Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rare coverage of Court of Criminal Appeals races out of Longview

Grits has long considered the Longview News-Journal one of if not the best small-town newspaper in the state, so I'm pleased but unsurprised that they're the only media outlet profiling candidates for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Three of the nine seats on the court will be open in next year's elections and multiple candidates have announced for each of them. So far, reporter Glenn Evans has interviewed Jani Jo Wood, Barbara Walther, and W.C. "Bud" Kirkendall. One hopes they'll round out the rest before next spring's primaries. Nobody else seems to be paying attention.

Though more candidates could still jump in before the deadline, of those who've announced so far, Grits presently plans to vote for Judge Bert Richardson out of San Antonio against Walther and Jani Wood from Houston over her opponent, SA appellate prosecutor Kevin Yeary. I don't see how liberty-minded voters could support either of the candidates who've announced for the seat currently held by Judge Cathy Cochran - Kirkendall and Harris County prosecutor David Newell. The less-government crowd still needs a horse in that race.

Though I greatly appreciate their coverage, Grits had some choice words in the comments for Walther's self-serving characterization of her most infamous case - the Great Eldorado Polygamist Roundup. She fibbed that her rulings in that episode were "upheld," but in reality the Third Court of Appeals said she abused her discretion. After her egregious decision to order the seizure of more than 400 kids because of their parents' religious beliefs, I consider Judge Walther a terrible embarrassment. At one point Grits openly wondered if she were the worst judge in Texas. That's still an open question (though there are surely other contenders). Elevating her to the high court would be a disaster and a disgrace

RELATED: Dearth of small-government candidates in Court of Criminal Appeals races, and High-court watching: When the right-hand shoulder becomes the middle of the road.


TEM said...

Thanks for the info. It is usually hard to find out where a lot of these people stand. I will pass it along.

tjohn said...

Walther is the logical choice if you want Keller to have a running mate. God only knows what her Nazi like rulings cost the state's taxpayers.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

By contrast, tjohn, Bert Richardson is a highly respected, experienced and able jurist. The choice in that one is crystal clear. I really wish these down-ballot races got more attention.

Anonymous said...

I must respectfully disagree with the characterization of Judge Walther. I worked for her for four years, and she is a very conscientious balanced judge. Please remember that the whole mess with the Yearning For Zion Ranch was due to bad information given to the judge by Texas Rangers and CPS. I would have a hard time if she had ignored the allegations that 12-14 year old girls were forced into "marriage" with older men. "Religious liberty" doesn't give you a cover to commit statutory rape. While many of the allegations were found to be untrue, the fact was that very young girls were being forced into marriage and were giving birth. Some of the convictions of the YFZ men were unjust because they were not sexual predators, but Warren Jeffs certainly is a sexual predator, and he was the one who was responsible for what was going on at the YFZ Ranch.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Throughout the FLDS fiasco Walther was decidedly unbalanced, anon, according to the many attorneys I spoke to who were appointed ad litem. Nobody said she should ignore allegations of child abuse, but she chose to go squirrel hunting with a Howitzer. And to claim her decisions were "upheld" after the 3rd Court bench-slapped her and said she abused her discretion is just a flat-out misrepresentation. We don't need more of that sort of ends-justify-the-means logic on the CCA.

It should also be mentioned, once she found out about the "bad information given to the judge by Texas Rangers and CPS," she doubled down on her bad decisions instead of walking them back. Even after she knew all about Rozita Swinton she maintained the fiction of the original child abuse report to justify what she'd done. IMO the whole thing smacked of bad faith on her part.

Anonymous said...

As I said, I worked with Judge Walther for four years, so I know her personally and I know how she thinks. She and I didn't always see eye to eye on things, but she gave me plenty of latitude to do good things to help criminal defendants. Characterizing her as a Nazi is totally inappropriate. That's the same kind of rhetorical overkill that the Tea Party uses against B. Obama.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 2:57, is it not possible that having worked for Judge Walther for a number of years might make you just a bit biased?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

My blog post certainly didn't characterize her as a Nazi. Moreover, I have little but disdain for commenters who seem intent on proving Godwin's Law at every opportunity. I consider it both counterproductive and in very bad form.

However, I still think Walther was acting in bad faith in the Great Eldorado Polygamist Roundup. IMO that episode in and of itself should disqualify her for the high court. We'll find out if Republican primary voters agree.

Anonymous said...

