Judge orders for Tyler attorney to be arrested at dying aunt's b - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

Judge orders for Tyler attorney to be arrested at dying aunt's bedside

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TYLER, TX (KLTV) -

A Tyler attorney and his lawyer are considering filing a judicial grievance against the Smith County judge who ordered his arrest.

Attorney Clifton Roberson says on July 1, Smith County deputies were ordered to arrest him for not attending a hearing that conflicted with his family's plans to meet at the hospital where his aunt was dying. 

Roberson says on the morning of July 1, he was representing a client in the 241st Judicial District Court. When that hearing lasted longer than anticipated, Roberson asked the bailiff to inform Smith County 114th District Court Judge Christi Kennedy that he was in another hearing and would not make the 11 a.m. hearing scheduled in her courtroom.

Roberson says that 11 a.m. hearing was a standard procedure hearing in which he was withdrawing as the defense attorney in a case because the case had been transferred to another court where he was not contracted as a public defender.

Roberson says when he was finished with his first hearing, he went to speak with Judge Kennedy but was told she had left the courthouse.

Roberson says a court administrator for Judge Kennedy informed him the morning hearing he was unable to attend had been reset for 4:30 p.m. Roberson says he asked the administrator to contact the judge and inform her that he couldn't be at the courthouse at 4:30 p.m. because he and his family were supposed to meet at the hospital where his aunt was on her deathbed. Roberson says the judge told him he needed to be in court at 4:30 p.m. anyway.

After leaving the judge's office, Roberson says he consulted another judge and a few prosecutors who told him Judge Kennedy probably just wanted to verify that he really was going to the hospital. Roberson says they advised him to go ahead and go to the hospital, but to call into the hearing by phone when he got to the hospital.

Roberson says after getting to the hospital later that afternoon, he called the judge's office only to be informed that he had 5 minutes to get to the courtroom or Judge Kennedy would issue a writ of attachment and Smith County deputies would go to the hospital and arrest him.

Roberson says he told Judge Kennedy's office he would not be able to be in the courtroom in five minutes. Roberson says a short time later, two Smith County deputies arrived at his aunt's hospital room, escorted him to a patrol car, put him in the back seat and brought him to the courthouse. He says the deputies apologized for having to do this, put handcuffs on him, and escorted him through the courthouse to Judge Kennedy's courtroom.

"I think it was unnecessary. I had made an offer to the court, 'Hey I can show up for court on July the second, July the third.' It's not like it was an emergency and we had to have this hearing. For her to-- I mean, I'm at my dying aunt's...next to her deathbed. I just didn't see the necessary in having this hearing. It was just a motion to withdraw," he says.

Roberson says the hearing lasted less than a minute, then he was released and returned to the hospital.

"Not only did I have to meet my wife and parents in handcuffs in the courthouse, but there were a lot of deputies that work for the sheriff's department that I see on a daily basis... saw me brought to the courthouse. I just felt embarrassed," says Roberson.

Roberson has been practicing law in Smith County for 24 years. In May 1989 he joined the district attorney's office as a prosecutor. Roberson says he was the first African-American assistant DA in Smith County. Roberson has been a defense attorney in Smith County since 1992.

"You feel some kind of honor being the first [African American prosecutor in Smith County], and then you see a situation where you're coming back into the courthouse later on in handcuffs. It's embarrassing and could make people question your character," says Roberson.

Roberson and his attorney say the NAACP is investigating the incident.

"When I speak to people in the community, especially the African American community, they are upset because they feel it is race motivated," he says.

Both Roberson and his attorney say they plan to meet with Judge Kennedy next week.

Judge Kennedy has been out of the office all week but did release the following statement, "As Mr. Roberson's statement relates to a felony case pending in the 114th District Court, The Code of Judicial Conduct does not permit the court to comment on the statement."

If a judicial grievance is filed against Judge Christi Kennedy, then the state bar would conduct their own investigation.

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