No, No, Annette!
In her four years as a family court judge in Harris County, 48-year-old Republican Annette Galik has presided over a stream of divorce and child-custody cases in which spouses have alleged infidelity and adultery by their partners as reasons to receive favorable cash and property settlements as well as control of their offspring.
Now, as she is running for re-election against Democratic family law attorney Bill Connolly, anonymous sources have circulated videotapes and tapes of phone messages and phone conversations documenting Galik's continuing, not-so-subtle affair with 54-year-old Dr. Mohammad Athari, a married family man.
Although the phone conversations are the most explicit, videotapes taken this summer by an unknown camera operator show the judge and Athari nuzzling and kissing in a parking lot outside a Galleria-area store and in an undisclosed sidewalk location at nighttime.
In the Clinton-Lewinsky era, in which personal lives and political fates seem hopelessly intertwined, is Galik's outside-the-courtroom behavior relevant to her position as a judge -- one who determines the fate of ordinary citizens who have engaged in similar behavior? She doesn't think so, but some courthouse observers disagree.
The judge refuses to discuss her relationship with Athari, a contributor to her campaign and a part-owner of the Magic Island club on the Southwest Freeway, where Galik has staged a campaign party. (One Galik supporter who is pro-Israel refused to attend the event after visiting Magic Island and spotting a Yasir Arafat portrait in a club office.)
Galik says her personal life is private, and she will only discuss her record and activities as 245th District judge. Athari did not return an Insider phone inquiry concerning his relationship with Galik.
Galik has pressed Athari to leave his wife and children after she wins re-election. According to sources, Athari and the judge slipped out of town together for a weekend getaway to Seattle in April and an eight-day European jaunt to Milan, Italy, and Monte Carlo in May. There is speculation that the leaker of the material linking Athari and Galik is close to the Athari family and wants the judge to break off the relationshp and for Athari to keep his marriage and family intact.
Although the two have previously been linked in print as social acquaintances, Athari apparently disguised his relationship with Galik by introducing her to his wife as a family friend and confidante. According to sources, the pair hoped to keep the relationship under wraps until after her election for a second four-year term. If she is re-elected, his divorce proceedings might involve Galik and embarrass her, but would not endanger her judgeship.
Some of those familiar with the two say they have carried on their relationship during morning hours, before Galik gets to court; her morning docket during the past year began at 10 a.m., an hour later than most judges begin their day. According to sources, the pair often meets at Athari's Galleria-area office or Galik's home in the afternoon, perhaps explaining the unusual number of days that Galik's court required the services of a visiting judge. By July, Galik and Athari recognized the danger of having their affair exposed, and have been far more circumspect during the last several months, sources said.
Though Galik, like President Bill Clinton, insists her personal life is nobody's business but her own, a Republican lawyer familiar with the workings of her court begs to disagree.
"How are you going to be able to be objective in a matter regarding the implications of adultery in a child-custody suit or the implications of adultery in the division of property?" asks the attorney.
"How can she do this objectively when she is alleged to be participating in similar conduct? If you're a cuckolded husband standing there saying, 'How dare that whore go off and fuck somebody while she was married to me,' how is [Galik] going to respond to that if she is participating in the conduct that is described? If this turns out to be true, it goes to the core of her ability to make good, sound rulings."
The attorney pauses. "What you are doing when you vote for these judges is voting for their judgment."
Galik refused to discuss the suggestion that personal involvement in adultery might conflict with her own ability to be objective in cases involving infidelity.
Her attorney and campaign supporter, Jim Evans, was quick to draw a parallel between the President and the judge when told that this story would include his client's relationship with a married man.
"Ah, so there are no more private lives, contrary to what we hear about Bill Clinton," exclaimed Evans, a self-proclaimed former college radical in the '60s who has now seen the conservative light. "Private lives are the issue."
