A Texas family court judge caught on video striking his 16-year-old daughter with a belt has been allowed to return to the bench, but will no longer preside over child abuse cases, court officials said.
Judge William Adams returned to the bench Wednesday in Aransas County after a nearly one-year suspension with pay while the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct investigated his tenure as a judge and the video, which went viral on the Internet last year.
In the 7-1/2-minute video, which was posted on YouTube by his daughter, Hillary, Adams is seen hitting the then-16-year-old girl with a belt at least 17 times in the legs while she wailed in pain. He was punishing her for illegally downloading songs from the Internet. The incident took place in 2004, but she did not post the video online until last November when she was 23 and living on her own.
Adams argued afterward that his daughter posted the video because he cut her off financially. His ex-wife, Hallie, criticized him in national media interviews.
The video had more tangible implications for Adams back in Texas.
The video “cast reasonable doubt on his capacity to act impartially as a judge and interfered with the proper performance of his duties,” the commission concluded in its findings.
The panel interviewed 17 people, including 15 attorneys. About half the attorneys supported the judge’s return to the bench. The other said his reputation for impartiality was permanently tarnished and the video could be used as grounds by defense attorneys to seek appeals.
Highlighting those concerns, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services requested that Adams no longer preside over any cases involving child violence, said Aransas County Attorney Richard Bianchi.
Aransas County District Clerk Pam Heard said Adams’ reputation on the bench is above reproach.
He has fewer cases appealed than almost any other judge in the district, and the system has checks in place in case a judge wields too much bias in a case.
“It’s important for people to remember that a judge walks up there with an open mind,” Heard told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. “They’re required to follow the law. People are going to know. The judge knows people here. It doesn’t matter. He has to make a ruling based on the evidence of the law.”
The Internet was abuzz Wednesday with people calling for Adams’ ouster. Adams is up for reelection in 2014. He’s been on the bench since 2001.
“If you’re removed for some reason in the law, that’s one situation,” Heard said. “That did not happen in this case. That matter is settled. When you’re elected, you finish your term. You can run for reelection or not. That’s how the system works. If someone doesn’t like the law, then their options are to get involved and change the law.”
In the short term, county officials have installed additional sheriff’s deputies in Adams’ courtroom.
Heard said when the video of him hitting his daughter last year went viral, county officers were flooded with letters and phone calls. People thought she was responsible for not prosecuting Adams for child abuse.
“We had death threats,” she said. “It was scary.”