Judge Love Strikes Again

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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 Press detailed 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 Rosenthal had 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.

Neither Kuntz nor Galik testified at the hearing in Warne's court. After Frommer's attorney Tom Conner presented his witnesses, the judge told him no further arguments were necessary. Warne then ruled that on the girl's overnight stays with Kuntz, she must be accompanied by either the family's longtime housekeeper or a nanny approved by Frommer. The judge also required that Kuntz's gun room be kept locked when his daughter visited.

The order also states that when the child is at Kuntz's house, no woman who is romantically involved with Kuntz will be allowed in his home between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. The judge specifically named Galik and Prior when he made his decision in court, but they are not mentioned in the written order. The same strictures apply to Frommer at her house, with the logical exception of her new husband, Pedro Frommer, a Baylor kidney disorder specialist.

Kuntz admitted in court pleadings that different women had been at his house when his daughter was present in the recent past, but claimed there was no inappropriate behavior. According to the filing, he's now involved in a monogamous relationship with Galik "and does not intend for these types of activities to occur again."

Galik spokesman and attorney Jim Evans blamed the court action on a spiteful ex and election-year politics fanned by the judge's opponents.

"Judge Galik is seeing a man who is divorced, and apparently the ex-wife isn't happy about that. There's plenty of politics down at the courthouse, and I'm sure that Judge Warne did what he thought was right." Still, allowed Evans, "the timing of it is interesting."

Republican incumbent Galik will face Democrat Bill Connolly, a family law attorney, in her November re-election bid. Connolly declined to comment on her involvement in the Kuntz case. When Connolly ran against her four years ago, he contended that Galik's personal relationships were a valid campaign issue.

"I think it shows a profound lack of personal and professional judgment," he commented. "It has the appearance of being inappropriate to it, and a lot of people would say it's absolutely inappropriate."

A lawyer familiar with Galik told The Insider at the time of her earlier fling with the doctor that he believed the judge's personal escapades have a direct bearing on her fitness to make fair judgments on couples bringing their own problems into her court for resolution.

"How can she do this objectively when she is alleged to be participating in similar conduct…what you are doing when you vote for these judges is voting for their judgment."

"She's got to be able to go out with somebody," retorts Galik spokesman Evans. "If the public really has that morbid a fascination with her dating life, I would suggest that she only go out with a hermit who's an orphan who has no children. I guess that would be her only alternative, but I don't expect her to do that."

Based on the judge's rather flamboyant track record since taking office, neither does The Insider.

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