No, No, We Won’t Go!

There’s really not a whole lot of difference between the Trent Lott debacle and what’s going on here in my neck of the woods.

Trent, meet your Matt-ch: Matt Zepeda, the embattled Brazoria County Justice of the Peace who was caught on videotape hurling obscenities at prisoners in his care. Caught cursing and swearing at people who, though incarcerated, had yet to be proven guilty. Did anyone have a videotape of THEM committing their crime? More than likely not. Did that stop Hizzoner from the verbal abuse? Hell no. (Or, more appropriately, if you are Judge Zepeda, FUCK NO!) He used the “N” word against a prisoner whom he thought was black, but who he later found out was white. Is THAT the excuse? A mere case of mistaken identity? I think not.

Although Zepeda gave a watered down apology (no two-hour press conference for him, he’s got a lot of prisoners waiting for their daily diatribe from the judge, he can’t waste time backpeddling at a press conference), he refuses to step down and says he will fight the charges. Uh, fight WHAT, exactly? He was caught red-handed doing the deed. What’s to dispute? Does he have an evil twin somewhere?

What sets Zepeda apart from Lott, though, is the fact that Zepeda, too, is a member of a minority. You’d think that alone would embue him with sufficient compassion and humility. You know, he’s like, walked a mile in their shoes. But like the tyrant that he is, he chooses to use his position of power to take out his frustrations on the public he was sworn to serve and to pervert and twist the laws he was sworn to uphold.

In both cases, there have been cries that these politicos step down. In both cases, they refuse. Though Lott acts a bit more contrite than Zepeda does (who actually is being quite churlish about the whole thing), each believes he’s done nothing wrong, or if he has, that he should be forgiven.

As I’ve said many times in the past, forgiveness is God’s job, not mine. It’s okay to have backward, wrongheaded opinions if you are just the average Joe on the street. If you are in political office, you should have the good sense to keep those kind of thoughts to yourself. That’s the price you pay for the power you are given. Oh, but who says you have to have good sense to hold public office.

Clearly, I need more coffee.

[Both article reprinted in full below.]

HoustonChronicle.com — http://www.HoustonChronicle.com
Section: Editorial
Dec. 13, 2002, 7:00PM

NO DEFENSE
Brazoria JP’s abusive actions casts doubt on blind justice
Embattled Brazoria County Justice of the Peace Matt Zepeda has offered a weak apology for outrageous and offensive conduct during jailhouse criminal proceedings, but he vows to fight all attempts to have him removed from office. Zepeda’s stance shows more bad judgment, which is generally not a sought-after trait in a judge.

Part of Zepeda’s duty as a justice of the peace is to conduct magistrate hearings for newly jailed inmates. These are detainees who have not been convicted, and — under one of the finest provisions of the U.S. Constitution — are legally presumed innocent until proved guilty. Nonetheless, Zepeda was shown on tape cursing at inmates, abusing them with racial slurs and threatening them with additional jail time.

Since October when the incriminating videotape was made public, calls for Zepeda’s ouster have been multiplying. At Brazoria County District Attorney Jerri Yenne’s request, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct is reviewing the incident. A hearing on the matter will be held by a special master appointed by the Texas Supreme Court and could result in the dismissal of the complaint, public censure or a recommendation that the judge be removed from office. In the meantime, several Brazoria County law enforcement agencies have agreed not to take prisoners to Zepeda pending the outcome of his case.

Zepeda earlier said, “[I] deeply regret that it occurred,” as though it were something that happened to him rather than something for which he is fully responsible.

Zepeda, a Republican, was re-elected as an unopposed candidate in the November election. Under many different circumstances, it would be wise to counsel letting the voters have their say in the next election cycle or waiting for the case to be resolved by the judicial conduct commission. But Zepeda should take it upon himself to leave because his abusive conduct is indefensible and casts doubt on his ability to serve as a fair and impartial judge.

***

Dec. 13, 2002, 1:21PM

JP’s jailhouse tirades ‘intolerable,’ panel says
Judicial body to take action on Zepeda
By ERIC HANSON
Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

Brazoria County Justice of the Peace Matt Zepeda’s use of profanity and a racial slur against prisoners showed a fundamental lack of the dignity every judge must give to a litigant, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct said in a formal complaint filed against him.

Zepeda was captured on videotape earlier this year screaming obscenities and a racial slur at two prisoners in separate incidents at the Pearland city jail.

“(Zepeda’s) use of the term ‘n—-r’ in the course of his magistration of Tommy Leroy Luttrell represents an intolerable departure from the standard of conduct required of a member of the Texas judiciary,” the commission wrote.

The judicial conduct commission was notified of the tape last month, but commission officials could not publicly comment on the matter until the commission announced Wednesday it would hold a formal proceeding against Zepeda.

A formal proceeding, which is a fact-finding trial, will take place before a special master appointed by the Texas Supreme Court to consider the case.

Following the trial, the commission will hold a hearing and then decide whether to dismiss the case, publicly censure the judge, or recommend he be removed from the bench and ordered not to hold judicial office again.

The decision on whether to remove the judge from office will be made by a seven-member tribunal made up of appellate judges appointed by the Texas Supreme Court.

Zepeda, 57, declined to comment Thursday.

Earlier this week, he said he regretted what had happened but had no plans to resign from the post he has held for four years and for which he was re-elected in November, when he ran unopposed.

He also said he planned to fight any attempt to remove him from office.

Luttrell, 56, who is white, was in jail Oct. 13 on trespassing, criminal mischief and resisting arrest charges when Zepeda screamed obscenities at him and used the term “f

Leave a Comment