Houston lawyer, Leta Moeller, heard about the case from another inmate and agreed to represent Hicks for free. She asked the 1st Court of Appeals to order Duncan to release Hicks pending appeal. Before the panel ruled, she went directly to Duncan. The judge says he was surprised to hear Hicks was still in jail. \(Later, he would reason that if he had freed Hicks without such a request from a lawyer, he would have been acting improperly as an a personal recognizance bond. Hicks left jail April 12 and got a job working at a loading dock. He had been in jail amost 500 days. There was no need for the appeals court to grant Moeller’s request anymore. But the court issued an opinion anyway, three days after Hicks was out. It was less of a bureaucratic memo and more of a poison pen letter. While officially declaring that the issue of Hicks’ release was moot, Chief Justice Frank G. Evans’ majority statements said the case was “shocking to our sense of justice.” The panel blamed Duncan, not Durant, for leaving Hicks in jail after the trial. “This injustice was done intentionally,” wrote Associate Justice Murry Cohen, reasoning that Duncan was punishing Hicks for appealing. “Outrageous and unjustifiable,” Cohen wrote. The court, with Associate Justice Henry Doyle as the third judge, also reminded Duncan it had the power to make him replace delinquent appeals attorneys. Duncan says the blistering opinion was just a way for the appeals judges to get back at him for challenging their authority. It wasn’t the first time in his 25 years on the bench that Duncan was officially chastised. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct may as well have been forecasting something like the Hicks case when it publicly reprimanded him in 1978 for raising defendants’ bonds without justification and requiring them to go to trial the day after their arrest. “The practices have the effect of coercing defendants into pleading guilty without adequate notice of their constitutional rights,” the commission said. It also took note of the fact that Duncan used his house to store 212 handguns kept as evidence from his trials. Duncan complied with the order to return the guns to the courthouse. “We’ve built an illusion that what we’re doing is right; and that illusion is a potent threat to our freedom as well as our security.” Three months later, Democrat Duncan once again won countywide re-election. A poll of defense attorneys that year rated him the worst judge in the county; in the same survey, he was preferred over his Republican opponent. That may have something to do with his personality off the bench, where he is a self-effacing, accessible good-ol’-boy type. “Jimmie is two different people,” his wife said in a 1979 Houston newspaper profile. “Out of the courtroom, he’s a sweetheart.” Valentine or not, Duncan may be headed for another go-round with the judicial conduct monitors. A commision lawyer has been asking participants some preliminary questions about the Hicks case following publicity about it, which reached as far as Mexico City. Meanwhile, Moeller is working on Hicks’ appeal and says there may be a backdoor way to have the case overturned, even Morris County DAINGERFIELD is a small Northeast Texas town with railroad tracks in the middle, cars with bumper stickers that read “I Daingerfield” and welcoming billboards that announce the presence of the Lions Club and the Kiwanis Club and proclaim that “Daingerfield Citizens Care.” Yet Daingerfield \(population rently fraught with undercurrents that suggest a town struggling to survive a crisis it shares with the four other towns that make up Morris County. Daingerfield, Lone Star, Naples, Omaha, and Cason all continue to suffer from Lone Star Steel’s 3,000-employee layoff last August, the second largest layoff in Texas history. Lone Star Steel began production in the small town of Lone Star \(population hired more and more people from the immediate area to keep up the furnaces, mine the ore, and make the tubing that became the plant’s specialty. Steel soon Chan McDermott is an Observer intern this summer. Mark Miller, a Fort Worth Star -Telegram intern, also contributed to the story. without a record of the testimony. She won’t discuss her strategy, but it could be she will ask the 1st Court of Appeals to rule that Hicks deserves a new trial because he had “ineffective assistance of counsel.” Despite any aspersions cast on their savvy, Mock and Durant continue to enjoy good reputations as defenders of the poor. They explain the case by saying Hicks was a quirky, stubborn client who didn’t know what was good for him. Hicks, holding out for vindication, says he thinks his imposed stint in the county jail will force judges and lawyers to think more seriously about people who insist they are innocent. “Maybe next time they’ll listen,” he says. But even if his conviction is miraculously overturned, there is nothing different now, in laws or rules or personalities, to prevent the same thing from happening to someone else. replaced cattle, lumber and agriculture, as the county’s chief source of economic activity, and for 35 years, Morris County thrived. Hard times hit in August, 1982. A glutted market and the higher value of foreign imports forced the Lone Star Steel layoff. The layoffs ‘came from all areas of the plant, although more hourly workers than salaried found themselves out of work. Plant subsidiaries were also forced to lay off workers. The immediate shock for Morris County residents was difficult, but the aftermath may be even worse. Residents are now facing the prospect that Lone Star Steel will probably never be back at full production. And now, a year later, unemployment benefits are beginning to run out. Several prevalent themes run through conversations with the people of Morris County. One is the pride of the people pride so strong that in many cases, laid-off workers refuse to take just any job. Workers accustomed to receiving $10 to $12 dollars an hour would not accept jobs that require less skill and result in less pay. Besides, as the workers often told others in the town, their unemployment, and other benefits allowed them to get along just fine. Lone Star Steel layoff still traumatic `Do or Die’ in Morris County By Chan McDermott THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15
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