Error to display MADD plaque

Today, in an interesting opinion regarding the refusal of PDR, Judge Cathy Cochran notes the error of a judge displaying a MADD (mother’s against drunk drivers) plaque during a DWI trial.  Simpson v. State  (PDR is the acronym for “petition for discretionary review.” Refusal of PDR indicates the high court has refused to hear the petition.)

Judge Cochran, a well respected jurist, says: “I write to squarely say what the court of appeals’s majority assumed: This was error.”  Though she states the error was neither inherently prejudicial nor actually prejudicial, she made reference to a Louisiana judge’s comment regarding a poster “decorating” his courtroom: “It is axiomatic that a courtroom is not the judge’s living room for him to decorate as he pleases. It is the taxpayer’s forum for dispensing justice to all citizens–defendants and victims alike.”

“I believe that jurors would reasonably conclude that the plaque in this case reflected the trial judge’s alignment with MADD. The plaque was not hung in his chambers where personal items belong. Rather, as appellant notes, the plaque was the only object displayed by the judge and sat directly below the court’s official seal and between the United States and Texas flags. I agree with Justice Sharp that the public display of the MADD plaque “in what is to be a hallowed sanctuary of impartial justice bespeaks a fundamental misunderstanding of the very proprietorship of that public space: it is the
people’s courtroom, not an oversized ante-room of some judge’s chambers.””

To sum it up folks, it is the taxpayer’s courtroom, not the judges.  It should be respectful and neutral.  Citizens appearing before the court ought to be able to rely on the impartial nature of the judge.  As Judge Cochran concluded, “such partisan displays in any public courtroom should be strongly condemned.”

Call Us 24/7

schedule a video, phone, or in-person consultation