In Tarrant County, a visiting judge’s chewing-out of a jury goes national

Posted Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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kennedy Far from his old Palo Pinto courtroom, visiting Judge Jerry D. Ray knew better than to blow up at a Tarrant County jury.

But he did anyway.

So now the 2013 Mineral Wells “Man of the Year” is up for another award from the online magazine Slate: “Worst Judge.”

A month after the visiting former district judge berated a DWI trial jury and compared the acquittal of a young Arlington defendant to the O.J. Simpson case, his words are echoing from Texas Lawyer to the ABA Journal.

You got lucky,” Ray told the 21-year-old defendant in the Oct. 29 case, then lashed out at jurors in a diatribe accusing them of deciding “to ignore the law and your oath” and rendering “one of the most bizarre verdicts that I’ve seen.”

Presiding juror Judy Kingman of Fort Worth, an elementary school speech therapist, said: “It was horrible. He was horrible. I mean, we were absolutely chastised like children. Like we were total idiots.

“He compared it to the O.J. Simpson trial. Come on.”

The case in Tarrant County Criminal Court No. 4 involved a 2010 Arlington traffic stop.

The driver was 17. A breath test showed his blood-alcohol content as 0.095, over the adult legal limit of 0.08.

So Ray had a point.

But then he accused the panel of “jury nullification.”

“Perfect example, the O.J. Simpson trial,” Ray said.

“He clearly committed murder, and they didn’t want to convict him, so they found a way to — to render a not guilty verdict.”

The former football star was acquitted in a 1995 Los Angeles County Superior Court murder case but later held liable for civil damages.

In 1995, the defendant on trial before Ray was 3.

Kingman said jurors discounted the breath test because the defendant wasn’t driving badly and did well on a field sobriety test. She said the officer had a civilian riding along and might have been looking to make an arrest.

“With the evidence given to us, he should never have been taken to the police station,” she said.

“We truly believed the charge to the jury saying we would have the final decision on the validity of evidence. So we decided.”

Ray’s tirade and the court reporter’s transcript were first reported in a Decatur blog, Liberally Lean from the Land of Dairy Queen, by defense attorney Barry Green, a former district attorney.

The weekly Dallas Observer quoted defense attorney Jay Caballero: “At first I thought about whether I should object. Then I decided — well, I’ve won.”

Texas Lawyer quoted a district judge worried about how Ray’s comments might affect both his future cases and the jurors’, and also cited the Code of Judicial Conduct calling for judges to be “patient, dignified and courteous.”

Salon headlined the story: “The Texas Judge Who Lost His Mind.”

Reached at home in Mineral Wells, Ray declined to comment.

But we have his words from the transcript.

“You know, and I’ve been at this such a long time,” he began his remarks. “I know better than to get angry.”

Or should.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy

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