SCJC Reprimands Former JP Ritter Over Meeting with Murder Suspect, Delayed Reporting

September 13, 2023 - The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has issued a public reprimand of former Justice of the Peace for Precinct 4, Josh Ritter, on August 2, 2023.

A meeting held on June 7-8 of the commission saw the conclusion of a review of allegations against Hon. Josh Ritter, Precinct 4 in Tenaha.

As a result, a list of findings and a conclusion were entered into the record by the commission. Judge Ritter has been a licensed attorney since 2018, and was appointed to the position of Justice of the Peace on March 30, 2022. Ethan Myers was arrested for an alleged murder rumored to have been of a satanic nature, and he was magistrated by Donna Hughes, Justice of the Peace Precinct 1. On November 17, 2022, Myers was appointed attorney Craig Fletcher to represent him.

According to the findings, Judge Ritter went to the Shelby County Jail to arraign two female inmates. While at the jail, Judge Ritter had a personal curiosity about Myers' religion due to the alleged rumors concerning Myers. As a result, Judge Ritter decided he wanted to speak to Myers.

As a Justice of the Peace for Shelby County, Judge Ritter would have been in possession of a jail roster indicating who was housed in the jail and the name of their attorney. The commission reprimand states Judge Ritter didn’t look at the jail roster previous to meeting with Myers, and could also have looked at his county cell phone which he had left in his vehicle.

The meeting between Judge Ritter and Myers on November 28, 2022, was video recorded; however, those videos do not have audio as they were taken in the processing room of the jail. According to the reprimand, Judge Ritter didn’t read Myers his Miranda Rights, and Myers didn’t waive his right to have his attorney present, or his right to remain silent. Nor did Judge Ritter ask Fletcher for permission to speak with Myers or reach out to him after their meeting. During a hearing, Judge Ritter testified under oath he continued speaking with Myers even after being informed during their conversation that Myers had representation. However, in his sworn response to the Commission's Letter of Inquiry, Judge Ritter stated he terminated the conversation with Myers immediately and refused to engage when Myers attempted to continue the conversation.

Sheriff Kevin Windham contacted District Attorney Karren Price and made her aware of a phone call between Myers and his mother in which Myers told his mother of Judge Ritter asking him questions regarding his religious affiliations. The reprimand states Myers relayed that Judge Ritter asked him if he was a member of a satanist church and if he’d ever been to church at all, and Myers told Judge Ritter he was a member of a church.

Once Price made contact with Judge Ritter, according to the reprimand, Judge Ritter confirmed the allegations were true, that he was aware Myers had an attorney, but he did not make contact with Fletcher.

Price gave Judge Ritter until 4:30pm on the day she contacted him to tender his resignation or she would file a petition for his removal from office the following day. Judge Ritter contacted Price and informed her he didn’t know what he did wrong. Price filed a petition on November 30, 2022, he was served with a citation. Judge LeAnn K. Rafferty, 123rd Judicial District Judge, signed a temporary order suspending Judge Ritter from office on December 1, 2022.

A show cause hearing was held on December 16, 2022, in Judge Rafferty’s courtroom regarding Judge Ritter’s temporary suspension and testimony of eight witnesses was heard, including that of DA Price and Judge Ritter.

During the show cause hearing, County Treasurer Ann Blackwell testified to the requirements of county officers that they must adhere to regarding county money which is required to be deposited by the county treasurer under Section 113.022 of the Local Government Code. Blackwell testified Judge Ritter did not complete his reporting on time, including some of the reporting being over 30 days late. The reprimand further states, Blackwell testified when reports were received from Judge Ritter, some were incomplete and/or incorrect.

Judge Rafftery suspended Judge Ritter from the Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 office at the conclusion of the hearing and appointed Tracy Broadway, Justice of the Peace Precinct 5, to temporarily fulfill the duties of Judge Ritter.

Judge Ritter did file a complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Lufkin Division, against District Attorney Karren Price and Shelby County Attorney John Price for libel and slander and in violation of his 14th amendment rights. The case was dismissed by request of the plaintiff without prejudice on April 10, 2023.

Judge Ritter resigned from the Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 office in March 2023.

The reprimand concludes, that based upon the record before it and the factual findings recited above, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has determined that the Honorable Joshua Ritter, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 4 of Tenaha, Shelby County, Texas, should be publicly reprimanded for: (1) failing to comply with the law nor maintain professional competence in the law when he questioned Myers, a defendant, without his attorney present or contacting Myer's attorney for permission to speak with Myers either before or after his conversation with Myers, and (2) failing to comply with his reporting requirements in Texas Local Government Code § 113.022 and 114.044, in violation of Canons 2A and 3B(2) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. Judge Ritter's failures in the foregoing respects constituted willful and/or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties and that cast public discredit on the judiciary or the administration of justice, in violation of Article V, Section 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution.

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