Texas Judge Resigns Citing Political Harassment

by Guest Writers Jena Recer and Penny Anderson
NOW activists greeted Judge Bonnie Reed upon her release from jail.  Pictured, from right, are Penny Anderson, Reed, San Antonio NOW President Rita Meyer and Sheila Korte.

Bonnie Reed, the Texas judge jailed for refusing to halt the trial of a domestic violence case, retired from the bench Sept. 15.

 At a press conference Aug. 28, Judge Reed said she was the victim of politically motivated harassment and was too stressed out by the legal controversies surrounding her to continue effectively performing her job.

 During her 10 years on the bench, Judge Reed developed a reputation for being tough on batterers in domestic violence cases. She had a loyal group of supporters, primarily among women's groups, who understand the toll that domestic violence takes on women and their children.

 Prior to her taking the bench in San Antonio, there was not much emphasis placed on prosecuting domestic violence cases there. Reed changed that by arranging to have most of those cases sent to her court, by implementing a "no dismissal" policy for such cases and by working with the Adult Probation Department to develop innovative programs for batterers and survivors.

 Reed's legal problems began Feb. 17, when she denied a request by Texas Rep. John Longoria for a legislative continuance. Texas law mandates that an attorney legislator is entitled to a continuance of all cases set while the legislature is in session.

 Longoria was hired to represent defendant Michael Ojeda, who was charged with assaulting his wife. After denying Longoria's motion for continuance, Reed ordered the trial to commence on Friday, Feb. 17, a day that the legislature was not in session, in order to accommodate Longoria's schedule.

 The trial began with another attorney filling in for Longoria while he filed an emergency request with the 4th Court of Appeals asking the court to order Reed to grant the continuance. The court twice ordered that the trial be halted, but Reed directed the jury to begin deliberations.

 On Saturday, Feb. 18, the jury returned a guilty verdict and Longoria asked the appeals court to hold Judge Reed in contempt. The court appointed retired Court of Criminal Appeals Judge John Onion to hold a special fact-finding hearing Mar. 17. At the hearing Judge Reed testified that she continued with the trial because she believed the victim would be in danger if the trial were to be postponed.

 On April 11, the appeals court found Judge Reed in criminal contempt of court and assessed a 30-day jail sentence. Judge Reed was taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs and escorted to the Bexar County Jail.

 San Antonio NOW immediately organized a jail rally to protest the jailing of Judge Reed and were there to greet her when her attorneys arranged her release some two hours later.

 Reed's attorneys exhausted all avenues of appeal in an effort to keep her out of jail but were denied each time. NOW, through San Antonio attorney Penny Anderson, filed a motion in U.S. District Court seeking leave to file an amicus ("friend of the court") brief. In the motion, NOW asked for permission to address two issues: 1) that Judge Reed did not receive "due process" from the 4th Court of Appeal because the Court acted both as judicial body and aggrieved party in the case, and 2) that the 4th Court erroneously concluded that because the defendant and victim were living together, no emergency existed.

 NOW sought to address the myth that reconciliation between an abuser and his battered wife means that the danger to her has passed. The Court denied NOW's request to file an amicus brief. An eleventh hour appeal to the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was denied, and on May 21, Judge Reed reported to the Bexar County Jail to begin serving her 30-day sentence. San Antonio NOW members along with other organizations rallied at the jail to show their support for Reed.

 Judge Reed was released after serving 13 days of her sentence and immediately went back to work. However, her foes were not content to let the matter rest. Longoria -- who has been at odds with Reed for years over abortion rights because he often represents Operation Rescue members charged with trespassing at clinics -- filed a complaint against her with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct.

 The Commission granted Longoria's request that they conduct an investigation of Judge Reed. On Aug. 10, she spent three hours before the Commission defending the way she dispenses justice in her court. The Commission has the authority to remove a sitting judge and that is what Longoria was seeking.

 At the same time, the Republican District Attorney of Bexar County asked that a grand jury be convened to investigate charges that Reed, a Democrat, was illegally keeping persons on probation longer than the law authorizes. Reed's staff, including her court coordinator Gerard Ponce, were ordered to appear before the grand jury and hundreds of files from Reed's court were subpoenaed.

 After Reed retired, Bexar County Commissioner's Court, which now has a Republican majority, was to appoint someone to replace Reed until the general election in November 1996. At the time of her announcement, the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct had not rendered its decision. They have since ceased the investigation. The Bexar County grand jury's investigation of Reed is still continuing.

 Judge Reed recently said that she will never forget the support that NOW gave her. She said that she was deeply grateful for the way NOW members boosted her spirits throughout the ordeal with rallies of support at the San Antonio jail. She added that it cheered her mother up to know that she had the power of NOW behind her.

 Reed stressed that although she no longer will be a judge, she plans to stay actively involved in the community and to work for issues she feels strongly about. She also plans to seek the abolishment of the mandatory legislative continuance, especially in cases where a victim may be at risk if a postponement of the case is granted.

 During her last day on the bench, Judge Reed said that she would be taking some time off to do the things she has always wanted to do. Reed has been acting in local theater productions for years and is currently playing a role in a Temple Beth El production of a Tolstoy novella. The theme concerns assessing one's life, which she felt was appropriate considering all that she has been through recently.

 Reed, expressing a positive attitude about her future, said that it was probably time for her to leave the bench. "Things happen for a reason," she said. "Maybe I'm supposed to be doing something else."

Return to November 1995 newspaper / Return to NOW Home Page / Search NOW site / Catalog / Send mail to NOW / Join NOW