Former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice (and failed U.S. Senate candidate) Roy Moore may be getting some competition. According to recent news accounts, a state judge in Texas has decided it’s all right to mix religion into courtroom proceedings.
Jack Robison, a state district judge in Comal County, last week interrupted jury deliberations in the case of a woman accused of trafficking a teenage girl for sex to make a surprising announcement: God had told him that the woman was not guilty.
Texas newspapers have reported that Robison apologized to the jurors for interrupting their deliberations by saying, “When God tells me I gotta do something, I gotta do it.”
Robison entered the jury room after jurors rang a bell to let him know that they had reached a verdict in the case. Mark A. House, the jury foreman, told the San Antonio Express-News that Robison told the jurors that he believed the woman, Gloria Romero Perez, was not guilty.
Perez was accused of bringing a 15-year-old relative from Honduras to Texas and forcing her into prostitution. The teen eventually ended up in the hands of a 32-year-old man, who impregnated her. Robison doubted Perez’s guilt and twice let the jurors know that – and added that God had led him there.
“He said he had thought it over and prayed on it and that God told him that he had to say this,” House said. “He was obviously troubled, very serious about it. It completely took everyone by surprise. We didn’t say anything.”
The jurors, who had voted to find Perez guilty of continuous trafficking of a person, stuck by their decision. Perez faces up to 25 years behind bars.
When Robison realized the jury hadn’t been swayed by his claim of divine intervention, he recused himself from the punishment phase of the trial. But that hasn’t tamped down the controversy.
“It’s probably the most unusual thing I’ve experienced in 20 years as an attorney,” said Sylvia A. Cavazos, Perez’s attorney. “Judge Robison apologized in open court to the jury, saying something to the effect that ‘I apologize but, if God tells me to do something, I have to do it.’” (Cavazos requested a mistrial, but another judge denied the motion.)
Robison’s actions could trigger an investigation from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Several jurors told the Express-News that they intend to file formal complaints against the judge. If that happens, it won’t be the first time. In 2011, the commission reprimanded Robison after he jailed a man in Caldwell County who had called him a “fool” over a ruling Robison made in a custody case that involved the man’s granddaughter. The commission said Robison “exceeded the scope of his authority and failed to comply with the law” by sending the man to jail on a contempt of court charge.
The commission should take a hard look at this new matter as well. Judges are charged with the task of upholding secular laws; they have no religious duties. It doesn’t matter what Robison thought God was telling him. The case was in the hands of the jury, and he had no right to interfere in their deliberations – even if he believed his actions were divinely inspired.
Someone (preferably a secular official, not God) needs to make it clear to Robison that the very concept of religion-tinged courts is alien to our Constitution and indeed our entire legal system.