The following is a message from Luther J. Battiste, III, National President of the American Board of Trial Advocates:
DALLAS (May 14, 2020) — The American Board of Trial Advocates recognizes that the COVID-19 global pandemic has created significant challenges affecting the lives of our fellow citizens and all sectors of our business communities. As our country struggles to adapt in these life altering times, the danger to disregard laws which are unpopular increases. A recent situation in Texas highlights this danger and reinforces the importance of maintaining the faith, trust and confidence in our third, co-equal branch of government, our judicial system, which has served America since its inception.
The judiciary was put to a test last week when a salon owner in Dallas defied lawful orders to close her business for health and safety reasons. These orders were issued by Texas’ governor and its attorney general and applied to all non-essential businesses. Despite that fact, the salon owner openly and repeatedly defied the orders and publicly tore them up on camera. When summoned to appear in court before a judge and asked to apologize and agree to abide by the law in the future, she would do neither. Instead she proclaimed she would continue to remain open going forward. The judge then enforced the order issued by the governor by sentencing the salon owner to seven days in jail, one of the consequences enumerated in the order for its violation.
While the consequence for the salon owner was unfortunate, this was a typical progression of the legal system when a law is violated. The salon owner’s story was nationally publicized with the judge being harshly criticized as vindictive. Thereafter, the governor of Texas contradicted his own orders and freed the salon owner from jail while at the same time criticizing the judge…who was enforcing the very orders issued by the governor. The Texas attorney general also harshly criticized the judge. The judge remained silent, as judges are required to do as part of their oath. In consequence, bitter public criticism of the judge ensued, reaching as high as the White House, and threats of violence, removal from office and racial disparagement began to circulate about the judge.
Portraying the salon owner as a crusader or the judge as a villain in these circumstances is misplaced and completely misses the mark. The salon owner publicly violated a law put in place for the safety of the community. The judge took the legal steps required by law and his oath to uphold that law.
Typically, a case such as this should reinforce why America relies on our judicial system to ensure that our communities are as safe as possible, recognizing that we cannot alleviate all risks while ensuring that all the courts follow consistent guidelines and directives. It is also why we must be able to rely on citizen jurors to serve without threat of retaliation. And, most importantly, it’s why we must be able to ask our judges to make decisions without the threat of being attacked for upholding the rule of law.
The American Board of Trial Advocates acknowledges this is a critical time in our legal history, that dissent is part of our American fabric, and that an independent judiciary should be able to withstand criticism. But unjust, unfair and prejudicial disparagement of the judicial branch when it is enforcing the law is an attack on the rule of law. And, to blame the unfairness of a lawful order on a judge charged with enforcing a law is neither safe nor healthy for a democracy that depends on educated, well-informed citizens and leaders and an orderly process of law enforcement.
Luther J. Battiste, III
National President, American Board of Trial Advocates