The Bench Warmer

After two defeats by voters, will Bob Burdette finally lose his black robe to a DWI?

"Obviously Bob's got some problems," says the judge. "I hope he gets them solved. If he addresses them, and I believe he will, I think he can offer a service to this community."

In recent years several Houston judges have been booted from the bench by the Texas Judicial Conduct Commission for behavior unbecoming a jurist. Judges Jim Barr and William "Bill" Bell lost their benches for violating state judicial strictures, including the one mandating that "a judge shall comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."

In Barr's case, district attorney Holmes took the lead in filing a complaint with the commission alleging the judge had made obscene comments to two female prosecutors and exceeded his authority in ordering a sheriff's deputy jailed for failing to make a court date.

In a pickle: Judge Burdette poses for the HPD camera.
In a pickle: Judge Burdette poses for the HPD camera.

District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal says he will forward Burdette's DWI case record to the commission, but hasn't decided if he will take a position about Burdette's courthouse privileges. If Burdette pleads out and gets probation, Rosenthal figures he should face at minimum the same restrictions as a young prosecutor on his staff, who is not allowed to handle substance abuse cases while he faces a DWI charge.

Rosenthal, like Holmes, thinks defeated judges such as Burdette have no business trying cases. But even if he is allowed to return, the D.A. opines, "it would be difficult to have [Burdette] sit on any cases that involve allegations of alcohol or drug abuse."

It's a position the woman who bore the brunt of the judge's irresponsibility heartily endorses.

"If it's a DWI case or an injury case," comments Simon, "I don't see how he could sit up there and tell somebody you've got to do something more than I did."

Target Audience

Houston governmental affairs consultant Dave Walden is used to dealing with hardball clients like former mayor Bob Lanier, the Astros' Drayton McLane and the Rockets' Les Alexander. But two focus groups he convened recently for Texas Exile, an initiative to reduce gun violence, brought him face-to-face with tough guys of a very different caliber.

Assembled at a westside office building were groups of 12 to 15 ex-convicts who did time in state prison for murder, armed robbery and various other acts of criminal mayhem. Texas Exile is a partnership of federal, state and local authorities that funds extra federal prosecutors to crack down on felons who illegally possess firearms. Walden is designing a prevention campaign aimed at convincing former prisoners not to carry guns, and the idea was to pick criminal brains for the best strategies.

"Ex-cons are just like children," says Walden of his experience. "They need a steady drip of advertising reminding them that if they ever come into possession of a gun or bullet, they're going back to jail."

So how does one reach this rather specialized audience, and how should the message read? From the focus groups, Walden gathered the following insights:

Remind the ex-con of the least-liked aspects of prison, which include cold steel toilet seats on frigid mornings, ceaseless noise, lousy food, a lack of keys to anything and hard work in the fields.

To reach the former inmates, don't waste money on television advertising around news programs or in the evening. "These guys all watch daytime TV, soap operas, Jerry Springer, crap like that," says Walden. Don't bother with late-night TV, he advises, because "they ain't in the fuckin' house at night. They're out wandering around."

And forget about newspaper or magazine ads. "They do read Hustler, but we don't have enough money for that," notes Walden. Instead, he wants to use the ex-con's favorite literary genre, comic books, to reach them.

Since prisoners are well versed in the pantheon of action heroes, Walden wants to give every inmate leaving a Texas prison a comic book featuring a new protagonist, Ex-Con Man.

The enthusiastic consultant offers a sample plotline: "Ex-Con Man is getting out of prison, and he's doing great, but just like Superman reacts to kryptonite, when a gun gets around this guy, his pecker shrivels up!"

Or something like that.

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