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Judges, continued from page 9 jurisprudence. These days, as another former Supreme Court Justice told the Observer, instead of stare decisis, “what we have is, ‘Well, we’re just going to do whatever we want to do.'” EDITH JONES U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Edith Jones had very little experience in criminal law when Ronald Reagan appointed her in 1985, at the tender age of 35, to the prestigious Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is for all practical purposes the last stop for criminal defendants in our part of the world. Raised in San Antonio and educated at the University of Texas School of Law, she had spent 10 years doing mostly bankruptcy work for a blue chip Houston firm, along with a year as general counsel of the Texas Republican Party. She has since come to see the criminal justice system, she said in a 2003 speech to the Federalist Society, as a “cat and mouse” game, the result of years of overreaching by the Supreme Court in its effort to protect the rights of defendants. In her 20 years on the bench, Jones has done her dead-level best to crush as many mice as possible, dramatically raising the bar for appellate relief in the process. Along the way, she has become something of a star in conservative legal circles, having been mentioned as a possible candidate for every opening on the Supreme Court since the late 1980s. She has also become something-of a celebritythough for different reasonsamong the small circle of dedicated attorneys who do death penalty appeals in Texas. Jones is best known for her opinions in the infamous “sleeping lawyer” case, in which a defendant named Calvin Burdine was granted a new trial after jurors testified that his court-appointed attorney had slept through portions of the original trial. In 2000 a three-judge panel that included Edith Jones overturned the ruling, with Jones infamously opining that it was “impossible to determine” whether the attorney’s naps had actually hurt Burdine’s chances at trial. When the entire Fifth Circuit met to reconsider her ruling the following year, however, Jones’ opinion was reversed and Burdine was granted a new trial. An unabashed Jones joined in a dissent that stood by her original reasoning, which by now had become national news. “The thing about Edith Jones is, she doesn’t really change her mind,” one attorney said. A mentally retarded inmate named Walter Bell was also unfortunate enough to draw Jones on his original appellate panel, which meant she remained attached to his case throughout a lengthy appellate process. \(Bell spent more than 25 years on death that blasted Bell’s attorney for waiting until the last minute to file a habeas petition, a transgression that she compared, in overheated language, to the murder itself. \(“The veil of civility that must protect us in society has speech, Jones once argued that anyone who can plan a crime is by definition not mentally retarded. Fortunately, the United States Supreme Court did not share her opinion, and Bell’s sentence was eventually commuted to life after he was officially found to be mentally retarded. Like Judge Brister, Judge Jones believes in expediency. In December of 1998, federal judge Sam Sparks of Austin issued stays of execution to two inmates with imminent execution dates, Danny Lee Barber and Stanley Faulder, after they challenged the constitutionality of the state’s clemency procedure. The state appealed both stays to the Fifth Circuit, where a different three-judge panel was assigned to each inmate. Barber’s panel upheld the stay, but Faulder’s panel, led by Edith Jones, did not. As Barber’s attorney, University of Houston law professor David Dow, recalls in his book Machinery of Death, “Both inmates had raised the identical legal claim; indeed, the exact same pleadings were used by both sets of lawyersall that differed was the name of the party seeking relief.” Faulder’s panel added a footnote to its order, Dow continued, “acknowle The indictments led to a furious debate in the county over how grand juries are selected. The district judge picks a set of commissioners who then compile a list of 40 names. The judge seats the first 12 eligible candidates from that list. Whether the jury was stacked or just made up of good honest folks is simply a matter of perspective. Justice of the peace Greg MaGee was one of the selecting commissioners. “I tried to think of people I knew who I thought were honest people and would be good grand jurors,” he told me. In fall 2004, Rogers, Bob Boring, Herman Sieck and other new guard members decided they needed to get more aggressive about defending themselves. They formed a political action committee, the San Jacinto PAC \( The PAC began raising money, meeting regularly at Rogers’ restaurant and making up matching yellow T-shirts that read “Because the Constitution still matters?’ \(The old guard refers to the group as the arriving at court hearings wearing their matching yellow attire. “People were outraged and out of that came the San Jac PAC,” Rogers said. “That really turned the tide because it stirred public support?’ The PAC members protested outside the courthouse when the grand jury met and during the resulting trials, holding signs attacking Coker for running a “kangaroo court.” Coker maintains that she’s following the law. Mark Price and Joe Johnson were later acquitted, but Bill Law’s and Lou Rogers’ cases ended in mistrials. Both are to be retried later this year. Meanwhile, Mark Price is running for re-election as DA and will face a tough Democratic opponent \(affiliated with election. Not to be outdone, the San Jac PAC is going after Judge Coker in her reelection campaign, and a host of other contested races will determine which side controls the county commission. “I don’t know what’s going to happen?” says John Nunn, a county oldtimer and political operative, “but I’m looking forward to the election season, I can tell you that?’ FEBRUARY 10, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19