

Met at coffee shop

Venegas said the 60-year-old judge asked for her phone number at the bench, called her to meet about “something for her case” then met her at a coffee shop and took her to dinner about a half-mile away.

At dinner, she said Jackson asked about the facts of her drunken driving case and offered to get her a new lawyer. The two left together, and Jackson took Venegas back to her car.

On cross-examination, Jackson’s attorney Lewis Dickson, asked why Venegas asked the judge to call her when she got out of the truck.

“If you were speechless, if you were shocked, why did you say, ‘Call me?’ ” Dickson asked.

Venegas said she told the judge to call her because he said, “Call me” first.

Denies harassment

Dan Lamar Cogdell, who also is representing Jackson, said last week there was no sexual harassment, and there was no deprivation of Venegas’s rights as a defendant — two elements need to prove official oppression.

Venegas said she was nervous when sitting with the judge and scared to offend him.

“I knew something was coming. I knew it wasn’t going to be something for nothing.”

Venegas said Jackson told her the meeting was illegal and not to tell her family or lawyer.

Jackson was suspended by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct after he was indicted in August, but he still draws his $140,000 a year salary.

brian.rogers@chron.com

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