Ethics and the Law: Black Bart or Black Robe

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I’ve labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.

—Black Bart, 1877 California Stage Coach Bandit

Bart was one of those men who got fed up with crooked judges, sheriffs, lawyers, prosecutors, and other people who were supposed to be honorable.

My friend and colleague, Steven “Rocket” Rosen, has a sign that says, “If assholes had wings, this place would be an airport.” Rocket wanted to post it on the courthouse door in Houston, but I told him that was not a good idea. We talked about the stress that can be felt upon entering the building. Sometimes long lines of accused citizens and their families are standing in the rain waiting to go through the metal detector to enter the Harris County Courthouse. Law enforcement and ambulances are taking people away. Police are arresting disorderly family members crying and screaming in the hallway. This just adds more unnecessary stress.

Some lawyers refuse to get a badge that allows entrance to the courthouse. Rocket asked me to write about the stress and confusion lawyers encounter when doing their job. Rocket also has a sign hanging in his office that says: “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps. Remember, we are all fighting some kind of battle.” Most lawyers try their best to defend their client. The odds against the citizens accused are overwhelming. That is why all members need to be ready, willing, and able to help each other.

Mr. Richard “Racehorse” Haynes says the “e” in email stands for “evidence.” Now the “t” in texting can stand for “trouble.” A third-generation judge has left the “throne” because of texting a prosecutor during a trial. There are rumors about this not being an isolated incident. What happened to honor and integrity? Abe Lincoln and Clarence Darrow would be turning over in their graves if they saw the unethical behavior in some of our 254 counties. Whispers and meetings, if ex parte, need to be reported—as was the one with the texting judge. As a lawyer for some of the judges in Harris County said, “It was a perfect storm of stupidity.” The judge in question violated Judicial Canon 2A, which states, “[a] judge shall comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” The actions of the judge are of the type that bring public discredit on the judiciary and on the legal profession in general.

Contrary to what the public believes, lawyers are humans too. Until they need the services, citizens complain about law enforcement, doctors, and lawyers. Then we all become very important. Lawyers used to be looked up to, as many of the leaders in the community were doctors and lawyers. Crooked dealings by lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement have eroded public trust in the legal profession. Politicians who speak, as the celluloid Indians say, with a forked tongue are close to the bottom of public trust. Used-car salesmen are no longer at the bottom of the list. When judges get caught texting the prosecutors during trial, they are setting a bad example for those dedicated souls who go to work every day to help accused citizens who have made a mistake or been wrongfully charged.

Men and women suffered and died to uphold our Constitution. Be they judges, prosecutors, or defense lawyers, when lawyers are unethical, such behavior dishonors all those dear souls who fought to make America the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes, but cheating when human lives are at stake is an unpardonable sin.

Which is worse, Black Bart who took money or a Black Robe who can take Freedom?

If you need help or find the walls closing in on you, you can call the HCCLA ethics hotline at (713) 518-1738 or the TDCLA ethics hotline at (512) 646-2734. Also available to you is the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program. Their number is (800) 343-8527.

TCDLA
TCDLA
Robert Pelton
Robert Pelton
Robert Pelton is the former President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association (HCCLA), Associate Director for TCDLA, and Feature Articles Editor of the Voice, as well as serving as editor and assistant editor of Docket Call. Among his many honors, Robert was named by H Texas magazine as one of the top criminal lawyers in Harris County (2004–2010) and one of Houston’s Top Lawyers for the People in criminal law (2004–2010), and he is listed in the Martindale Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Robert has offices in Abilene and Houston.
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