Just as Bill and Hillary Clinton blamed the revelation of his affair with Monica Lewinsky on "a vast right-wing conspiracy," so Evans quickly pointed his finger at local Democrats for spreading information about Galik's affair with Athari.
"We know that Connolly and the Democrats are out pumping crap as fast as they can," says Evans, who claims Galik's GOP primary opponent, Donna Detamore, was a Democratic stalking horse who tried the same tactic and failed. "The more shit she put out on Annette, the worse she did," says Evans, "and Annette beat the hell out of her. I predict the same thing will happen with Connolly, whose only hope is to besmirch her name a little bit. But that's okay."
Asked whether she was aware that her conversations with Athari had been taped, Judge Galik aimed her comments at Detamore. "My opponent in the primary ran this complete smear campaign on me. She has circulated every nasty story she can make up, and I don't know why, but I seem to pull negative opponents that go after me personally." Galik figures voters "have proved they are just tired of all this negative campaigning," and will ignore the latest allegations.
Both Detamore and Connolly say they have been aware of the allegations of adultery involving Galik for quite awhile, but have done nothing to spread the information. "The only comment I had in the campaign was about her job performance," responds Detamore. "Never ever commented on the type of campaign she ran, or anything else."
Democratic county chairman Sue Schechter categorically denies that her party had anything to do with videotaping Galik or tapping into phone conversations and stored messages. "We don't have the money, the time or the inclination to go out and investigate people's personal lives."
In fact, Schechter questions whether alleged adultery is a valid campaign issue. "I don't think it's relevant, her having an affair," says the chairman. "It's only relevant if it affects, somehow, what she does on the bench."
Galik's opponent Connolly also denies he has had a role in spreading accounts of her relationship with Athari, though he doesn't rule out their relationship as a valid campaign issue.
"I think it shows a profound lack of personal and professional judgment to do it, if she's not denying it," reasons Connolly. "It just smacks of bad judgment. I don't know whether or not she is making decisions against people based upon facts of their case in contradiction to her own personal behavior. I don't know that she is holding men or women who are having affairs accountable differently than she would hold herself accountable for it."
Still, says Connolly, allegations of an affair, if true, carry the same description that Clinton applied to his affair with Monica: "It has the appearance of being inappropriate to it, and a lot of people would say it's absolutely inappropriate."
Annette Galik has been a most unconventional family law jurist since she was elected as a reform candidate in 1994. She campaigned on a commitment to cleaning out a court system known for its incestuous ties between judges and the lawyers who practiced there. She has been backed consistently by Republican morality crusader Dr. Steven Hotze, who is again endorsing her in the current election.
But after elected to the bench, reformer Galik took thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from lawyers whose firms had cases in her court.
Court observers began questioning Galik's judgment early on, when she accepted free plane tickets, hotel lodging and meals from Hotze to attend a prayer breakfast he sponsored in Austin for the gubernatorial inaugural of George W. Bush.
Just as quickly, Galik had problems in her relationship with fellow family court judges. Shortly after assuming the judgeship in 1995, she was elected by the nine-judge group as their administrative judge. Within months, five of the judges signed a letter asking for her resignation. They claimed that Galik had excluded the other jurists from deliberations about court matters, and had taken actions without consulting them.
Judge Jim Squier told commissioners court Galik had requested the remodeling of several floors of the Family Law Center unilaterally, without consulting fellow judges who worked on those floors. Other judges complained that Galik had lobbied the Legislature to get a change in state law that would allow her to hire a person who lived outside the county as associate judge in her court. In the process, Galik told legislators she had the approval of other judges to lobby for the change, when she had never consulted them. It turned out that Galik had already appointed an out-of-county associate judge, in violation of the existing state law.
In recent years, Galik listed as campaign contributions entertainment provided by casinos, including Player's Island Casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Orleans Casino in Nevada. In early 1997, she reported a $3,000 in-kind contribution of a carpet from Parvizian Oriental Rugs, plus one-week accommodations at private homes in Lake Tahoe and Puerto Vallarta, courtesy of the law firm of Bruman and Baer. Former Metro chairman Billy Burge donated a week's accommodations in Galveston.
