By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
One thing Jeannine Barr will not currently do for her husband is pose for a photo with him. "I have my own political career to consider," she explained last week in declining to stand still for a photo op with Gentleman Jim. Her post comes up for election next year.
Barr's comments and gestures cited by the judicial commission allegedly violate portions of the Texas constitution that hold a judge can be removed from office for "willful or persistent conduct that is clearly inconsistent with the proper performance of his duties or casts public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of justice."
The particular incidents include the judge's laughing courtroom instruction to an emissary of defense lawyer Kent Schaffer to tell Schaffer to "go screw himself" for seeking a continuance in a case. Then there was the November day two years ago when Davidson, the chief prosecutor in Barr's court, informed the judge she was going to her office to wait for a jury's verdict. Barr allegedly replied, "You are so nice to look at ... if you leave, all I'll have to look at all afternoon is swinging dicks."
During the time Davidson and her two female colleagues were assigned to Barr's court, the judge referred to them as "the all-babe court" and to Davidson as his "chief babe."
Barr also tried out his hoary "make you come with one finger" joke on Kim Parks at a Christmas party at his home in December 1995. Later at the same get-together, he observed to the purse-carrying Davidson that she must be on her period because "women always carry around their purses when they're on their period."
Davidson and Parks testified at the commission hearing last week that they were not offended by the remarks and simply smiled.
Perhaps Barr's most egregious comment was to Ring on January 24 of last year. She had irritated the judge by deciding to try a sexual abuse case, despite admitted defects in the indictment of the defendant, and by repeatedly asking a witness similar questions after Barr sustained the defense lawyer's objections.
Barr summoned Ring and the defense attorney to his bench and verbally lashed the prosecutor. "You're out of line," the judge snapped. "I feel like coming across the bench and slapping the crap out of you."
In a complaint she later filed with her supervisors, Ring said she felt "extremely threatened" by the remark.
Barr, in an informal meeting with the Commission on Judicial Conduct earlier this year, acknowledged he might have taken a different tack with Ring. Still, he was unwilling to concede that his comment was worthy of disciplinary action, much less a judicial beheading. "I don't believe that admonishment I gave her, outside the hearing of the jury," Barr told the commission, "was such that it should be grounds for some form of complaint."
To District Attorney Holmes, the most offensive bit of Barr-room conduct was the judge's "come with one finger" remark to Ring from his bench on January 11, 1996. "The attorney is subservient to the judge," explains the D.A. "That's why the judge sits on the bench above everybody else. He's the referee. He sets the decorum, the whole demeanor for what goes on in there. You can't fight back with those people."
While Barr's comments to the women are the most inflammatory portion of the judicial commission's bill of particulars, Parnham believes that the jailing of deputy Rendon is the real reason his client's job is hanging in the balance.
The deputies' union is a force in local judicial politics. One courthouse observer recalls that the group targeted Judge Norman Lanford for defeat after the judge threw out a murderer's confession taken by a deputy. The deputies' organization helped recruit prosecutor Caprice Cosper, who unseated Lanford in the 1992 Republican primary.
Parnham claims the union is engaged in an effort "to show judges that they will not be permitted to treat deputies in the same way that any citizen in this community would and should be treated if that citizen disobeys a lawful court order."
Rendon had been one of the first deputies at the scene of a 1995 bank robbery and had collected photos and videotape from bank personnel. Although he had turned over those materials to investigators, he was subpoenaed by a defense lawyer to produce the photos when a suspect in the robbery appeared in Barr's court. Rendon claims that he called a supervisor and told him he did not have the evidence, and was told not to worry about it.
Rendon did not show up in court as directed on December 19, 1995, although he said last week that he contacted the court deputy and was put on call. The deputy testified that Rendon never phoned. In any case, Rendon said he never heard from the court until January 17, 1996, when an angry Barr issued a writ of attachment ordering Rendon to be held in custody, then set the $50,000 bond to make sure the deputy could not bail himself out.
In a display of blunt talk he later came to regret, Barr informed the lawyers for the deputy and Scott Durfee, the counsel to Holmes, that he wanted to hold Rendon overnight to send a message to law officers that they must honor subpoenas from defense lawyers. Barr told the pair he wanted Rendon "to smell the smells" of the jail and refused to set a simple fine, explaining, "I want to be a small asshole, not a big asshole." The judge later explained that he thought a fine would be a harsher penalty than an overnight jail stay. Rendon actually spent the night in an office at the jail and was released the next morning. The incident led to an investigation by the district attorney of Barr's actions.