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Fifth Circuit affirms dismissal of suit against Harris County probate judge
Houston

HOUSTON -  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought against Judge Michael Newman, justice of the Probate Court of Harris County. 

The lawsuit was brought by Sheila Owens Collins, who accused Judge Newman of intentional infliction of emotional distress, intentional and negligent interference with prospective economic advantage, and 14th Amendment violations. 

Court records show that in October 2017 Harris County Probate Court Number 1 presided over a guardianship proceeding relating to the adult Hattie Lester Balfour Owens. Following an investigation and medical examinations, the court determined that Owens was incapacitated. A nonparty judge presided over the proceedings, and appointed a temporary guardian, guardian ad litem, and an attorney ad litem to represent Owens in her opposition to the guardianship. 

On Jan. 1, 2019, Owens passed away at 90. The guardianship case was reassigned to Judge Newman in Probate Court Number 2 on Feb. 6, 2019, court records state. Judge Newman ruled on applications to award attorney’s fees before the guardianship closed in June 2019. Between February 2019 and October 2020, Judge Newman presided over the probate estate of the late Owens.

Court records show that on Feb. 5, 2021, Collins amended her complaint against Judge Newman to assert violations of: the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; Cannons 1 and 2 of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct; and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Collins alleges the attorneys appointed in the probate case conspired with her family members and Judge Newman to hasten Owens’ death and deplete her assets, court records state. Collins further accuses Judge Newman of colluding with the attorneys and her family members by failing to supervise them and ordering the estate to pay fees that she personally believes are excessive.  

Court records show the trial court granted Judge Newman’s motion to dismiss. Collins appealed the decision. 

In his appellate brief, Judge Newman states that not one of Collins’ complaints state a valid legal claim sufficient to overcome his immunity. 

On Dec. 2, the Fifth Circuit found Collins “fails to present any non-frivolous arguments on appeal,” affirming the judgment of the trial court.

Case No. 21-20355