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By Sean Pendergast
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It's not often a member of the Harris County judiciary gets to make local legal history, but Family Court Judge Doug Warne just might have done it last month. He issued an order temporarily restraining a fellow family court judge from overnight stays at her oilman boyfriend's River Oaks mansion when the man's daughter is there.
Warne presides over a marathon four-year divorce donnybrook in his 311th District Court, which pits 64-year-old multimillionaire Hal G. Kuntz against his remarried ex-wife Vesta Frommer. The divorce was granted three years ago, but the continuing legal struggle centers on the division of a sizable oil and gas fortune. It's now further complicated by the awkward involvement of Family Court Judge Annette Sanderford Galik, 53, who's romantically linked with Kuntz.
The Kuntz proceeding is similar to cases Galik rules on every week in her own 245th District Court, but since her election to the judiciary she's shown a penchant for getting snared in such personal entanglements herself. Previously, the Houston Pressdetailed Galik's affair with a married doctor, a report spiced by videotapes and taped conversations of the pair that were anonymously provided to The Insider (see "No, No, Annette," October 1, 1998). One highlight Galik left on the physician's answering machine: "I'd rather lose this election than have you think I was out with another man."
Galik's political track record is equally zany. She's filled her campaign coffers with contributions from lawyers who practice in her court, even though she initially ran for the bench as a reform candidate committed to cleaning up the notorious cronyism between family law judges and attorneys. In the past she's had the support of morality crusader Dr. Steven Hotze even as she accepted campaign contributions from out-of-state casinos.
In a sarcastic evaluation of local judges before he was elected to office, District Attorney Chuck Rosenthalhad one lone comment about Galik: She "looks good in blue jeans."
After 26 years of marriage, her own breakup in 1996 was low-key compared to some of those she's been involved in since. That's in part because the Galiks headed to Montgomery County for a relatively quick divorce action (ten weeks in a case that included joint custody arrangements for their two then-teenage children) before a county court jurist. Some family law attorneys believed she was trying to keep it all under wraps by bypassing the courts here -- and because the divorce suit listed Galik only by her given first name of Glenda, rather than Annette.
Galik's relationship with Kuntz had previously caused problems in Warne's court. The case mediator, former judge Ruby Sondock, had to recuse herself two years ago after revealing a conflict of interest. It turned out she was Galik's morning gym workout partner.
The latest legal twist occurred two months ago when Frommer sought an emergency order to impose outside supervision when Kuntz's nine-year-old daughter visited her father. Frommer alleged that during the daughter's overnight stays, Kuntz was hosting three different women at separate times, including another ex-wife, a girlfriend and Judge Galik.
According to testimony from a school counselor and a child psychologist, the girl was allowed to run wild during those overnight stays at Kuntz's Inwood Drive home. A witness said she once locked him out of his bedroom while she and a friend had access to an unlocked gun room containing rifles, a pistol and ammunition.
School counselor Nancy Simpson claimed the girl had become withdrawn and depressed, complaining that her father ignored her in favor of female friends and "they acted silly like kids." The girl had apparently accepted Galik as a stepmother, but became confused when other women started staying over with Kuntz.
Frommer testified that when her daughter returned from one visit with Kuntz and Galik, the words "naughty girl" were scrawled in ink on the child's arms and legs. A teacher of the girl reported that Kuntz had appeared to be intoxicated when he showed up with Galik at a school-sponsored piano recital last year at Houston Baptist University. At one point he walked to a blackboard and scrawled "naughty" while his daughter was preparing to perform in front of an audience of parents and students.
On May 8, Kuntz summoned Houston police to his house in late afternoon after a girlfriend, Victoria Prior, allegedly punched him in the face and bloodied his nose. An hour later, Frommer testified, Kuntz and Galik drove to her home and tried to pick up the daughter. She said Kuntz was obviously intoxicated and slurring his words. When she refused to let the girl leave with them, Frommer claims, Kuntz tried to use Galik to threaten her.
According to the ex-wife, Kuntz stated, "Judge Annette Galik and I are here to pick up my daughter. You're in contempt." Shortly after the incident, Frommer filed for the emergency order in Warne's court.
In a court response, Kuntz dismissed the incident involving the writing on his daughter's legs as inconsequential. As for the piano recital, Kuntz claimed that he was accompanied by Galik, who was prepared to testify he was not intoxicated and behaved appropriately. Likewise, his pleading stated Galik could tell the court that Kuntz wasn't drunk when they came to get the girl from Frommer. The court pleadings do not address the allegations that Kuntz used Galik's judicial status to threaten Frommer with contempt.