Dallas County Judge Who Ruled Death Penalty Unconstitutional Is Forced To Recuse Herself

Categories: Crime, The Courts

TeresaHawthorne.jpg
Judge Teresa Hawthorne
Teresa Hawthorne, the Dallas County judge who ruled that the state's death penalty statute was unconstitutional, must recuse herself from a capital murder case, a judge ruled today.

Hawthorne was presiding over the capital murder trial of Roderick Harris, who's accused of killing brothers Alfredo and Carlos Gallardo during a 2009 robbery at a South Dallas mobile home. Dallas police also believe Harris may be responsible for another robbery and murder in Oak Cliff earlier the same month. Hawthorne's ruling had been lauded by the Texas Moratorium Network and others as a possible first step toward abolishing the death penalty in Texas.

Hawthorne didn't appear at this morning's recusal hearing, which was held in Judge John Ovard's courtroom. Harris was present, however, handcuffed and wearing a grey suit.

Assistant District Attorney David Alex argued that Hawthorne's bias against the death penalty was clear from statements she made during a December 19 pre-trial hearing. He quoted, in bits and pieces, things the judge said in open court that day, such as: "I remember when women and blacks could not vote. I remember when so-called witches were burned. I remember when gays had to hide to be in the military." Hawthorne said then she wasn't trying to engage in judicial activism; she insisted last month that she was not trying to "buck the system or stir the waters." Alex vehemently disagreed.

"The judge analogized the death penalty to some very heinous times in our American history," Alex told the court. It's obvious, he said, that she has "very strong emotional, personal feelings against the death penalty. ... But none of these things have anything to do with legal precedent."

Leslie Rachael Jones, another assistant DA who's also prosecuting the Harris case, testified that during the December 19 hearing, Hawthorne "appear[ed] to be emotional" and "choked up" before reading from her ruling. In that ruling, Hawthorne said the Texas death penalty statute is unconstitutionally vague because it doesn't adequately define terms like "mitigating evidence" and "future dangerousness," terms that are crucial for juries who must choose between life and death.

"This is a very difficult decision for me," Hawthorne said, according to court transcripts. "So there are a few thing I want to say. ... We can all agree judge's are gatekeepers of society's standards of decency and fairness. The system that determines who should die in Texas is truly broken."

The prosecutors showed that Hawthorne's comments about "gatekeepers" and Texas's "broken system" are direct quotes from a Houston judge, Kevin Fine. Fine ruled in 2010 that the state death penalty statute is unconstitutional because it carries too large a risk of executing an innocent person. At the time, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott released a statement calling Fine's ruling "an act of unabashed judicial activism." Facing a recusal hearing, Fine eventually withdrew his ruling and did not recuse himself from the case in question. ADA David Alex told Unfair Park later that judges ruling against the death penalty in Texas is "a bad trend."

In his cross-examination of Jones, one of Harris's defense attorneys, Brad Lollar, said as far as he was concerned there was "a lot of misinformation about what the judge actually ruled. The judge has not ruled the death penalty unconstitutional, but the Texas death penalty statute, because it's 'arbitrary and capricious.'" Lollar argued that Hawthorne was actually "exercising her right and duty as a trial judge" to make a ruling based on the evidence before her.

In his closing arguments, Doug Parks, another of Harris's attorneys, argued that the state simply didn't like Hawthorne's ruling in the defense's favor on some of the pre-trial motions. If she had ruled in the state's favor, he argued, "Her personal beliefs about the death penalty wouldn't matter one iota. ... She made rulings the state didn't like, and now they're attacking the trial judge based on her personal beliefs and feelings."

Ultimately, though, Ovard still ruled that a "reasonable person" would have to conclude that Judge Hawthorne is too biased to preside over the case. In the short term, Harris's trial won't be affected; another judge, Webb Baird, was already set to begin jury selection next week. It's still not clear who will take over for Hawthorne.

