Judge Mike Engelhart presides over high-profile rape case amidst objections of sheer conflict

Sean Greenwood, Judge Engelhart, and sister to the opposing Counsel, Kelly Greenwood Prather worked on cases together before Judge Engelhart took the bench. Also, up until Judge Engelhart became judge he was a partner at the law firm of Engelhart and Greenwood L.L.P., Houston, TX. His partner at Engelhart and Greenwood L.L.P. was Kelly Greenwood, the sister to the opposing Counsel, Sean Greenwood.

By Nellie OnwuchekwaLagos, Nigeria

LAGOS-NIGERIA – There are major concerns among anti-sexual assault advocates as the trial begins this month in an ongoing controversial assault/rape case regarding a Nigerian resident (Ezenagu v. Olagundoye and Kinghaven Counseling. Cause No.  2016-33668). The presiding Judge Mike Engelhart of the 151st Civil District Court rebuffed a Plaintiff’s motion to recuse himself from the case because of a clear conflict of interest. He received the motion, reviewed it and ruled it in his favor.   

In 2016, a former employee and undocumented immigrant at the time, Ezenagu, Nkeoma Brenda had sued her former employer Olushegun Olagundoye, owner or President of Kinghaven Counseling Group alleging “Assault Battery, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, and Violation of Texas Labor Code/Laws.” (SEE ORIGINAL PETITION >>).  But plaintiff’s narratives which included allegations to unspeakable and repetitive incidents of sexual assault, and forceful performance of sexual acts among others, drew the attention of the media, local and international activists.

Anne Gbenjo, the lead attorney for the Plaintiff insisted that the “integrity of the court  in this case as it appears, it is  highly unlikely that the Judge will rule against people who enjoy affinity or consanguinity with him, such as the Greenwoods.”

In the early stages of this case, Attorneys for the Plaintiff – the Gbenjo Law Group had filed a motion requesting that judge Engelhart recuse himself, alleging multiple allegations of interests with the opposing counsel Sean Greenwood which indeed might impair a fair process. (

Mr. Greenwood representing the defendant,  Mr. Olagundoye in a 15-page response described Plaintiff’s motion to recuse as “groundless and filed in bad faith or for the purposes of harassment.”

But Mr. Greenwood representing the defendant,  Mr. Olagundoye in a 15-page response described Plaintiff’s motion to recuse as “groundless and filed in bad faith or for the purposes of harassment.” (READ FULL RESPONSE >>). Anne Gbenjo, the lead attorney for the Plaintiff insisted that the “integrity of the court  in this case as it appears, it is  highly unlikely that the Judge will rule against people who enjoy affinity or consanguinity with him, such as the Greenwoods.” In his brief ruling, Judge Engelhart denied Plaintiff’s Motion to recuse himself from the case. 

May 13, 2019, Judge Engelhart and guests during his 2020 re-election campaign event at the La Griglia – a downright upscale Italian eatery in the affluent River Oaks vicinity.

The trial for this case resumes this month but  Judge Engelhart continued presiding bothers community activists who we gathered, are planning to show up en masse at the trial. For example,  Magnus Nwaokpala, an international child-trafficking activist who visited our Lagos office late last month said that the trial had been postponed several times making it difficult for his colleagues to secure Visa and tickets to visit Houston. He also confirmed that some of their members who live in Houston are planning to follow up with the trial.  

Whereas a judge might not discuss existing cases, our newsroom is in the process of contacting Judge Engelhart’s office for his reactions about whether his refusal to recuse himself contradicts his judicial values. For instance, in his electioneering bid for his current designation, Judge Engelhart vowed in a campaign mantra,  “A judge should recuse him or herself whenever there is even the appearance of a conflict of interest over the subject matter, parties, or attorney’s involved” – same standards he now contradicts.  Attorneys for the Plaintiff also made this argument in their motion. Just recently, May 13, 2019, Judge Engelhart inaugurated his 2020 re-election campaign with a well-off fundraising event at the La Griglia – a downright upscale Italian eatery in the affluent River Oaks vicinity.

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For information about International Guardian Coverage of  Ezenagu v. Olagundoye and Kinghaven Counseling, please contact our Lagos office >>>

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