An anti-abortion group has sued a Texas judge who ordered a 15-year-old girl to keep living with her grandmother, even though she claimed the woman's convicted sex-offender boyfriend was making aggressive advances and that the couple was trying to force her to terminate a pregnancy.
Six months after the ruling, the sex offender, Edward Clinton Lee, shot and killed the grandmother and sexually assaulted the teen.
The lawsuit filed by The Texas Center for Defense of Life charges retired state District Judge Terrill L. Flenniken with knowingly placing a minor with her grandmother, the teen's legal guardian, despite her living with Lee in Caldwell, east of Austin.
The slain woman was not the teen's biological grandmother, but after she and the paternal grandfather separated, the grandmother was granted joint custody with the girl's mother. The teen lived with the grandmother, who was ordered to inform the mother about any changes to their living conditions. It wasn't immediately clear why the girl didn't live with her mother.
Stephen Casey, chief counsel for the Texas Center for Defense of Life, told a small group of reporters on the steps of the Texas Capitol on Wednesday that the case originally hinged on the victim's becoming pregnant by her 15-year-old boyfriend. She said she didn't want to have an abortion but was being pressured to by her grandmother and Lee.
The anti-abortion group is suing for unspecified actual and punitive monetary damages as well as attorneys' fees and court costs, according to the lawsuit. Casey's group also is asking state Attorney General Greg Abbott -- a Republican now running for governor -- to investigate possible criminal charges and also has registered grievances with the State Bar of Texas and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Flenniken retired in December. Reached by phone at his law office, he said, "I'm not going to make any comment that has anything to do with the case or any potential lawsuit." He added: "As a judge, it would be improper."
According to court papers, the grandmother violated her joint custody agreement when she cut off contact with the girl's mother and moved in with the registered sex offender without notifying her. The mother only learned of the girl's location and condition when the girl called her to try to stop the abortion.
Further named in the suit are the teen's former English teacher and two school administrators, all of whom were indicted this summer on charges they failed to report it when the teen suggested she had been the victim of sexual advances by Lee.
Casey said that after Flenniken's February 2012 decision, the teen underwent an abortion in Austin. That June, Lee, now 53, shot and killed his girlfriend and sexually assaulted the teen. The Associated Press is not identifying the slain women so as not to reveal the identity of the underage rape victim.
After hours, the teen escaped the home and alerted police she had witnessed her grandmother's slaying. Lee, who had already served nearly a decade in prison on a previous indecency conviction involving a 13-year-old girl, later plead guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
The Texas Center for Defense of Life originally represented the minor before Flenniken in the 21st District Court of Burleson County, when she claimed her grandmother and Lee were trying to make her undergo an abortion. Also pressing for an abortion was the teen's biological grandfather, who lived elsewhere.
The center represented the teen's biological mother, who lives in Georgia. They argued that placing her with her mom, or even in temporary state custody, would have been better than returning her to her current home. They also said that even though her grandfather wanted the teen to undergo an abortion, sending her to live with him would also have been an improvement.
"He was, in this case, the last line of defense," Casey said of Flenniken.
During those proceedings, the teen held a private meeting with Flenniken in his chambers and described pushing a dresser in front of her bedroom door to keep Lee from entering while she slept. She said she wore street clothes to bed to avoid undressing in front of him, and that when she showered he would barge into the bathroom.
The teen also said Lee once offered her $20 while on a hunting trip to strip for him.
Casey said the attorneys only became aware of what the teen told the judge months later, eventually prompting the lawsuit.
Asked if the judge had a legal obligation to return the teen to her grandmother, Casey responded: "Not in the face of these facts."
"It's a no-brainer," he said, "She needed to be moved out of that house."
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct said it opens about 1,200 cases a year against judges and imposes sanctions in about 50 to 75 of them.