- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

CONROE, Texas (AP) - A state judicial conduct commission has publicly reprimanded a Southeast Texas judge who is the sole overseer of Texas’ troubled civil commitment program for violent sex predators.

The Commission on Judicial Conduct made its ruling public Friday after looking into complaints that state District Judge Michael Seiler of Conroe allegedly made comments outside the courtroom that showed a personal bias and prejudice in dealing with the offenders.

Additional judicial training also is ordered for Seiler, who’s also accused of berating and belittling attorneys for sex offenders and openly criticizing a witness.

A reprimand is the strongest sanction, short of moving to suspend or recommend a judge’s removal, within the judicial commission’s authority.

Seiler attorney Tom Watkins said the judge plans to appeal. He called the reprimand unfair and rejected allegations against the Montgomery County judge.

The allegations have led to Seiler’s removal from more than a dozen cases since October. Seven times in six years appeals courts also have ruled that Seiler abused his discretion.

Seiler is the only judge in Texas to handle the jury trials that can sentence violent sex offenders to outpatient programs after they serve their criminal sentences.

Created by the Legislature in 1999, the Texas program was designed to provide outpatient treatment for violent repeat sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences but are viewed to have a behavioral abnormality that leaves them a continuing threat.

In its 15-year history none of the about 350 men ordered to complete the treatment program have done so and been released. Almost half have been sent back to prison for violating rules such as being late for group therapy or failing to recharge ankle monitors correctly.

A bill authored by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, could strip Seiler’s authority. The legislation aims to overhaul the program for violent sex offenders. Whitmire filed one of two complaints with the commission against the judge.

The commission’s reprimand order “confirms why he should not be hearing these cases,” said Whitmire, who chairs the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee. “Whether you like people or not, if you’re a judge, you’ve got to give them a fair hearing and fair access to court process.”

Watkins said he blames lawmakers for setting up the court to be the only one for such cases from the very beginning.

“The real culprit, if there is one, is the state Legislature who passed a system which creates this situation that doesn’t work,” he said. “I think they are going to try to fix it, but I don’t know if it’s going to come out of the Legislature this session or not.”

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