Visiting judge to decide: Is JP who set $1 million bonds capable of fair and balanced judgment?

Curves, angles

Waco – Can there be a reasonable expectation that a Judge with no legal training will be able to apply the standards of evidence and testimony in an examining hearing to determine if there is enough probable cause to try an offender accused of a capital crime, engaging in organized criminal activity leading to murder, a man who hid inside a building while 9 people suffered fatal gunshot wounds, 20 sustained serious injuries, and police took deadly action to quell what they termed a riotous situation?

Court spectators will find out at a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. in Room 108 of the McLennan County Courthouse on Thursday, July 23.

Judge Joe Carroll, senior judge of the 27th District Court at Bell County, will have his work cut out for him when he takes the gavel to hear evidence as to why a Justice of the Peace who set bond on 177 people at the astronomical amount of $1 million after charging them all with the same offense, using the identical statements of probable cause, either can, or cannot render a fair and impartial recommendation as to probable cause in an examining hearing of the charge leveled at law service operator who graduated from Baylor University and employs six people.

Judge Walter H. “Pete” Peterson, a retired DPS State Trooper who came to the bench with no previous judicial or legal experience, referred a motion by an attorney representing Matthew Clendennen to recuse himself to the Administrative Judge of the Third Judicial Region, Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, a District Judge who sits at Georgetown. The recusal motion is based on numerous allegations, all of which are mentioned both in a complaint to the Commission on Judicial Conduct and a Federal lawsuit alleging McLennan County officials and Waco police conspired to deprive his client of due process.

His referral to Judge Stubblefield is tantamount to a recusal of himself. The procedure automatically triggered a hearing, which will determine if another judge will be appointed to conduct the examining trial, tentatively scheduled for August 10 in Peterson’s Precinct 1, Place 1 Justice Court.

Chief among the complaints are that not only did Peterson set the massive amount of bail, he told the media that he did so in order to “send a message.”

There is no such provision in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, nor in the U.S. or Texas Constitutions – all of which guarantee that reasonable bail will be set, and that it shall not be of an amount calculated to punish the accused offender by keeping him a jail.

Among numerous other complaints are the fact that Peterson rubber stamped the affidavits of warrantless arrest prepared by Waco Detective Manuel Chavez, failing to particularize or personalize any of the allegation. The arrest warrants allege only that the arrestees – all 177 of them – were wearing patches on their jackets associated with “outlaw gangs” and that since the DPS has catalogued their “colors,” that is enough evidence to hold them over for trial.

In court papers filed by F. Clinton Broden, a Dallas attorney who represents Clendennen, there are allegations that the colors worn by his client, those of the Scimitars, are not on file in the DPS manual published at Texas A&M University. Though the colors black and gold are in fact associated with the Cossacks Motorcycle Club and the Scimitars are known as a “support club” of the Cossacks, they are not considered a “gang,” Broden wrote in his complaints.

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