De-benched Bartie makes run for county commissioner

Marilyn Tennissen Dec. 18, 2007, 9:43am

Thurman Bartie may be banned from ever serving as a judge again, but that is not stopping the former justice of the peace from trying for a county seat.

Bartie announced Dec. 17 that he is seeking the Precinct 3 position on the Jefferson County Commissioners Court. In 2004, Bartie was removed as Precinct 8 Justice of the Peace in Port Arthur by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, and forever barred from holding a judicial office in the state of Texas.

The commission found that while in his official capacity, Bartie used obscene language in the courtroom, failed to follow the law, exhibited incompetence in the law, attempted to interfere in the lawful arrest of an individual and participated in or used corporal punishment in truancy matters.

He is seeking the county commissioners' post that has been held by Waymon Hallmark since 1992. Prior to his formal removal by the judicial commission, Bartie resigned from the JP post in December 2003 to run against Hallmark. Hallmark was re-elected to his fourth term as Precinct 3 commissioner in a 2004 runoff with Bartie.

Several incidents gave rise to the complaints that had Bartie first suspended and then formally removed from office and banned from the bench. Bartie challenged the findings of the Judicial Conduct Commission, but a Review Tribunal appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas upheld the commission's findings.

The Tribunal, a panel of seven justices with Kenneth Law presiding, issued Order No. 90 on April 16, 2004. Justice Catherine Stone wrote the opinion that upheld the Judicial Commission's decision to de-bench Bartie.

According to the order, in May 2002, Tammie Bush and her daughters, Manya and Matya appeared before Bartie on truancy charges. During the course of the proceedings, Bartie used obscene language, did not inform the girls of their rights to enter a plea or to have a jury trial and handcuffed Bush and Matya for the duration of the proceedings.

He then found Bush and Matya guilty and imposed fines of more than $4,000, which Bartie ordered them to pay that day in full without an indigency hearing. Bush spent three hours in jail before she was able to pay her $582 fine and Matya was jailed for seven days before being released on bond for her $3,496 fine.

That same month, Bartie was handling another truancy case and used obscene language. When the mother of the student objected to his language, Bartie threatened to put her son in jail, according to the Tribunal.

When a local reporter attempted to investigate the allegations that Bartie was abusive to litigants, the JP had the reporter removed from court, used obscene language and called the reporter a racist.
Bartie also had magistrate duties at the Jefferson County Correctional Facility and, according to the Tribunal Order, on several occasions told the inmates that he was planning to have sex with their wives while they were incarcerated.

In another incident referred to by the Tribunal, Bartie tried to intervene in a Port Arthur police investigation after his brother-in-law was stopped for driving while intoxicated. Records submitted to the Tribunal showed that Bartie asked officers to let him drive his brother-in-law's vehicle away, but changed his mind when the officers found crack cocaine in the vehicle. Bartie ordered that his brother-in-law be released on a personal recognizance bond, which he himself later signed.

The Review Tribunal stated that records presented to them indicated that while on the bench Bartie threatened to hit juveniles on the head with his gavel, punched a juvenile in the chest and hit another juvenile on the head with his knuckles. He also removed his belt and encouraged parents to whip or beat their children with the belt.

Bartie admitted that he had used obscene language, but told a Special Master reviewing his case that he believed that his language was necessary to make an impact on the children in his courtroom and convince them to attend school.

Justice Catherine Stone, who wrote for the Tribunal, found the language so offensive that it was omitted from the opinion and added that Bartie, "while sitting in his judicial capacity, used some of the most vulgar and offensive language imaginable."

"The nature and frequency of the extremely obscene language employed by respondent are, standing alone, sufficient to warrant his removal from office and the prohibition from holding judicial office in the future," Stone wrote.

Finding the offensive language as reason enough, the Tribunal did not address Bartie's other challenges to the Commission on Judicial Conduct's findings.

"This Tribunal is mindful that the primary purpose of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct is to protect citizens of this state, not to punish or discipline judges," Stone wrote. "This case illustrates that at times there is a dire need for the Commission to step in and protect the public. Through his use of abusive and obscene language, (Bartie) was able to intimidate juvenile litigants and their parents, criminal defendants, civil litigants, a newspaper reporter, and even his staff."

Since being removed from office, Bartie, 53, has been working as a preacher and still has supporters in the community.

He is joining five other candidates that have already announced they are running for the Precinct 3 County Commissioners seat in the March 4 Democratic primary.

They are Port Arthur Mayor Pro Tem Michael Shane Sinegal, Precinct 3 Administrative Secretary Alma Cantu, Pleasure Island Commissioner Jimmy Dike, Port of Port Arthur Commissioner Raymond Johnson and Precinct 3 Superintendant Mark Bernard.

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