The lingering effects of the lockdown and local judges’ refusal to work more than four- or five-hour days have left Tarrant County’s courts heavily backlogged.
The plight of criminal defendants languishing under costly bond conditions is fairly well known, but multiple watchdogs recently told us that one January fundraiser demonstrates that family courts can be just as unsympathetic to folks waiting to settle child custody agreements.
At issue is an event presented by District Court Judge Kenneth Newell and Associate Judge Kate Stone dubbed “Navigating Family Court Masterclass.” Had the judges not closed their downtown courtroom for a full day during government business hours for the fundraiser, the ticketed class likely would not have caught our attention.
The watchdogs were furious that public officials would use government resources to help the private business Brighter Possibilities raise funds. Based on the event’s flyer, owner Michael Flores provided “tactical training” for professional counselors about the “ins and outs of testifying in family court.”
Photos indicate that the course at 233rd District Court was well attended by attorneys and counselors, who all paid $189 per ticket if they didn’t register early at the $139 rate.
We asked the county for documents or copies of policies that allow outside, private, for-profit groups to book government facilities and were told none existed and to contact the 233rd directly. The clerk there has yet to respond to our query through a type of request known as Rule 12.
The clerk did state via email that Newell denies any wrongdoing related to the January event.
During a brief interview with Flores that, somewhat awkwardly, took place in front of patients in his waiting room, he questioned our media credentials and was generally combative. Flores said Newell scheduled the event and that we should direct questions to the judge.
Newell had already replied, we told Flores, adding that we had specific questions for him. Brighter Possibilities, he said, is one of several counseling services Tarrant County judges can choose from and does not hold undue influence over them. He said all funds from the event were used to pay for his time, and no judges or government officials were paid.
Flores said neither he nor any of his relatives of current employees have ever donated to a Tarrant County judge, but campaign finance disclosures show otherwise.
Michael’s father, Rene Flores, donated $500 to former family court Associate Judge Lori DeAngelis in late 2021. Rene gave $1,000 to current District Judge Beth Poulos’ campaign around the same time. Michael did not respond to follow-up questions about why he falsely said that his relatives do not donate to judges.
Several parents privately confided in us that the service Brighter Possibilities provides to family courts — psychological evaluations — is often misused to sway child custody battles in favor of parents who can pay $1,500 or more to have their ex-spouse undergo the test. The psych evals are often court-ordered, and insurance is generally not accepted.
One Tarrant County father currently seeking reunification with his son in the 325th District Court said the optics of the January event look “terrible.” The influence that Michael has over Tarrant County’s family courts isn’t surprising, said the dad who asked to remain anonymous. “They use [Michael Flores] because Tarrant County is this incestuous threesome among certain judges, lawyers, and Brighter Possibilities, who are all in bed together.”
The father, who does not have access to his 14-year-old son, worries that many parents remain unaware of the influence Brighter Possibilities holds over local judges. The company, he said, is “not a neutral actor. They are for-profit. They are a private entity acting as a quasi-government authority because they are appointed by judges. What they say pretty much goes. People didn’t elect Brighter Possibilities, but that group has been granted all of this authority by judges.”
This story is part of City in Crisis, an ongoing series of reports on unethical behavior and worse by local public leaders, featuring original reporting.
This article has been updated to correct a reference to the 233rd District Court.
Very disappointed in Judge Newell, Judge Stone, Michael Flores, Carol Orth, Kyle Whitaker and Mark Laine. Imagine a litigant in the 233rd that reads this and has Kyle or Mark as opposing council, along with the involvement of Brighter Possibilities. Take it out of the 233rd and the issue remains the same; the appearance of impropriety. This is very similar to the 325th election involving neutral 3rd parties campaigning on behalf of Lori DeAngelis. She was involved in my case and I liked her, just not for the 325th district judge. It however shocked me to see our neutral 3rd parties Melanie Burman and Crystal Baird campaigning for her. There are only 2 reasons why a judge fails to see how this looks to the public. 1. It is due to the way they came up, which primarily has to do with developing personal relationships. We all however know that is not how Newell became a judge. 2. They have been on the bench too long and that is because it naturally changes them. Out of all the judges in TC, I never would have thought Judge Newell would have failed to realize how that looked. I don’t like to see photos of my judges, neutral 3rd parties and opposing council all hanging and having drinks, but that is the norm in Tarrant County. They claim their personal relationship does not affect their working relationship however, we see that it does in case after case after case.
Unlike a previous comment, the fact that Newell and Stone so overtly disregard any semblance of ethical behavior is not a surprise. Both have repeatedly and openly violated State and Federal laws, and even tainted parents in their court. I’ve witnessed both of these judges (in person and online) disregard the law for their own twisted purposes. Time for judges to be removed and disbarred.
This is disgusting that parents and children, many with their futures at stake, have to wait for these corrupt judges and officials to have a good time before their cases are dealt with. All these judges and officials involved need to be disbarred and fired for even planning something like this.
This such an enlightening story. We see it every day where companies are free to add their own margins to our court processes and even to final deals that are made. Today, I want to reach out to you with an urgent call for action. These are pressing issues that needs our full attention and I believe that together we can make a difference.
As we all know, there are countless individuals and communities around the world who are facing immense challenges and hardships every single day. These can range from political oppression, economic inequality, environmental degradation, and social injustice, just to name a few. It’s heartbreaking to see the suffering and pain that so many people are going through, and it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed and powerless in the face of such overwhelming issues.
However, I strongly believe that we can all make a difference by taking small steps towards positive change. One such step is to sign petitions that call for meaningful action and change. Or, sponsor a new bill if you can. Petitions are a powerful way to raise awareness about important issues and to put pressure on decision-makers to take action.
So today, I am asking you to join me in signing a petition that I believe could make a real difference in the lives of people who are suffering right now. By signing this petition, you can help to bring attention to an issue that is important to you and help to make a positive impact in your community and beyond.
I understand that signing a petition may seem like a small act, but please remember that every signature counts. Every person who signs the petition is making a statement that they care about an issue and want to see change happen. And when we come together as a community and raise our voices in unison, we can create a powerful force for change.
So please, take a moment to sign the petition and share it with your friends, family, and social media networks. Let’s work together to make a difference and create a better world for all.
Thank you for your time and your compassion for your constituents impacted here at our online petition.