Strong Convictions

Hard-line leaders such as loopy Stephen Mansfield have taken their agenda to the Court of Criminal Appeals, where legal precedents--not prosecutions--get overturned

After the Texas Lawyer newspaper caught him in that lie, he claimed he had spent years in Houston as a child, until the newspaper caught him in that lie, too.

Mansfield characterized himself during the campaign as a political novice -- until that was also revealed as a lie. He ran for Congress in New Hampshire in 1978 and 1980. And Mansfield ultimately would disclose that he paid a $100 fine for practicing law without a license in Florida in the mid-1980s. He didn't even get his birthplace and birth date right on a Harris County voter affidavit in 1990.

Ironically, the negative publicity may have helped Mansfield defeat Campbell. Voters at least recognized his name, even if they couldn't recall why. He rode to victory with other Republicans in George W. Bush's gubernatorial defeat of incumbent Ann Richards.

"The odds that voters know who they are voting for in Court of Criminal Appeals elections are akin to those of me winning a daytime Emmy," defense attorney Wice says. "You want proof? I have two words: Steve Mansfield."

Less than a month after being sworn in, Mansfield was in the news again. An unknown person filed a complaint that Mansfield was mistreating his three Pomeranians. During his working hours, he kept them inside his little car, which was parked inside a Capitol underground garage. Mansfield put food, water and dog toys in the car for his pets and walked them around the Capitol grounds during his lunch break. A humane society investigator did not file charges, although he recommended Mansfield leave the dogs at home. Even though Mansfield was exonerated, the canine caper reinforced his reputation as a weirdo.

Six months later the State Bar of Texas issued an unprecedented public reprimand against Mansfield for lying during the election. Today Mansfield makes petty excuses and wild analogies to justify what he did.

"Certainly, I did some dumb things during the campaign," he says. "Unlike our president, I'm not blaming society." He then continues to compare himself to the current occupant of the White House.

"I thought I was every bit as qualified for this job as Bill Clinton was for running for president in 1992," he says. "I didn't see a single newspaper ever point out his very meager qualifications, but they sure as heck weren't afraid to take shots at mine. I thought that was unfair."

Mansfield attributes his problems to sloppiness. "I mean, here I was, a political neophyte. I acted before I thought. I certainly wasn't intending to mislead anybody." He says he accepts blame for his actions, then detours by contending that the State Bar reprimand "to some extent was politically motivated by certain people who were upset at the fact I had won." He adds, "Because even though, yes, I had somewhat exaggerated my background, there certainly have been one heck of a lot of candidates for various offices that have done that and have never been treated like I was."

As Mansfield views his world, the legal and political establishment continue to hound him and keep him from rising from his own ashes. He was turned away from a 1990 Republican Party luncheon for statewide elected officials and has yet to garner a speaking invitation to seminars hosted by the State Bar or defense attorney groups.

"I have shown I am a good judge, I am a good worker, and I write good opinions. I'm still shunned, and I don't know what I can do about that," he says.

The court has seen eccentrics before. Retired judge Sam Houston Clinton used to drive an old, beat-up Ford Mustang and wore jeans to work that had holes at the knees.

Clinton, who is retired in Austin and laments to having trouble remembering things these days, says he may have been an eccentric, but "my eccentricities didn't carry on to the kinds of things that Mansfield's done." "He just doesn't belong there on that court," he continues. "What he does when he is not a judge is despicable enough, going out and hustlin' tickets that he wasn't going to use."

Clinton lets out a belly laugh. "Oh, that's funny," he says.

It wasn't so humorous to University of Texas police, who arrested Mansfield for attempting to scalp two tickets before last fall's Texas-Texas A&M football game. The cops took his picture and cited him for criminal trespass, a misdemeanor. UT had given Mansfield the tickets as gifts.

Just as he falls short of dropping to his knees about his lies during the campaign, he makes disingenuous excuses related to the ticket-scalping affair. He emphasizes that the crime is, in his eyes, victimless. He says there are no signs banning ticket selling, and the tickets themselves don't mention scalping.

"So I reasonably felt this was perfectly okay to do. Little did I know there was this unknown rule about it."

But he did know, which makes his justification for his conduct that much more insidious. The reprimand by the Commission on Judicial Conduct states a UT police officer told Mansfield that selling UT football tickets on campus property was prohibited and issued him a written criminal trespass warning. The judge was arrested only after a second officer discovered Mansfield doing exactly what he had been warned not to do a few minutes earlier.

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