Bud Kennedy

For Tinderholt, a judicial complaint gone haywire

First-year Arlington Republican state Rep. Tony Tinderholt in November.
First-year Arlington Republican state Rep. Tony Tinderholt in November. Star-Telegram archives

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt of Arlington is a soldier, not a lawyer.

For proof, look no further than his scrawled complaint against a state district judge.

Tinderholt, a retired Army major elected by Tea Party voters, didn’t like the judge letting two women get married after 30 years.

Only one couple got married, right after a different judge in a Travis County probate court threw out Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage.

Tinderholt wrote out a two-paragraph complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Then his staff called reporters.

But Tinderholt’s publicity ploy had problems:

▪ First, he complained about the wrong judge and case.

▪ Then, he applied the law the wrong way in his complaint.

▪ Had he managed to apply the law the right way to the right judge, he still would have come out wrong.

Tinderholt, 44 and in his fifth marriage, said in a published statement that he wants a judicial system that “respects the laws” and separation of powers, as if judges shouldn’t declare the Texas Legislature’s laws unconstitutional without prior permission from the Legislature.

His complaint against state District Judge David Wahlberg of Austin involves a state law requiring notice to the attorney general before a law is ruled unconstitutional.

“This judge deliberately violated statutory law, and this is unacceptable,” Tinderholt said in his statement.

But it was Probate Judge Guy Herman, not Wahlberg, who ruled the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. That was a different case involving a survivor’s claim to the estate of her late partner.

Also, the law Tinderholt is quoting requires notice before a “final judgment.”

Wahlberg only issued a temporary restraining order to issue the women a marriage license, not a final judgment, according to one of their lawyers, Brian T. Thompson of Austin.

Tinderholt’s complaint better fits Herman and the probate case in his court.

But Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office was notified about that Jan. 23.

Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Dower replied that Paxton’s office “decided not to seek direct involvement.”

Maybe that’s where Tinderholt should complain.

Thompson said that the way it’s written, Tinderholt’s complaint doesn’t apply to either judge.

“It’s a shame that someone who’s taken on the responsibility of writing our laws has so much misunderstanding of the law,” Thompson said.

Any law school student could see that Wahlberg hasn’t issued a final judgment, Thompson said.

“I would hope,” he said, “we would elect people who have the sense to sit down and read a law before filing a complaint.”

Tinderholt’s complaint Wednesday drew more snark than serious news coverage. But the Austin-based group Texas Values revived it with a new announcement Friday headlined, “Complaint Filed Against Rogue Judge.”

By then, Tinderholt had already taken to Facebook to explain that he objects to an “activist” judge — “not about gay marriage.”

State officials will have to spend our money, time and resources responding.

Now there’s a good complaint.

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

Twitter: @BudKennedy

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