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29 comments
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Guest
Guest

I don't think I'm ever going to understand how this whole thing is supposed to work.

This lady get removed because she ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional.

Today we see that a judge won't be removed from hearing a case involving a lawsuit against one of his campaign contributors.

But a judge in Collin County was convicted of bribery for taking campaign contributions AND THEN recusing herself from any of the contributor's business before the court.

So, it seems like you can have affairs with the prosecutor, you can declare yourself pro-prosecution, you can even hear cases involving lawsuits against campaign contributors (even though the Supreme Court has ruled that this might not be legal), but if you say that the death penalty is unconstitutionally vague or if you recuse yourself from cases involving campaign contributors, you're not fit to judge cases.

That seems skewed somehow.

Guest
Guest

Since Sharon Keller has publicly proclaimed herself to be pro-prosecution, shouldn't she recuse herself from any criminal cases that come before her at the Court of Criminal Appeals?

If being biased against a punishment that the judge herself can't even impose means the judge can't hear the case, then being publicly biased against one entire side in the appeals process should require recusal, as well, right?

By the same token, shouldn't any judge who has stated their support for the death penalty also recuse themselves from capital cases given that such a bias in favor of a particular punishment that they can't themselves impose lead to as much potential for mischief as ruling that the death penalty statute itself is unconstitutionally vague?

Mjfacts
Mjfacts

Dear Judge Hawthorne,If you want to change the law, run for a legislative seat.  Otherwise, shut up and apply the law!If you don't want to apply the law, turn in your robe and resign.

Stupid.  I weep for Dallas because of the idiots now elected to judicial posts there.  Bah...no, I'm don't!  They get what they deserve for electing idiots who don't understand the law!

Suck it, Dallas County!

Love,Happy Denton County Resident/Former Dallas County Resident

Guest
Guest

The best thing about Denton County is that you're allowed to flat out lie on the witness stand and even when there's video/audio evidence that absolutely refutes every thing you say, you won't pay any penalty for such a lie...

As long as you're a police officer.

LIBERTYvallance
LIBERTYvallance

Near as many m oron judges in Denton County.notsoHappy Denton County Resident/Former Dallas County Resident speaking from experience with the Denton County Courts.

Bab W. Adetiba
Bab W. Adetiba

We need a balance. Activist judges are a good thing. Slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, etc would still be in place w/o activist judges.

In every movement, both in America and other countries, conservatives were considered the radicals. Conservatives wanted to the current state of oppression continue. Activist judges are a great thing. We need a balance.

Jrhazes
Jrhazes

i was incarcerated with this bum, and if anyone deserve the death penalty this guy is the one. he was a bully in jail also.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

I respect judges like Ms. Hawthorn and Mr. Fine, they're finally getting the notice that others in this country have known for years: The Death Penalty doesnt solve or prevent crime. Hopefully these two lead the charge to overturn this in Texas as well.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin

From what I recall, dont judges direct the jury to make a decision based on the facts of the case, dont make a decision based on emotions or beliefs.  Yet here she is, settting the worst example possible by making emotional belief based decisions. 

Geez
Geez

Hawthorne ran for judge as a Republican for years, each time a wise electorate sent this lackluster attorney packing. Then, when the Democrat tsunami hit the courthouse, she switched parties and was elected. Now she panhandles to Dallas County liberal Dems by her fake stance on capital punishment in order to endear herself to them in the next election. Republicans spent years weeding out bad judges and making sure the likes of Hawthorne didn't slip through. Now that the Dems control the courthouse they must do the same thing.

Gangy
Gangy

Geez, Judge Hawthorne has been walking the walk of Democratic values all of her career in law.  Your claim of Republicans weeding out bad judges is quite out of touch with reality.  For example:  Judge Keller.

Xxx
Xxx

When she quits trying to look and act like the teenager she was MANY years ago...she may even become credible.

Until then; she needs to shut up and follow the law!!!

