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Sunday, April 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Appeal Over Biased Texas Judge Won’t Go to Washington

The Supreme Court declined Monday to take up the case of a cop killer who, 15 years after his conviction, found evidence that the judge on his case is a bigot.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court declined Monday to take up the case of a cop killer who, 15 years after his conviction, found evidence that the judge on his case is a bigot.

Randy Halprin, who is Jewish, spelled out the facts in his petition for a writ of certiorari, saying his trial judge, Vickers Cunningham, had been seeking office as a county commissioner in 2018 when the Dallas Morning News reported on a living trust the judge had created for his children.

As noted in the story, the trust withheld distributions from Cunningham's children if they married nonwhite, non-Christian partners. The May 2018 article also quoted one former campaign aide as saying Cunningham referred to cases involving black defendants as “T.N.D.,” short for “typical nigger deals.”

When Halprin’s lawyers followed up with that campaign aide, Amanda Tackett, as well as other friends of the judge, the evidence began to mount.

“Tackett told Halprin’s investigator that when she worked on Judge Cunningham’s campaign to be the Republican nominee for Dallas district attorney, he privately ‘said that he was running for DA so that he could return Dallas to a Henry-Wade style of justice where we did not have to worry about “niggers,” Jews, “wetbacks,” and Catholics,'” Halprin’s petition states.

The Supreme Court did not grant Halprin’s petition Monday, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor explaining in a 4-page opinion that the allegations, though "deeply disturbing," are not suited to this form of relief.

“First, state-court proceedings are underway to address — and, if appropriate, to remedy — Halprin’s assertion that insidious racial and religious bias infected his trial,” Sotomayor said.

Though Halprin is on death row for the murder of police officer Aubrey Hawkins, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently stayed his execution based on the evidence about Cunningham. Halprin's judicial-bias claim is now awaiting review by the trial court.

In a statement this afternoon, Halprin’s federal public defender emphasized that neither Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot nor the Texas attorney general “has disputed the facts of Judge Cunningham’s anti-Semitic bias against Mr. Halprin.”

“We will continue to seek a new, fair trial for Mr. Halprin,” added the lawyer, Tivon Schardl.

Sotomayor emphasized that the court's denial of cert makes no comment on the merit of Halprin’s claims.

"Nor does it preclude Halprin from seeking an original writ of habeas corpus under this court’s Rule 20," she added.

“The Due Process Clause clearly requires a ‘fair trial in a fair tribunal’ before a judge with no actual bias against the defendant,” Sotomayor continued, quoting the 1997 case Bracy v. Gramley. “I trust that the Texas courts considering Halprin’s case are more than capable of guarding this fundamental guarantee."

A representative for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice did not respond to a request for comment Monday, nor did Paul Mansur, an attorney for Halprin, in Denver City, Texas.

The details of Halprin's 2003 conviction are laid out in Sotomayor's opinion, which notes that he and six others came to be known as the 'Texas Seven" after they escaped from prison together in December 2000 and robbed a sporting-goods store.

Officer Hawkins responded to the ensuing distress call and was fatally shot at the scene. Each of the escapees was tried separately for their roles in the killing, and Cunningham presided over most of those trials, including Halprin’s.

In his high court petition, Halprin noted that Cunningham confirmed his inclusion of the anti-miscegenation clause in his trust. An excerpt of the judge's videotaped interview with the Dallas Morning News describing the clause was included in the piece.

Cunningham's views on Halprin are not described in the article, but Halprin said his investigators found these details out by interviewing Tammy McKinney, who grew up with Cunningham and knew the judge intimately.

"McKinney told Halprin’s investigator that Judge Cunningham 'took special pride in the death sentences [of the Texas Seven] because they included Latinos and a Jew,'" Halprin's petition states. "Judge Cunningham would call Halprin a 'goddamn kike' and 'that fuckin’ Jew.' He also used the term '"wetback' to describe some of the Texas 7 defendants.' On at least one occasion, McKinney remembers Cunningham saying, 'From the wetback to the Jew, they knew they were going to die.'"

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Categories / Appeals, Civil Rights, Courts, Government, Media

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