We previously discussed an Ohio judge who chastised a jury and threatened a defendant that his acquittal would not end the matter for her. Now Texas visiting Judge Jerry Ray has joined the ranks of judges who express their anger at juries for not ruling as they expect. Ray told a jury that it violated its oath and acted like the jury in the O.J. Simpson case.
The jurors in Tarrant County found David Tran, 17, not guilty of drunken driving despite a blood alcohol level of .095 — above the legal limit of .08. Faced with such a small level above the line, the jury had asked the judge if it could ignore the reading of the BAL device. They apparently did just that and Ray was enraged.
He first told Tran, “You got lucky. You absolutely are legally guilty of this offense.” He told the jurors:
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. The note that you sent out says, “Can we ignore the Intoxilyzer.” And you have the definitions of intoxication. And they were certainly—At least that one was very plain in this case and up on the board for you to see. And for whatever reasons, you chose to ignore that part of the evidence. And you have the right to do that. It’s called jury nullification. It’s when a jury decides to ignore the law or ignore the evidence. And they just want a certain outcome, and they maneuver until they get there. Perfect example, the O.J. Simpson trial. He clearly committed murder, and the jury didn’t want to convict him, so they found a way to—to render a not guilty verdict. So it happens. 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.
It was an entirely inappropriate and unprofessional response from the judge. The judge was not just publicly flogging the jury for ruling for a defendant but he was making a public record that, despite his acquittal, Tran was guilty. In my view, such outbursts should be punished as a violation of judicial ethics. Here are a couple grounds under the Texas judicial Ethics code:
Upholding the Integrity and Independence of the Judiciary
An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and should personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary is preserved.The provisions of this Code are to be construed and applied to further that objective.
Performing the Duties of Judicial Office Impartially and Diligently
A. Judicial Duties in General. The judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all the judge’s other activities. Judicial duties include all the duties of the judge’s office prescribed by law.In the performance of these duties, the following standards apply:
B. Adjudicative Responsibilities.
. . .
(4) A judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity, and should require similar conduct of lawyers, and of staff, court officials and others subject to the judge’s direction and control.
(5) A judge shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice.
(6) A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, and shall not knowingly permit staff, court officials and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to do so. . . .
There was a judge in the same county a few years ago who was heavily criticized circumventing procedures to handle thousands of probation revocations. The judge would negotiate his own plea deals and if a defendant rejected the offer he would hear the case and, if the allegations were proven, order a more severe sentence. A “William Ray” (not Jerry Ray) was involved in that controversy in receiving over a million dollars from the judge, who he also worked for in the judge’s campaigns. It appears to be a different individual but the county seems to have a rather curious culture for judicial officers.