Process Server Claims Texas Judge Pulled a Gun & Had Him Arrested
BEAUMONT, Texas (CN) - A Texas judge pulled a gun on a process server and had him arrested later on false charges, in court, as he tried to serve the judge with a lawsuit from an attorney who accused the judge of racial bias, the process server claims in court.
In the complaint, the process server also accuses the judge and the county sheriff of destroying evidence, tampering with witnesses and obstructing justice.
Stephen Hartman sued Jefferson County Judge Layne Walker, in a bizarre sequel to a lawsuit that a criminal defense attorney filed against Walker two weeks ago.
In that case, attorney Stella Morrison, who is African American, claimed that Judge Walker had falsified perjury charges against her, and had his bailiff rough her up. She also accused Walker of "intentional racial discrimination against African-Americans" and "an ongoing pattern of harassment, retaliation, unconstitutional actions, grossly negligent conduct, and intentional Texas torts against Ms. Morrison."
In the new lawsuit, Hartman says he was hired to serve Walker with attorney Morrison's lawsuit. After the courtroom contretemps, Hartman filed his own lawsuit against Walker and others, including Texas, Jefferson County, its Sheriff Mitch Woods, four of Woods' deputies, and the Jefferson County court coordinator.
Hartman says in his complaint that he "has successfully served countless citations, and he has never been subject to arrest or confinement until he tried to serve Judge Layne Walker" in attorney Morrison's case.
"Mr. Hartman previously served Judge Layne Walker with a records subpoena at his home, and in response Judge Layne Walker brandished a handgun and had his son chest-bump Mr. Hartman in willful violation of Texas Penal Code Section 38.16," the complaint states. "Further, Judge Layne Walker refused to comply with the lawful records subpoena. Mr. Hartman reported Judge Layne Walker's threatening misconduct to the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct ...
"For safety reasons, therefore, Mr. Hartman decided to serve Judge Layne Walker in his place of employment, as the Judge of the 252 Judicial District Court, Jefferson County Courthouse." (Citations to exhibits omitted.)
Hartman says he went to Layne's courtroom on May 28.
"Mr. Hartman sat on the left-hand side, toward the back row, and he sat quietly in that location for almost an hour. Mr. Hartman arrived at 8:45 a.m. Judge
Layne Walker took the bench about 9:30 a.m.," the complaint states.
"The courtroom was full of people, and Judge Walker handled his typical Monday docket, including hearing various motions to revoke probation.
"At approximately 9:45 a.m., Mr. Hartman walked toward the bar in the courtroom, but he did not cross it. Mr. Hartman motioned for the bailiff, [defendant] Sheriff Deputy Sharon Lewis, to come toward, which she did. Mr. Hartman whispered to her that when there would be sufficient time or a break in the courtroom proceedings, Mr. Hartman needed to serve Judge Layne Walker with a federal summons in the Stella Morrison litigation against Judge Layne Walker.
"Deputy Sharon Lewis did not respond or say anything to Mr. Hartman, but instead she went immediately to [defendant] Sheriff Deputy [Steven] Broussard. Deputy Sharon Lewis did not admonish Mr. Hartman, Deputy Lewis did not inform Mr. Hartman that he was in an unauthorized portion of the courtroom, and Deputy Lewis did not attempt to move or restrain Mr. Hartman in any way.
"Deputy Broussard in a stern and loud voice told Mr. Hartman that he must leave the courtroom immediately. Mr. Hartman explained calmly that he needed to serve this federal summons. Immediately, Deputy Broussard rushed over to Mr. Hartman, and Deputy Broussard began pushing Mr. Hartman physically toward the exit door. Mr. Hartman identified himself as a licensed federal process server and Mr. Hartman asked Deputy Broussard to cease his excessive and needless physical force. In response, Deputy Broussard wrongfully placed Mr. Hartman under arrest."
Hartman says he "asked Broussard if there if there was any charge for the arrest, and the deputy responded by stating words to the effect of 'We will tell you later.'"
Assisted by two other deputies, Broussard handcuffed Hartman and took him to the bailiff's office, where they patted him down and took "his wallet, his credentials, sunglasses, his undercover surveillance pen, keys to his car, and his iPhone," Hartman says.
