A state ethics panel issued a "public warning" to a South Texas judge who was suspended from the bench after a years-old video surfaced showing him beating his teenage daughter, but any effect from the warning wasn't immediately clear Thursday.
Aransas County Court at Law Judge William Adams was taken off the job by the Texas Supreme Court last November, and the decision released by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct didn't address the judge's status. The panel does not have authority to remove a judge from office but could recommend to the state Supreme Court that he be removed.
Seana Willing, executive director of the judicial commission, said a move to lift Adams' suspension would have to be made to the state Supreme Court, either by Adams or through a joint motion of the judge and the panel.
"We didn't ask for the suspension," she said, declining to comment further.
Richard Bianchi, the county attorney in Aransas County, called the warning essentially a public reprimand with no other consequences.
"It is clearly the major step forward if his decision is to return to the bench as rapidly as possible," Bianchi said. "This is something he had to have in place."
The Texas Supreme Court suspended Adams with pay Nov. 22, about three weeks after the 7½-minute video was posted online on YouTube by his now-adult daughter. It attracted millions of views and a storm of public outrage.
The secretly recorded video showed Adams using a belt to repeatedly beat hit his then-16-year-old daughter in her bedroom because she illegally downloaded music.
In a four-page warning document signed Tuesday, commission Chair Tom Cunningham said the panel concluded Adams' actions depicted on the video violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and "cast reasonable doubt on his capacity to act impartially as a judge and interfered with the proper performance of his judicial duties."
The commission said because Adams regularly presided over and decided child custody, abuse and family violence cases, "his private conduct did cast public discredit upon the judiciary and the administration of justice."
The panel also criticized Adams for treatment of lawyers in his courtroom that "fell far below the minimum standards of patient, courteous and dignified courtroom demeanor expected of judicial officials."
Adams' lawyer, William Dudley, did not return a call from The Associated Press. Under commission rules, the judge has 30 days to appeal the public sanction to the state Supreme Court.
Following disclosure of the tape, Adams said it "looks worse than it is" and that his daughter posted the clip to get back at him for telling her he would be reducing the amount of financial support he gives her and taking away her Mercedes.
Hillary Adams has said her father regularly beat her for a period of time, that she didn't post the clip to spite her father and that she hoped it forced him to seek help.
Aransas County prosecutors said the statute of limitation had passed and they couldn't bring criminal charges against the judge.
In its investigation of Adams, the commission said 15 attorneys who regularly practiced in his court were interviewed and described him as a good judge, fair and impartial and knowledgeable in the law. Six backed his return to the bench and six thought he no longer could be effective because of the tape. They also said criminal defense attorneys likely would file motions to recuse Adams in their cases if he were to return to the bench.
The commission could have ordered Adams to undergo additional education, issue a private sanction or a public sanction. The severity of public sanction ranges from admonition, to warning, to reprimand. The independent state agency currently has 13 members, six appointed by the state Supreme Court, five by Gov. Rick Perry and two named by the State Bar of Texas.
Since his suspension, Adams' caseload in the county about 150 miles southwest of Houston has been handled by a series of visiting judges. Bianchi said that will continue.
Adams doesn't come up for re-election until 2014.
Earlier this year, the county commissioners voted to cut his 2013 salary by 1.6 percent to $144,000. Other elected county officials received a 2 percent cost-of-living increase.