The Insider

It was around the same time that Ring filed her complaint with superiors over Barr's comments. Parnham believes Ring was trying to help the district attorney build a criminal case against Barr -- a notion Holmes finds laughable.

Holmes claims there's no connection between the investigation of Barr for official oppression of the deputy and the complaints of his prosecutors. In fact, he says he never believed there was much of a criminal case to be made against Barr for jailing Rendon.

"I was not impressed at all with what Barr did to the deputy as a criminal matter," says Holmes. "It wasn't one of those things that had all that much pizzazz. But the deputies' union, they were pushing, [asking], 'When are we going to take this to the grand jury?' I wasn't expecting an indictment. I was trying to get the deputies' union and the lawyer repre-sentative off my back about him committing a crime."

The grand jury chose not to indict Barr, and Holmes and the deputies' union then filed their complaints with the judicial conduct commission. After an informal session with Barr in Austin in January, the commission voted to conduct the current hearing.

This isn't the first time the commission has scrutinized Barr's actions. He had previously been privately reprimanded for using "profane" and "vulgar" language to young probationers in his court. In a 1994 letter to the commission, Barr explained, "It is my view that speaking to [probationers] in their own vernacular serves to get and keep their attention."

Still, the possibility of Barr's ouster has surprised many courthouse regulars, for whom rough language and profanity are part of the daily routine. Holmes himself says he didn't think much would come of it when he filed his complaint with the commission on behalf of his employees, but he figures the commission is privy to other damaging information on Barr which has influenced its current proceeding against the judge. Parnham says he's unaware of other complaints against Barr.

Defense lawyer David Jones, a Democratic activist who has tried cases in Barr's court and has found him to be "fair," points out that if foul mouths were grounds for disqualifying Harris County judges, there would be plenty of Help Wanted signs at the various courts.

"People say outrageous things around that courthouse all day long," says Jones. "It's just a weird place full of weirdoes saying strange things." And with each partisan tide washing in judges with not much more in the way of qualifications than a bar card and the money to cover a filing fee, Jones rates Barr as one of the better criminal district judges.

Judge Jim Wallace occasionally popped up in the audience to monitor the Barr hear-ing last week, saying he and other judges are concerned that the complaints against Barr may presage similar attacks on other jurists.

That's a notion Jones seconds: "It's going to open up the floodgates if they're not careful. You go after one judge for these kinds of comments and a lot of people are going to get it in their minds that, 'Hey, it might be easy to take a few other of these suckers out.' "

In Barr's case, the damage may already be done. Even if he manages to escape judicial execution at the hands of the commission, somebody will no doubt be reminding voters of all his favorite one-liners when his job comes up for election in 2000.

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