Most recently, Democrats filed a series of complaints with the Harris County district attorney alleging Galik took campaign contributions outside the mandated time limits preceding and following elections, accepted corporate contributions, including those from the above-mentioned casinos, and accepted contributions above the legal limits.
"I think the Democratic Party and Sue Schechter should be ashamed of themselves," retorts Galik, who denies she's done anything wrong. "If there was some sloppy bookkeeping, that will be taken care of." As for the corporate contributions from casinos, Galik explains that as just another reporting error, and says the casino contributions actually came from individuals -- even though they were reported as received from the casinos themselves. "This is just another smear," declared the judge.
Schechter is not so willing to accept that explanation. "I think all the complaints are valid and will be proven right in a court of law," says the chairman, who turned material supporting the complaints over to the district attorney.
Assistant District Attorney Bill Taylor, who has been in contact with Schechter, refused to comment on whether he is investigating the judge's alleged campaign violations.
Galik had another campaign setback just last week, when she was one of only four incumbent judges who were outpolled by challengers in the Houston Bar Association poll. Opponent Connolly beat her in a 762726 vote. Galik dismissed that airily by saying she does a good job and does not have much faith in polls.
The Republican attorney who earlier questioned Galik's objectivity on adultery says the doubts about the judge around the courthouse center on her political rather than legal judgment. When she caught heat for her acceptance of Hotze's freebies, the attorney recalls that Galik replied, "I thought that was one of the perks of the office."
While this source says Galik is good at working with litigants and attorneys in her court, he allows that "she probably doesn't have good judgment when it comes to political or [related] implications of her office. If you can divide those two roles, I think you'll understand Annette."
Galik appears to have trouble understanding how the personal side of her life relates to her public office.
The judge got a quickly processed divorce in November 1996 in neighboring Montgomery County to part from her husband of 26 years, Albert R. Galik. "This was an amicable divorce," Judge Galik claimed at the time. "It was an action we felt needed to be taken in our best interests and the interests of our children." Other sources say the parting was not nearly so smooth, and involved allegations her husband lifted phone messages from her answering machine.
Last year Galik requested that District Attorney Johnny Holmes have her office searched for possible phone taps and listening devices. D.A. investigator Kenny Rogers had the office electronically swept and found nothing. Holmes says that Rogers determined that Galik had been negligent in changing the password on her answering machine, and that someone had tapped into it and stolen her phone messages.
The judge's affair with Athari seems to have at least contributed to her divorce, judging by an item that ran in Chronicle gossipist Maxine Mesinger's column nine months before the Galiks' divorce. "Judge Annette Galik celebrated her recent birthday with Magic Island owner Dr. Mohammad Athari and a few friends at (where else?) Magic Island...."
Athari repeatedly warned Galik she had to stop leaving graphic love messages on his phone answering and paging machine because of the danger that her ex-husband could somehow intercept them and their relationship might become public.
"We must be smart simply because of you until November," cautioned Athari. "If that's in [the news]paper then they think you are ... people think she's deceiving, stealing, not a moral person. People would think about these things."
Galik was quick to agree. "Papers would love that kind of an article. We don't need to give them anything."
Athari kept returning to the subject. "You don't want something to happen to [the judgeship]. I know how difficult it is to get this, and you cannot take it for granted."
Toward the end of the discussion, Athari suggested to Galik that perhaps she could be seen around the courthouse with other men, just to draw the hounds off their trail until the election was over.
At that the judge replied, "As long as you don't mind.... I'd rather lose this election than have you think I was out with another man."
Now there's a real lapse in judgment.
Tap into The Insider with your news tips. Give him a call at (713) 280-2483, fax him at (713) 280-2496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.