Walther has a lot of grit to even put her name out there.This woman never fails to amaze me and I truly hope she is not rewarded for her actions that hurt so many children, Her view of justice is certainly lopsided and she made some of the worst rulings in history. God God! Are we that desperate?

Anonymous said...

Grits, you didn't use the term "Nazi" in your post, but tjohn did ("Nazi like rulings"). And yes, anon 4:41, I am a bit biased for having worked with Judge Walther and gotten to know her. That's why it raised my hackles to see an essentially decent person associated with such a despicable term like "Nazi." If people want to disagree with her rulings, they should. That's why we have an appellate system. As I said, she and I didn't see eye to eye on everything. Personally, I think it was overkill to take out 400 children from the YFZ Ranch, instead of the 50 or so who were immediately at risk to be "spiritually married" and essentially raped (because God and the prophet tell you it's your duty). But as my original post stated I respectfully disagree when people start throwing around loaded terms and conjectures on motivations about people they do not know. This Blog is generally better than that.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:00, I don't condone the Nazi analogy - though until you wrote that, I'd thought it was a reference to Keller; still no excuse. People sometimes say despicable things in comment sections; I'm can only take responsibility for the stuff I wrote myself.

But that's neither here nor there when it comes to evaluating Walther in her Polygamist Roundup case. Your 50 number is still way too generous to her position ("in danger of" was the fudge phrase - Texas doesn't have a pre-crime division like in Minority Report). The actual number proven to have been abused in that fashion was much lower; I'm not sure it rose from the single digits out of the 432 who she ordered seized (if memory serves - I haven't doublechecked the numbers). The Third Court would have reversed her on 50 for the same reason they did the 400+ ... the parents' religious views in and of themselves aren't grounds for prosecution or seizing their kids.

Warren Jeffs is a dangerous nutjob and if this case had been focused on him and the small number of other, provable abusers, I'd have no complaint whatsoever. It's the shotgun approach I've got a BIG problem with and she did it in both an arrogant and cavalier fashion.

I understand loyalty so I get why her former employees may support Walther. And who knows, maybe she'd surprise me. But based on that episode, she showed both terrible judgment and a rigid unwillingness to admit error (the way she handled the Rozita Swinton situation was abominable). Given that she still is going around telling the media her rulings were "upheld" in the case - a flat-out falsehood - I'm not sanguine she'd suddenly transform into Learned Hand once she took office.

I do appreciate your respectful disagreement. Thanks for engaging on the topic.

Anonymous said...

Please define "Upheld" after reading the Statesman article copied after Walther's quote.

"We ended up being upheld, so that worked out,” she said. “If it doesn’t stand up, you’ve wasted the taxpayers’ money. You’ve put the victim through a terrible ordeal and you’ve perhaps locked up persons who should not be locked up.”

By Chuck Lindell
Austin American-Statesman
May 22, 2008

A Texas agency improperly removed children from a polygamist sect's ranch in West Texas, an Austin appeals court ruled today.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services failed to prove that children at the YFZ Ranch were in danger and needed to be removed from their homes, the Texas Third Court of Appeals ruled.

In addition, the appellate court ruled that District Judge Barbara Walther abused her discretion by failing to return the children after three days of hearings last month.

"Even if one views the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) belief system as creating a danger of sexual abuse by grooming boys to be perpetrators of sexual abuse and raising girls to be victims of sexual abuse as the department contends, there is no evidence that this danger is 'immediate' or 'urgent,' as contemplated" by state law, the court opinion states.

Today's ruling was sought by 38 mothers of the sect, and the ruling directs Walther to remove their children from state custody. That is about 130 of the more than 450 children now in state custody.

The ruling should apply to most of the other children removed from the ranch, said Robert Doggett with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which filed the appeal on the mothers' behalf.

Doggett anticipated lawyers for other affected parents to file motions asking Walther to reconsider their cases in light of the appeals ruling.

"The arguments in the opinon, and the logic of it, is going to apply to the vast majority (of children) out there. This opinion obviously has great weight so it's going to impact all of those custody cases," he said. judge_cps_improperly_removed_f.html

Anonymous said...

Have you interviewed Kevin Yeary or David Newell? That might be a good way to find out where they stand. Mr. Yeary might be more limited government man than you make him out to be. I've worked with him and found him to be a lawyer that seeks justice in his cases- and will endeavor to follow the law and find justice in the cases he works on.

Joseph Ecke said...

I used to be an intern at the DA's office in Bexar County and got to know Yeary pretty well. He's been a prosecutor and a defense attorney, and even worked at the CCA. Interview him.