By CLINT FOSTER
FORT WORTH – One mistake should not taint a lifetime of success and achievement. That was the theme of conversation when two Tarrant County attorneys sat down with the Index Monday morning to defend the honorable Judge Jerry Ray following a courtroom incident in late October.
Defense attorneys Jim Lane and David L. Richards said they hope the event that triggered a deluge of critical national press coverage won’t negatively influence people’s perceptions of Ray, who they called one of the best judges around.
“You don’t judge Joe Montana or Bret Favre by the last pass they threw,” Richards said. “This was the last pass he threw and it wasn’t a good one. But his career is incredible.”
Ray attracted the attention of large publications –including the Star-Telegram, Texas Monthly and Slate –after an outburst during a DWI case in Fort Worth, Oct. 29. The former 29th Judicial District Judge was a visiting judge in the case, “helping out Tarrant County,” as Richards put it, because the regular judge could not be there.
A 21-year-old defendant was on trial in connection with an Arlington traffic stop in 2010. At that time, the 17-year-old driver blew a 0.095 on an Intoxilyzer test, putting him over the adult legal limit for blood-alcohol content of 0.08, in addition to being under the drinking age.
While the jury was meeting, they sent a note to Ray asking if they could ignore the results of the breathalyzer test in their verdict. Later, the jury delivered a not-guilty verdict, prompting a strong reaction from Ray in the courtroom. According to the court reporter’s transcript, Ray responded:
“I’ve been at this such a long time I know better than to get angry. But you just decided to ignore the law and your oath, and you know you did. The note that you sent out says, ‘Can we ignore the Intoxilyzer’... for whatever reasons, you chose to ignore that part of the evidence. And you have the right to do that. It’s called jury nullification... Perfect example, the O.J. Simpson trial. He clearly committed murder, and the jury didn’t want to convict him, so they found a way to – to render a not guilty verdict. So it happens. I’ve been around over 40 years in this profession, tried an awful lot of cases as a defense lawyer, as a prosecutor, and as a judge, and it happens. But this ranks among there as one of the most bizarre verdicts that I’ve seen. Thank you for your service, and you are excused.”