If nothing else, the great state of Texas has made a name for itself with the colorful characters who inhabit the criminal justice system -- and we ain't talking about the criminals. If you want to find the real eccentrics, you have to look to those licensed by the State Bar of Texas or those holding a gavel in their hands.
Take, for example, criminal defense lawyer Ben Durant, who once dressed up as Santa Claus to make the point that donning a red cap and coat no more made him St. Nick than putting on a cap and jacket made his client the bandit in question. Then there was veteran defense attorney Jim Skelton, who was disbarred "by default" for failure to respond to an official allegation of client neglect. Consider also the Honorable Judge Bill Hatten, known for the harsh barbs he lofts on those unfortunates brought before him. What all these people have in common is that they will take part in a satirical parody of the Texas legal system known as The Wild Bill Hatten Criminal Justice Follies.
"I'm just supposed to let [loose] my stupidity, so they can use me as a whipping post," Hatten says of his part in the show. Hatten, who is retired but still presides over cases part-time, confesses to having no previous acting experience. Durant will get to turn the tables on Hatten without worrying about contempt-of-court charges: The attorney will make fun of the paltry sum that appointed lawyers make in the judge's court. Then attorney and fellow WWII veteran Walter Boyd apparently "screams and hollers and makes a damn fool of himself" as he does his own Hatten impersonation.
The Wild Bill Hatten Criminal Justice Follies
Main Street Theater -- Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose Boulevard
8 p.m. Thursday, August 30; $15. 713-622-3505
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Hatten won't be the only judge facing harsh sentencing. Judgment will also befall Mike McSpadden (who advocates castrating willing pedophiles), Janice Law (the lowest-ranked misdemeanor judge, according to the Houston Bar Association) and Ted Poe (who made a name for himself with his "creative" sentencing, including forcing a thief to hold a sign that read, "I stole from this store").
The follies used to be an annual event, but it stopped several years ago. The Houston Bar does a similar gig, but the difference is, according to organizer Boyd, "we name names." You would think targeting such a litigious bunch would create problems, but so far they've been sued only once by an angry lawyer lampooned in the play.
Hatten himself is unrepentant about his bench style; he feels his behavior has been exaggerated by defense lawyers who know their clients won't serve time if the judge is portrayed as hostile. Besides, "these people need to get shook up," Hatten says. "You'd be surprised how many parents will have their lawyer come around their back and ask you to do it, then after you do it, you get criticized. No, I have no problem with either Poe or McSpadden. Anything that's going to get someone's attention, you've got to do it."
No doubt this show falls into that category.