The Justice System WorksOpinion
SAN ANGELO, TX — Not everything can be seen from the gallery in a courtroom, but the justice system works and it works well.
The judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court reporters, bailiffs, coordinators, clerks and bail bond representatives all know their jobs and do them well to ensure the system is fair and impartial for each defendant.
Each of the four District Judges who preside over cases in the Tom Green County courthouse are highly experienced, honorable and professional jurists.
In a recent case, I wrote a story about a capital murder suspect missing a pretrial hearing in District Judge Jay Weatherby’s court. I wrote the story from the perspective of a person setting in the gallery as a member of the public watching the proceedings. I wrote what I saw.
According to court records, the defendant was out on a $250,000 bond that had been reduced from a $500,000 bond before he was allowed out of jail to await trial. Monday, when his hearing came up, he was not in the courtroom. Judge Weatherby had his bailiff go out into the hall and look for the defendant and his attorney. They weren’t there.
Considering the charges against him and the amount of the bond, what transpired in front of me appeared dramatic. An accused murderer out on bail did not appear for a scheduled hearing.
At that point, Judge Weatherby canceled the hearing and informed me that it was not going to take place.
In a series of conversations with those involved since then, I have been made aware that some of the communications and coordination in the District courts take place out of the view of the public during the proceedings.
In this particular case, the hearing was canceled by the judge because the defense attorney was busy in another trial somewhere outside San Angelo. The bail bond representative was in the courthouse with the defendant and the defendant was ready for the hearing so there was no failure to appear.
The District Attorney’s office had an assistant district attorney present to represent the State. The defense attorney arrived an hour late but the hearing had already been canceled.
In capital murder cases, there are numerous pretrial hearings so that both the defense and prosecution can discover evidence, make motions regarding how the trial is to proceed and to address many other issues before trial.
In this case, neither the defense attorney nor the prosecutors had any issues to present to the court and had no motions for the judge to rule on. The pretrial hearing was canceled and will be rescheduled, the defendant is still following the rules of being out on bond, and the attorneys are discovering evidence and coordinating with witnesses.
None of that was observable from the gallery. All that communication and coordination takes place on a daily basis and allows the justice system to work.