Texas' Worst Judge is trying to stay in office
For the visitors and those new to Smith County, let me introduce Judge Jack Skeen Jr. of the 241st District Court:
AKA "Jack-ass Skeen"
AKA "Fat Jack"
AKA "The Frankenskeen Monster"
Jack Skeen, arguably Texas' worst judge, is unfortunately still quite popular in Smith County. He's known for being "tough on crime." And many hapless sheeple who have had the honor of serving on one of his juries talk of how "respectful" and "fair" he seems. But behind that genteel façade lurks a vicious monster: the Frankenskeen Monster!
Scuttlebutt downtown was that Skeen was going to retire during his current term. I postulated that his partner-in-crime D.A. Matt Bingham had announced that he would not serve another term as D.A., expecting to be appointed to Skeen's empty seat. But Skeen apparently threw a wrench into all of that this week:
Well this whole transition of power thing could still happen, just a couple of years later than I expected. Wonder what Bingham is going to do until then? Change his mind and try to go for another term as DA? Take a sabbatical?
But I digress. Back to Skeen.
Why you should say NO to Judge Jack Skeen
To get a window into Skeen's sense of legal ethics, go back to 1992 when Skeen was the District Attorney. He and his underling, prosecutor David Dobbs prosecuted Kerry Max Cook, whose first murder conviction had been overturned three more times. Cook's second trial in 1992 ended in a mistrial. Fourteen months later, Skeen and Dobbs succeeded in railroading Cook and got a conviction. How? Well, after that conviction was overturned in 1996, the state's highest criminal appellate court offered an explanation :
In November 1996 the [Criminal Court of Appeals] threw out the verdict, decrying the state’s role in the case with unusually harsh language, proclaiming that “prosecutorial and police misconduct has tainted this entire matter from the outset.” Though most of the misconduct singled out was from the first trial, the court noted other disquieting behavior from the second and third, including Dobbs’s visit to Cook at the jail. In a concurring opinion, a judge found the misconduct so bad that he thought a fair trial was no longer possible and that in his view Smith County should not be allowed to continue prosecuting Cook: “The State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense.”
Cook was granted another trial in 1999. Skeen and Dobbs knew damn well that newly-available DNA evidence was on the way--evidence that might have exonerated Cook. Did they do the right thing and wait for the results to come back? NO! They offered the terrified Cook a plea deal in which he was sentenced to the time he already served. Cook went free, but thanks to Skeen and Dobbs, he was branded a convicted murderer until he was granted a final hearing in June, 2016 in which Skeen's protégé, Matt Bingham finally agreed to drop the murder charge against Cook in a deal that protected Skeen and Dobbs from scrutiny that might have led to uncovering their previous misconduct!
Did Skeen learn from his errors? Nope. Getting appointed to the vacant bench of the 241st just gave Skeen free reign as a judge to play fast and loose with procedural rules and let prosecutors run rough-shod over defendants' rights. No case is more illustrative of Skeen's disregard for the Constitution than the ill-fated "Mineola Swingers' Club" debacle, which further disgraced Smith County's dysfunctional criminal justice system and was eventually overturned. The conservative 14th Court of Appeals returned its ruling with a scathing rebuke of Skeen's conduct in the case. The appellate court found that Skeen committed "numerous evidentiary errors" when he excluded evidence and testimony that certainly would have hurt the prosecution's case. It went on to say that Skeen "adopted ad hoc evidentiary rules that operated to assist the state in proving its case, while impeding appellant’s ability to defend himself."
|Must have had the flu for a few days in law school when they |
went over stuff like that.
As a conservative Republican, why should I care, Joorie, you might be asking. For one thing, this kind of thing could happen to anyone. Get accused of a crime you didn't commit, get strapped to Smith County's conviction locomotive, spend your life savings defending yourself, and still go to prison. But think about this: If you believe in fiscal restraint, lower taxes, limited government...Do you really think Skeen's notoriously harsh sentences for victimless crimes really help us achieve those aims? And what about the concept of justice in general, and a respect for the law of the land--the Constitution? As "conservatives, aren't we supposed to be for all of that?
What can be done?
Well, maybe nothing. If no one runs against Skeen, he will stay in office for at least another four years no matter what--unless some big piece of fat finally comes loose and lodges itself in one of the major arteries of Skeen's cold, hard heart. But if he DOES have an opponent...
You will need to vote in the Republican primary in March, 2018. There will not be a viable Democrat running for that office, so the Republican primary will determine who is the judge for the 241st. You can vote in the Republican primary even if you consider yourself a Democrat. (You just won't be able to also vote in the Democrat primary that year.)