Saturday, August 28, 2010

Of A Mad Tea Party In The Palace Of Justice

McLennan County Commissioners to consider budget of $3 for JP Precinct 6

Chapter 7-A Mad Tea Party: The Cheshire Cat appears in a tree, directing her to the March Hare's house. He disappears but his grin remains behind to float on its own in the air prompting Alice to remark that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat. Alice becomes a guest at a "mad" tea party along with the "Mad Hatter," the "March Hare," and a sleeping "Dormouse " who remains asleep for most of the chapter. The other characters give Alice many riddles and stories. The Mad Hatter reveals that they have tea all day because time has punished him by eternally standing still at 6 pm (tea time). Alice becomes insulted and tired of being bombarded with riddles and she leaves claiming that it was the stupidest tea party that she had ever been to.

It's a tale of a courthouse war told so often it's worn
grooves in the soft soap stone of the charming old double-
domed Italianate-Beaux Arts building on the bluffs
overlooking the banks of the Brazos. In the latest
installment of the serial:

The McLennan County Commissioners' Court will meet at a
budget hearing and be asked to consider a budget of $1 per
month for the Justice Court Precinct No. 6, which was elim-
inated in 2006.


The purpose of this exercise?

To ensure compliance with The Texas Constitution, of course.

What else would one suspect?

Though the voters spoke at the ballot box 4 years ago in the
general election to elect a Justice of the Peace in Precinct
6, the newly elected Judge was never allowed to take the
bench because, in the interim, the Commissioners' Court
acted to eliminate the precinct.

County Judge Jim Lewis refused to issue a certificate of
election. Ergo, Randall Scott Gates was never allowed to
assume his office and do business as the Justice of the
Peace in the rural community of Moody in far southwestern
McLennan County.

Without a budget, however, the Texas Constitution is
slighted and the will of the voters frustrated, according to
Mr. Gates. He has petitioned the Court to adopt a budget of
$1 per month for the non-existent Court for the remaining
three months of his elected term of office. Commission-
ers will be asked to consider the item in the
Budget hearing to be held on Aug. 31.

Our story so far:

At some point prior to the election season, the local
Constable set up a radar speed detection surveillance
program on State Highway 317 near the Moody Elementary
School Zone.

Though constables are law enforcement officers, they by and
large confine their duties to serving process for the
Courts, standing by at evictions and public sales and the
like. You rarely find them enforcing speed laws, except in
rural Dallas County where the practice is a matter of some

Someone complained to County Road Commissioner Wendell Crunk
and he admonished the gentleman of the law to desist, a
warning that fell on deaf ears.

The shakeout, when it came, was radical, to say the least.

The Court voted to eliminate Precinct 6, but not until after
the primary election, when Randall Scott Gates had been
nominated as candidate for Justice of the Peace.

For the past four years, Mr. Gates has served as the Justice
of the Non-Existent Precinct 6 Justice Court.

Unlike the England of 1865, when the Oxford churchman
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote his classic fantasy-satire
about the intrigues of Court of the day under the psuedonym
Lewis Carroll, Texans and Americans are under no constraint
to conceal in fantasy or allegory the privileged comments
they make about public officials. There is the landmark
Supreme Court case to consider, Sullivan v. New York Times,
in which the justices held that public officials are beyond
the pale when it comes to considerations of libel.

As such, they are holding themselves out as public servants
and are thus fair game for public comment, all of which is
entirely privileged unless a plaintiff can prove that there
was malicious intent on the part of the writer. To this
day, no such rules apply in England.

Some of the legal rhetoric generated by the Precinct 6
controversy assumes the tenor of Mr. Dodgson's tale of
illogic and madness exhibited by high public officials,
aided and abetted by the likes of those twin political
stalwarts, Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Considereth: the words of Mike Dixon, Esquire, the at-
torneywho represented the Commissioners' Court in the
matter before the 10th District Court of Appeals:

"Furthermore, since no certificate of election has been
issued, it was improper for the Relator (Mr. Gates) to seek
to qualify and assume the duties of office by filing a
purported oath and bond with the County Clerk. Sect. 601.003
of the Texas Government Code...presumes that the person has
been elected in the first instance.

"The only possible motive for the filing of these purported
instruments is an attempt to convince the Court that the
office actually exists. The Relator, however, cannot, in a
defiant act akin to Napoleon Pope (?) taking the crown from
Pope Pius VII and placing it on his own head, become a self-
anointed justice of the peace merely by filing what purports
to be an oath and bond that were not approved by the County
Judge or the Commissioners' Court."

Of 1,560 votes cast, Randall Scott Gates received a slim
majority of 4 votes.

According to "Art. V §18(c) creating Post-Redistricting
Officials (which) was approved by the voters in 1983 to
overturn that aspect of Ashmore," the office of Justice of
the Peace, Precinct 6 exists to this day, according to an
analysis of the amendment to the Texas Constitution approved
by voters in 1983 and the legal situation regarding the
elimination of Precinct 6, in an opinion authored by
McLennan County District Attorney John Segrest.

"It was approved not out of fondness or fairness for the
individual in a now abolished office, but to foster the
interests of the people of the State. Thus, the public is
defended from anyone who 'from time to time, for the
convenience of the people,' redraws lines eliminating a
Justice of the Peace here and a constable there, which would
in effect disenfranchise the voters of an abolished or
redrawn precinct who did not have the opportunity to vote
for their inherited officials. 'From time to time, for the
convenience of the people,' redistricting may appear to
override the will of the voters or change the outcome of

He went on to say that voters could just as easily have re-
jected the measure and a controlling opinion in a previous
court case would have remained in force. Such is not the case,
he noted.

The 10th Court denied the petition of Mr. Gates seeking
mandamus relief that would have allowed him to take office.
The Court did not issue an opinion en banc.

In a dissenting statement, Chief Justice Tom Gray wrote that
the election by the people takes precedent over the refusal
to issue a certificate of election by the Commissioners'

The Texas Supreme Court heard the resulting appeal, but
neglected to issue an opinion, one way or the other.

Hence, the move afoot to adopt a budget of $1 per month for the
"non-existent" justice court in the precinct eliminated by
the Commissioners' Court. To fail to do so would circumvent
the will of the people who approved the Texas Constitution
and its amendments.

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