The deputies never read Hartman his Miranda rights and denied him a phone call so he asked to see their supervisor, he says.
"A few minutes later, [defendant] Sheriff Captain Carr came to the scene," the complaint states. "Captain Carr confirmed there were no criminal charges, but that Judge Layne Walker ordered an illegal arrest and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office does not follow the laws or Constitution of the United States and the State of Texas, but instead only follows the criminal directives of Judge Layne Walker. Captain Carr stated to Mr. Hartman in words to the effect that Mr. Hartman 'tried to serve the wrong person at the wrong time,' and then Captain Carr immediately left but he took no action to remedy the situation."
Hartman says the deputies kept him handcuffed in a courthouse cell, then sent him to the Jefferson County Jail at 4:15 p.m.
"Sometime before 7:00 p.m., Mr. Hartman's employer bailed him out of the county jail," the complaint states.
"Many witnesses verified that Mr. Hartman did nothing disruptive, and he never crossed over the bar into the restricted area of the court. The Sheriff's Deputies, however, have made up false charges and false allegations against Mr. Hartman, in the process defaming Mr. Hartman per se. Mr. Hartman was wearing a surveillance pen which recorded the entire event, but the Sheriff's Deputies confiscated it. Sheriff Mitch Woods later admitted that Sheriff Mitch Woods and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office would not return this property and would, in fact, destroy the critical evidence and willfully participate in obstruction of justice and the unlawful destruction of evidence."
But that's not all, Hartman says in the complaint: "Judge Layne Walker and the Sheriff's Deputies took apart Mr. Hartman's iPhone, and read all his emails and read his text messages without a warrant or probable cause to do so, in violation of Mr. Hartman's Fourth and Fifth Amendment Rights. Further, the Defendants downloaded the contents of Mr. Hartman's cell phone and are now calling his contacts to try to intimidate people, which is not only an unconstitutional and unlawful search and seizure, but also unlawful tampering with witnesses in violation of Texas Penal Code Section 36.05. When the cell phone was returned to Mr. Hartman, it had clearly been opened and tampered with, which is the usual practice of Judge Layne Walker, Sheriff Mitch Woods and his Deputies that carry out his illegal activities. Further, the Defendants replaced Mr. Hartman's surveillance pen with a pocket screwdriver, thereby unlawfully concealing evidence, fabricating evidence, and obstructing justice in violation of Texas Penal Code §37.09."
But that still wasn't enough for the vindictive judge and lawmen, Hartman claims: "After all this unlawful conduct, Judge Layne Walker acting through his Court Coordinator, [defendant] Ann Landry, continued with this unlawful vendetta against Mr. Hartman. Judge Layne Walker and Ann Landry maliciously sought and continue to seek to revoke Mr. Hartman's professional licenses. Judge Layne Walker and Ms. Landry maliciously filed formal complaints against Mr. Hartman with: (1) the Texas Department of Public Safety, Private Security Bureau; (2) the Texas Process Server Review Board; and (3) the Texas Association of Licensed Investigators, a trade association. This Trade Association expressed concern about the Defendants' willful, negligent per se and unlawful release of the Plaintiff's personal information, in violation of the privacy provisions of the Texas Open Records Act ..."
And finally: "Judge Layne Walker utilized his control over the Jefferson County District Attorneys' Office, Judge Tom Maness, Criminal District Attorney, and Ed Shettle, the First Assistant to the Criminal District Attorney, to file malicious, fabricated criminal charges against Mr. Hartman, even though the Jefferson County District Attorneys' Office, Judge Tom Maness and Ed Shettle, know these charges are falsified, stem from numerous Constitutional violations and are yet another act of an almost endless series of official oppression perpetrated by Judge Layne Walker and those who follow his orders, in willful violation of Texas Penal Code Section 39.03," Hartman says in the complaint.
Maness and Shettle are not named as individual defendants.
Hartman seeks punitive damages for civil rights violations.
He is represented by John Morgan of Beaumont, who also represents Morrison in her complaint against Layne.