Attorney Says Judge Denise Collins Unlawfully Detained Her

"OK everyone, say 'unlawful imprisonment'!" A gaggle of attorneys conferred with the detained Irvin (seated) in September.
"OK everyone, say 'unlawful imprisonment'!" A gaggle of attorneys conferred with the detained Irvin (seated) in September.
Courtesy Cheryl Irvin

A Houston criminal defense lawyer says she's filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct alleging that Judge Denise Collins unlawfully detained her as she tried to speak with her client.

Cheryl Irvin says Collins shouted at her after she walked into the 208th District Court to speak with a client who was in the inmate holding area that's accessible from the courtroom. In a statement, Irvin alleges that Collins ordered her "in a [condescending] tone and loud voice" to speak with lawyers representing Irvin's client's co-defendants before speaking with her client.

Irvin writes that she told Collins she first needed to speak with her client, but Collins again ordered her to the jury room, where the other lawyers were waiting. (Collins was elected to the 208th in 1992; Irvin was licensed in 1980).

Collins' tone was "ugly as ugly can get," Irvin tells the Houston Press. "Everybody got quiet in the courtroom."

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Irvin writes that she ultimately proceeded to the holdover area, telling Collins she needed to see her client. That's when, Irvin writes, Collins told her "You go back there, [you're] staying back there."

The attorney says Collins offered to release her if she apologized, but Irvin refused.

Immediately, a gaggle (we checked -- that's the proper nomenclature) of attorneys immediately came to Irvin's aid, including Franklin Bynum, who swore in an affidavit that "My advice to [Irvin], upon hearing her story, was that the judge had no lawful authority to detain her and that we should walk out of the holdover cell together." (Members of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association receive email blasts any time a fellow attorney's in trouble -- it's like a Barrister Bat Signal.)

After a bailiff prevented Irvin from leaving, Bynum "proceeded to the back hallway, where I overheard the judge telling the bailiff that her feelings were hurt and that she just wanted an apology," according to his affidavit.

Bynum also stated that, after asking Collins if she planned to hold a hearing on Irvin's detention, Collins told him, "Sir, there is an entire process involved. You obviously know nothing about the practice of law. Get out of my office."

We would have probably lost patience at that point, pounding our fist on a desk as we shouted about putting the system on trial. But cooler heads prevailed -- Bynum stated that, shortly after that exchange, attorney Mark Bennett "appeared with a motion for a personal bond printed by Sarah Wood of the Public Defender's Office. [Bennett] came to the holdover with a message from the judge: apologize or be subject to a contempt [hearing]."

Irvin was released "minutes later" after she again refused to apologize.

Specifically, Irvin alleges that Collins' actions constituted official oppression.

"She knew she was wrong, but she stood back there and pouted like she was five years old...trying to find some justification for holding me," Irvin says.

Defense attorney Murray Newman, who arrived on the scene with Bynum, says he couldn't believe the situation.

He says Irvin is "like a fixture at the courthouse who's just known because she is so freaking nice it's ridiculous." He also calls her a "a highly respected lawyer. She shows nothing but the utmost of courtesy and respect to everybody that she comes across."

Newman says he was baffled by the whole situation, explaining that Collins "is generally considered a pretty laid-back judge."

But, as he told Irvin, "I'd be less surprised if I found out Mary Poppins got picked up for prostitution than to see you in here."

We reached out to Judge Collins for comment and will update if we hear back. We assume we're more likely to hear from Mary Poppins.

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