Monday, March 1, 2010

Blue Collar TEA Party In A Saloon on the Square

Judge Candidates Stump at Six Shooter Junction,
Field Questions About 10th Amendment, States' Rights

Drinkin' buttermilk through the week,
whiskey on a Sunday
- The Irish Rovers

In observance of a fine old Texas tradition, judicial
candidates stumped at Crickett's Grill on the old City Hall
Square in Waco.

It's an area once known as Six Shooter Junction because of
various political duels acted out there by politicians, news
editors and others with hot blooded feelings for a cause.
Those streets have heard the note of the old one-two, the
report of the "world's right arm," the Colt revolver fired
in anger with deadly accuracy.

Located a stone's throw from the banks of the Brazos for a
good fielder with a strong right arm, the saloon is located
in an old warehouse that serves as a location for such
restaurants as Ninfa's, boutiques and other wineries and
dineries with ample parking where the freight trucks once
waited for dock space. Across the street is City Hall and
the Hilton, the Convention Center. On a hill a block due
west from there stands the elegantly domed old courthouse,
just safely beyond the high water mark set by many, many
spring floods.

Inside, all is good cheer and dark polished wood, high
beamed ceilings, green trim and big screen televisions.
Cold brew flows, backs are slapped, shoulders chucked, and
jokes are told.

It's what they call a sports bar in the far beyond of never
never land North Dallas and suburban environs of Colin
County such as Plano and McKinney.

In fact, the only thing lacking was a tenor to sing the old
standards, anything from Sinatra to Dennis O'Day.

But I digress.

The McLennan County Blue Collar Republican Club is made up
of pipe liners, welders, cops, nurses, mechanics, firemen,
EMT's, carpenters, plumbers, millwrights and electricians -
with the odd lawyer and accountant mixed in for good

These are the people who make the wheels go round - or, at
least, they keep the axles greased.

And they know it as well as they know their own names, their
social security numbers or the cost of grease, for that

They were there to give a hard listen to judicial candidates
for the Tenth Court of Appeals, a jurisdiction flung across
18 counties covering the old cattle trail to Cowtown, the
railroad lines to Dallas, the cotton fields of the blackland
prairie and the cattle ranches of the west. Waco is the
queen bee, the hub city near the geographic center of not
only the district, but the entire state.

The Blue Collars are closely allied with the TEA Party

After they listened to a sitting Justice of the 10th Court,
Mr. Justice Felipe Reyna of their hometown, and the
challenger, State District Judge Al Scoggins, who sits at
the Ellis County seat of Waxahachie, a bedroom community at
the southern end of metropolitan Dallas, they asked pointed
questions about the 10th Amendment.

It's a thorny question, one with a bloody history wrought in
civil war, hateful confrontations over exclusion from
enfranchisement and suffrage, and, at times, utter economic
deprivation for the sons and daughters of a defeated nation,
the Confederate States of America.

States' rights.

What of it?

Blue Collar master of ceremonies Randy Gates asked the
candidate first at bat, Judge Scoggins, "Do you see a way
that the 10th Amendment could come up?"

He spoke in the halting cadence and reverent tones of those
who are unschooled and inexperienced in the law reserve for
the courtroom. One treads upon hallowed ground, walks and
talks softly, you see.

And still, here is a working man standing in a saloon with
the gumption to organize his friends and neighbors to come
out and ask a judge questions about such murky
constitutional issues.

Judge Scoggins spoke to the issue in clear and concise
language, his tone respectful and his good will clear in his
affect. But he was all business. There was no nonsense in
his answer.

"It could come up. Any of the amendments could come up."

You could have heard a pin drop.

Here is a practitioner of long experience, a jurist with
many years of experience with all the Amendments to the U.S.
Constitution, the Texas Constitution, all the codes and
statutes of the U.S., all her states, and the cases that
have gone before - law made by his peers, the judges of the
American nation, in their holdings.

It was a bluff moment - and then it passed. He explained
himself without a hitch. All who listened carefully
understood perfectly, his answer being that well reasoned.

Matters at law are discussed only within the confines of
specific suits filed in court and then only when all parties
affected are present and court is in session. That is due
process of law. And that is all there is to it. Judges do
not discuss hypothetical cases, they issue holdings, sign
orders and decide procedural questions, grant or disallow
specific motions, and impose sentence or judgment in
criminal or civil suits in which specific relief has been
requested by pleadings certified to have been served upon
all parties. That is the law. This man wears the black
robe. He serves the people of Texas as a finder of fact, an
interpreter of the law.

That is the business he is all about.


He had earlier spoken of his experience with the
Supercolliding Super Conductor project, of which he said,
"Does anyone remember the SSC? The giant hole in the ground
filled up with tax dollars?" It was an ill-fated Department
of Energy effort employing a 50-odd mile circular tunnel in
the bedrock surrounding Waxahachie in which electrons would
be fired from space age guns at the speed of light and
caused to collide with one another.

We people on the pavement never really understood exactly
why, but there it is. Few among us are nuclear physicists,
you see.

"I handled the majority of the eminent domain cases." He
spoke in a rueful tone.

Peoples' land was condemned to make way for the excavation,
then acquired by eminent domain, the subject of costly
litigation and compensation.