Guest
Guest

So, if you're sleeping with the prosecutor, that's no reason to recuse yourself, but if you're vocally against the death penalty...

cp
cp

Is it just me or is this the exact definition of "legislating from the bench"? 

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

That is exactly what this is.  If she has a problem with the law, she should run for the legislature, not attempt to change the law from bench.

Honeybee
Honeybee

But she might lose if she runs for the legislature.This way, she can just impose her personal beliefs on society via the courts without all those pesky citizens getting to pipe up.

I don't say this because I am pro death penalty.  We are a rule-of-law society and no one gets to ignore the laws they personally disagree with.Legislators make the laws and judges uphold them.

Guest
Guest

I disagree (if an attorney isn't competent enough to do follow such a course of action, that shouldn't excuse every one else from responsibility), but I respect that you have a different interpretation.

I just don't believe judges should be limited by what people ask them to do.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Sorry, but you are wrong on this one.

It's the "law", not the "general guideline to be interpreted by the sitting judge".If convicted under a law that I felt was Unconstitutional, I could bring case and challenge the constitutionality.  It is NOT incumbent upon the judge hearing the case to take that upon themselves on the fly. 

Guest
Guest

I am not about to go read the opinion that caused all this controversy, but if you were charged with a crime under an Unconstitutional law, it could be the judge's duty to note that even if the defense counsel wasn't on the ball enough to actively consider that "line of attack"

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

You are partially correct.

Judges hear cases on Constitutionality of laws.  They do NOT, however, put those interpretations into cases that are not cases directly challenging those laws.

Guest
Guest

Judges swear to uphold the Constitution, as well, which is where we get into these sorts of things. Part of the job of the judicial branch is to be a check (and balance) on the power of the legislative and executive branches, as well.

If all judges can do is enforce the laws that the Legislature passes (which, in the old civics textbooks, is actually the executive branch function. The judicial branch is "interpretation". If the legislature didn't define 'mitigation' in the law to cover every possible case that comes before a court, somebody has to decide what 'mitigation' means and how it applies in the real world practice, for example), then there'd be no way to overturn an Unconstitutional law once enacted. (And while plenty of people believe that the Legislature and the Congress pass all sorts of Unconstitutional laws that the courts don't overturn, that's a related but separate issue).

Gangy
Gangy

I believe that Judge Hawthorne is correct in saying, "We can all agree judge's are gatekeepers of society's standards of decency and fairness. The system that determines who should die in Texas is truly broken."

Accordingly, it is her duty to conduct her court with that in mind.  Derogatory remarks about her appearance and her age are juvenile responses to a position that has life and death consequences.

Dywlf
Dywlf

This is an activist judge blatanly trying to circumvent the will of the people, the law and all precedent. Like most liberal judges, she believes that she is the one true person capable of saving us from ourselves. She needs to be removed from the bench as soon as possible.

Honeybee
Honeybee

She made her age fair game when she used such ridiculous phrasing.

She made her appearance fair game when she opted for a glamour shot over a more professional photograph.

Between the arrogant phrasing and the inappropriate photo, I doubt she possesses the maturity and lack of narcissism needed precisely because the consequences are life and death.

And I certainly don't want someone who appears emotional and gets choked up dispensing rulings.

The world is not her stage.  Her beliefs and her emotions--and the "few things she wants to say"-- are not relevant and if she can't conduct herself professionally, she needs to step down.

Phantom_informer
Phantom_informer

No, it is her duty to follow the law PERIOD.  How she got elected  I have no ide......oh, wait, this is Dallas County.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Fail.

It is not her job to judge a case in light of potential punishment. 

Crap Detector
Crap Detector

Scary photo - YIKES!!!! Is that a mask? Botox?

Fattyfatfat
Fattyfatfat

Fat is fluffy. It's hard to have wrinkles when you have gobs of fat pushing them out making your face nice and tight.

cynical old bastard
cynical old bastard

"I remember when so-called witches were burned."

She must be really old.

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