Sunday, October 30, 2016


 Defined as an "idea or suggestion wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate," absurd used in a sentence aptly describes the alternatives to replace Judge Cheryl Johnson on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA), Place 5.

A story from Peggy Fikac at the San Antonio Express-News gives the best insight I have read this cycle (thanks for the link, Grits for Breakfast) as it pertains to the CCA. The larger picture painted by the story is the seemingly endless debate on partisan election of judges to the courts of last resort in Texas, and whether the CCA and the Supreme Court of Texas should be merged. Our current situation is placed in stark relief by contrasting Judge Johnson's qualifications against the glimpse Ms. Fikac and The Express-News give into the two candidates vying to replace her.

First, the bio from the CCA website for Judge Johnson:
Judge Cheryl Johnson was elected to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on November 3, 1998.
Judge Johnson was born September 30, 1946. She received her high school diploma from Whetstone High School, Columbus, Ohio, in 1964. She earned her B.S. in Chemistry from Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, in 1968, her M.S. in Inorganic Crystallography from the University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois, in 1970 and her J.D. with high distinction from The John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois, in 1983. From 1983 to 1984, she clerked for Judge Sam Johnson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. She was in private solo practice in Austin, Texas, from 1984 until 1998.
Judge Johnson is board-certified as a specialist in criminal law and is licensed by the State of Texas, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.
Judge Johnson is currently a member of the State Bar of Texas and the College of the State Bar of Texas. She was formerly a member of the Texas Criminal Defense Attorneys Association and the Austin Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, where she served on the Board of Directors and as Treasurer from 1994 to 1997. She also served as Director of the Texas Association of Attorneys Board Certified in Criminal Law from 1996 to 1997. She has been actively involved in the community, serving on the Community Justice Council's Committee on Offenders with Mental Impairments, as a volunteer attorney for Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, and as a volunteer for Literacy Austin.
Judge Johnson is a member of the Berkeley United Methodist Church. She and her husband, Lt. Greg W. Lasley, Austin Police Department (retired), reside in Austin, Texas. 
Here is information from the Express-News story on the two candidates. First is the GOP primary winner, Scott ("No, I am not the Wisconsin governor") Walker:
Defense lawyer Scott Walker says sharing a name with Wisconsin’s nationally known governor helped his bid for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, but it was God’s guidance that pushed him over the line to secure the Republican nomination.
If elected, he will get his first judicial experience as a member of the Texas high court that has power over life and death in criminal cases.
'I believe strongly that God led me to run for this office. He has been behind me. I prayed about the election daily,' Walker said in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News. 'I really feel that I was unbelievably blessed in this election, and God has just done what he planned to do all along.'
Let me quickly say I do not begrudge anyone seeking spiritual guidance. It does cause pause to think about the source of legal decision making if Walker replaces Judge Johnson. So much so that I fervently pray we never have to confront our own Judge Roy Moore, the now suspended Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Yet Walker is the better alternative to the Democratic standard bearer, Betsy Johnson, whose seemingly sole qualification to replace Judge Cheryl Johnson is that she shares her last name.
[Betsy] Johnson also has no judicial experience — it’s not required for a seat on either of the state’s highest courts — and she was removed more than five years ago from Bexar County’s list of lawyers who can represent indigent defendants in felony cases. 
According to the presiding judge at the time, Johnson didn’t want to represent clients if they wanted to go to trial instead of entering a plea. 
As a result, Walker has reaped general-election endorsements from a number of newspapers. The Dallas Morning News called a vote for Johnson 'reckless' and said it has warmed to Walker’s background and approach.
Then I read in the Express-News story the comments of Judge Sid Harle, who had been by far the most qualified of the original candidates to run for Judge Johnson's post. Absurd was the only word that seemed to apply.
State District Judge Sid Harle of Bexar County — who lost a bid for the GOP nod for the Place 5 seat [to Walker]  — said he met Johnson after she was dropped from the appointment list for indigent defendants facing felony charges in 2011.
He said other criminal court judges pressed for the action. Since he was the presiding judge, she came to his office to dispute it.
'I hear this clomping outside my door and she comes storming into my office in, of course, combat boots,' Harle said.
He said he advised Johnson to work as second chair without pay in a couple of trials to prove to the judges she could try a case, but she refused with an expletive.
Johnson, who’s described as partial to unconventional attire such as the combat boots noted by Harle, couldn’t be reached for this report. 
I could be wrong about absurd being the only applicable word to describe this race. Perhaps another adjective often bandied about in an up ballot race this election year also would apply.


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