The Texas Judge Who Lost His Mind over a Jury’s “Bizarre” Verdict

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Nov. 21 2013 2:05 PM

The Texas Judge Who Lost His Mind over a Jury’s “Bizarre” Verdict

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A file photo of a gavel.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In August, I brought you the story of four-time “Worst Judge” honoree Amy Salerno, the pride of Franklin County (Ohio) Municipal Court, who allegedly berated a jury after they delivered a verdict she didn’t like. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, the jury is correct. Now it’s 98 percent. You got this wrong,” Salerno reportedly said, after the jury found a defendant in a misdemeanor assault case not guilty. I’m sure that plenty of judges have, at one point or another, wanted to chastise a jury for its stupidity, but Salerno was the only judge I’d ever heard of who actually did it. Well, until now.

Texas Monthly reports on Jerry Ray, a visiting judge in Tarrant County, Texas, who recently presided over what must have seemed to him to be an open-and-shut DWI case. (Texas allows retired judges to be assigned as part-time “visiting” judges in courts across the state.) The defendant had failed an Intoxilyzer test, and, to Judge Ray, his guilt was clear. The jury disagreed, and found the defendant not guilty. According to court transcripts, Ray could not contain his incredulity:

I've been at this such a long time I know better than to get angry. But you just decided to ignore the law and your oath, and you know you did. …
I've been around over 40 years in this profession, tried an awful lot of cases as a defense lawyer, as a prosecutor, and as a judge, and it happens. But this ranks among there as one of the most bizarre verdicts that I've seen. Thank you for your service, and you are excused.
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Well, I guess that’s better than “Thank you for your service, and I will hunt you down like dogs.” Judge Ray also accused the jurors of engaging in jury nullification, which they probably didn’t. (“Jury nullification,” as Texas Monthly’s Dan Solomon notes, is when a jury consciously disregards evidence and/or the applicable laws in order to make some broader social point. The jury in this DWI case probably just didn’t trust the Intoxilyzer results, which is not an unreasonable objection.) And he lectured the lucky defendant on the perils of underage drinking, even though he was 21. The only thing better than a dyspeptic judge is a dyspeptic judge with a shaky grasp on the facts.

While this is all very entertaining, chastising jurors in open court is clearly conduct unbecoming of a judge, even a visiting judge who is getting too old for this shit. Stories like these are noteworthy because they remind us just how much latitude a judge has in his or her courtroom, and how few consequences they face for outlandish behavior. Even after the courtroom outburst that drew national media attention and disapproval from her judicial supervisor, Judge Amy Salerno was re-elected this month with almost 60 percent of the vote. Maybe the public likes it when judges speak their mind.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.

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