Where in Hell Did J. Ray Go? A War Story

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Tuesday, April 30th, 2019
Where in Hell Did J. Ray Go? A War Story

Now, in talking with the older lawyers around the courthouse, you hear a lot of tales from the old days at the Carroll Courts Building. But those are really not the old days at all. The “old days” are those in the storied old courthouse on the square, what my contemporaries call “the Court House” as opposed to the Carroll Court House or New Courthouse.

Today, everyone thinks of it as a musty old museum and office complex for that august debating body, the Denton County Commissioners. But there was a time when it was filled with workers, judges, and lawyers.

On the third floor, in what were best described as tacky quarters, Judge Robert Scofield held forth. Known behind his back as “Fightin Bob,” he hosted events in his court that could, from time to time, get exciting. One of the best friends the judge had was Jack Gray, a longtime lawyer, politician, and former District Judge. Gray was known to all us kid lawyers as a man of influence.

One day the man of influence succeeded in convincing the then County Attorney John Lawhon to dismiss a case involving a young man who was accused of a fatal accident while driving intoxicated. Admittedly, there was a paucity of evidence, but this did not sit well with the Assistant County Attorney in charge of the case.

That Assistant County Attorney was the legendary J. Ray Martin, later Judge Martin of the County Court at Law. He was one of the more eccentric figures to grace the courts of this county. Educated at Princeton and known as an investor in commodities, he sported a cherubic grin that was his trademark. He floated in after the oil boom collapsed in Snyder and became an Assistant County Attorney.

Gray dutifully appeared in Scofield’s courtroom to have the matter dismissed, but J. Ray announced he was not going to do it. Scofield replied that Lawhon had already made the motion to dismiss, and J. Ray Martin needed to get him an order. J. Ray Martin replied he would not. Before Scofield could order him to draft an order, Martin ran from the courtroom and disappeared.

Scofield ordered the bailiffs to search the building and bring J. Ray Martin back to court. They searched high and low to no avail. Finally, the day ended with the bailiffs looking and J. Ray Martin nowhere to be found. The next day the order was entered.

For years thereafter, J. Ray Martin and the newspaper reporters would regale one and all with the story of how J. Ray Martin hid out for hours in the basement men’s room in a stall with his feet pulled up to hide from the bailiffs. He never signed the motion or orders and slipped out after dark. Even today you get a laugh from Judge Scofield over J. Ray Martin setting up office in the basement men’s room stall.

But that is the way it was in the old days.