Dallas Judge At Center of Salon Owner Spat Seeks Reelection

Law360 (October 23, 2020, 12:43 PM EDT) -- Dallas County District Court Judge Eric Moyé is vying for a fourth term after a headline-generating year in which he drew criticism from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for jailing a salon owner who opened her business in violation of COVID-19 emergency orders.

Judge Moyé, a Democrat, was publicly chastised by Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, both Republicans, in May for sentencing salon owner Shelley Luther to seven days in jail for violating a restraining order prohibiting her from operating her salon during the public health crisis. Paxton called the decision "another political stunt in Dallas," dragging Judge Moyé into the struggle between Democratic urban areas and the Lone Star State's top Republican officials over how best to combat the pandemic.

Two days after Luther's sentencing, the Texas Supreme Court ordered her release and Abbott eliminated jail time as a punishment for violating his coronavirus-related orders. Luther, who used the press as a springboard to launch her own campaign for a state Senate seat, has since unsuccessfully tried to get Judge Moyé removed from her case.

The underlying suit against Luther and her business, S&B Hot Mess Enterprises LLC, is still pending in his court and the judge declined to comment on May's chain of events for this story. He referred Law360 to a letter his 11 colleagues in Dallas County sent to Paxton in the wake of the attorney general's comments.

"They noted that comment by any member of the executive branch directed towards a member of the judiciary which suggests particular substantive rulings in an ongoing matter violates the Canons of Ethics which all lawyers swear an oath to uphold," Judge Moyé said in an email. "Such action also threatens the independence of the judiciary itself, and is inappropriate under any circumstances."

Judge Moyé, who was first elected district judge in 2008, is challenged by Ross & Smith PC attorney Jessica Voyce Lewis, who is running as a Republican on a platform of restoring faith in the courts.

Lewis, a bankruptcy and business attorney, told Law360 that judges' worldviews matter.

"The worldview of any judge that we elect or appoint to the bench matters because that worldview will impact what happens in the courtroom," she said in an email. "I believe that I am the better choice for this bench because I am a qualified and experienced lawyer with a worldview that calls me to pursue truth, justice, and reconciliation for all people in Dallas County — no matter their status, sphere of influence, or demographic — and with a history of doing so in service of our communities."

Judge Moyé contends his almost 40-year career and experience as a trial lawyer, on top of his three terms as judge, make him the better choice for Dallas County residents.

Prior to donning a black robe, Judge Moyé started his career at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. He then became a partner at Vial Hamilton Koch & Knox LLP before founding Vincent & Moyé PC, according to his campaign website.

While on the bench, he has earned a reputation for moving cases quickly, he said, leaving him with the lowest number of active cases in the county.

"Litigants and attorneys appearing in the 14th Judicial District Court know that they will get hearings quickly, and the entry of orders immediately after hearings," Judge Moyé said.

Results from a Dallas Bar Association survey in May 2019 show attorneys tend to agree with his claims, with 82% of the respondents rating him as either "acceptable" or "excellent" when it comes to issuing opinions and orders with unnecessary delays. And 81% of respondents gave him the same ratings when it comes to his knowledge of the law.

But Judge Moyé received the worst rating among Dallas County's civil district judges when it came to judicial temperament and his demeanor, according to the survey results. Of the survey's respondents, 64% said his temperament and demeanor "needs improvement."

Lewis was admitted to the Texas Bar in 2010 and started her career as an associate at Baker Botts LLP. She spent about two years as an attorney for the nonprofit Act, Advocates for Community Transformation, representing residents of high-crime neighborhoods before returning to private practice as counsel at Ross & Smith in 2016, according to her campaign website.

She said her experiences have left her well-prepared for hearing the wide variety of cases that come before the 14th District Court. She also touted her affinities in administration and problem solving, which she said will help her increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the court process.

"My concern in protecting the rule of law and promoting an accessible justice system stems from my care for our community, as our community as a whole benefits when justice is administrated with consistency, humility, and respect for each individual in the courtroom," Lewis said.

Judge Moyé earned his undergraduate degree from Southern Methodist University and his law degree from Harvard Law School. Lewis holds an undergraduate degree from East Texas Baptist University and a law degree from the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

--Editing by Rebecca Flanagan.

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