When the project was cancelled in favor of a location in the
Swiss and French Alps, "They filled it in with the same
rocks they excavated and hauled away to start with," he
said, shaking his head in disbelief, even after all these

Judge Scoggins is a man of stature, a man in full, filled in
with the prime of his life. He stood four square to tell
his interlocutors that "It's like running for Congress," as
he described the jurisdiction of the 10th Court - from
Huntsville in the piney woods of deep east Texas to
Cleburne, the old Santa Fe Railroad town on the south of Ft.
Worth, to Waco and all points in between.

He spoke of his 26 years of service on the bench of the
County Court at Law and District Court and of what, exactly,
judges do.

"A lot of what we do is explain what we do."

Anyone with experience on jury duty would agree.

He admonished the party faithful to ask any elected official
what kind of man he is to get along with. "Pick up the
phone and call any elected official. Better yet, ask a
former elected official. They don't have anything to lose
or gain. They will tell you just what they think."

Next up, Mr. Justice Felipe Reyna explained his experience
with the law.

Picture this.

Late at night, a janitor turns off all the lights except
those over the bench in the ornate old appellate courtroom
on the fourth floor of the McLennan County Courthouse. In
the darkened chamber, the matching veined patterns in the
gray marble columns and the polished oak furniture and trim
gleams under the ornate stained glass ceiling. It is an
august chamber in the palace of the law, a place where the
trial record preserved by courts of original jurisdiction
are put to the exacting test of the law.

The Hispanic man sits - sometimes until two or three o'clock
in the morning - in a justice's chair and prepares his
homework for next day's classes at the Baylor University
School of Law.

His father, a supervisor on the courthouse janitorial crew,
got him the job.

Now, get this. He gave up his suit and tie position as an
assistant adult probation officer to work as a janitor. A
man with an undergraduate degree conferred upon him at
Baylor University, this way he could work nights as a
janitor and study law by day.

"The only thing about Baylor Law is they don't have night
classes," he recalled. It was hanging up his progress
toward becoming a licensed attorney.

Then, his father called him one night to ask if he still
wanted to go to law school.

Of course, he answered yes.

There was an opening cleaning the 10th Court of Appeals
courtroom and justice's chambers at the courthouse - a night

"I told him I would try to get by there in a couple of days
to fill out the application."

He shrugged, grinned at the crowd.

"He told me I would be there at 10 sharp the next morning to
answer questions. The judges wanted to interview me. He
told me to be there - or else."

Laughter pealed through the barroom. People whistled,
clapped, cheered. Had it not been for the dim lighting, I
think Mr. Justice Reyna could have been seen blushing in
spite of himself.

"I used to sit there and study my lessons and I would look
up at the portraits of all the judges on the walls of that
courtroom. I decided that, some day, I'm going to be a
judge of this court."

Now all the kidding was put aside. It was a solemn moment
and it felt good to be there with Mr. Justice Felipe Reyna
as he explained his experience.

He entered the law as an Assistant District Attorney
handling misdemeanor and felony cases. When the sitting
District Attorney died in office Governor Dolph Briscoe
appointed him to fill the term.

After 20 years of private practice with his wife, he
received a phone call in which he learned that Governor Rick
Perry wished to appoint him to fill an unexpired term on the
10th Court that was vacated by the death of a former

In the year 2004, he was elected by 62 percent of the vote
over a Democratic challenger after defeating a Republican
opponent in the primary race. A man with two sons, one an
attorney, the other a certified public accountant, he's here
to stay.

"You never know when you might run into trouble with the law
or the tax man. Better to have a couple of consultants in
the family." More laughter, the nervous kind. These people
know all about that concern - laws and taxes. After all,
they gave up their Sunday afternoon to come and ask
questions all about it.

When his moment came to dance with the cactus plant and
answer that rugged old question about that 10th Amendment,
he said, "I agree that the Federal judges - who are not
elected, but appointed for life - have taken the rights away
from the states."

There were respectful murmurs of approval for the man who
had ticked off the things that, "Only in America..." could
be accomplished by the son of a man who left Mexico to
become an American citizen and raise his children here had
been able to achieve.

For instance, Judge Reyna flunked the first grade because he
knew no English.

Other candidates for the bench included Dan McLemore, a
seasoned attorney and law clerk who has worked for Federal
District Judge Walter Smith of the Central District of Texas
and a state appeals justice at the Amarillo court. He came
to Waco in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan appointed Judge
Smith to his position.

He vowed to speed up the docket in Court at Law No. 2 and to
use all his resources to institute a drug court to return
offenders to the streets under community supervision. This
way, they must do their time making a living, getting an
education, making restitution and going through
rehabilitation programs to beat their addictions.

"This was the last Court in the county in Democratic hands,
he said to an accompaniment of applause. Judge Gasaway is
not seeking re-election.

Brad Cates, a Waco attorney since 1987 with many years of
experience on the municipal bench at Crawford, also vowed to
do what he can to speed up the sometimes glacial pace of
cases as they pass through the docket.

For instance, he is defending a man accused of indecency
with a child by sexual contact who has languished in the
county lockup for more than a year while the prosecution,
the judge and everyone concerned makes ready for trial.

Anything can happen, and in this case, it has.

An unfortunate circumstance, he acknowledged, "The judge can
do his very best to get the prioritized case to trial."

Mr. McLemore had earlier ventured his opinion that a Court
could clear at least two DWI cases per week with time out
for a civil hearing on the docket somewhere in between.

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