Retired judge supports Texas judge who ordered marriage with probation
EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - After an East Texas judge is criticized for requiring defendants in his court to get married and write Bible verses as a part of their criminal probation, a retired judge speaks out on his behalf.
Judge Randall Rogers of Smith County faced scrutiny after he gave Tyler resident Josten Bundy the option of marrying his 19-year old girlfriend or going to jail for 15 days. Bundy's story gained international attention in August and prompted the filing of an official complaint against the judge with the State Commission for Judicial Conduct.
Rogers has declined to comment on his sentencing and probation practices, and retired district judge Cynthia Stevens Kent said that Rogers ethically can't respond.
"It's incredibly frustrating for judges, but that's part of the job – they have to just take the blows and not respond to it publicly, and just try to do their work," said Kent, who served on the bench in Smith County for 24 years. "The judge has enormous discretion [to set probation] as long as the conditions are meant to protect the victim, protect society, work toward rehabilitation of the individual."
Kent believes that giving couples an incentive to get married falls within the category of benefiting society.
"I think traditionally the family unit and that commitment and stability has been a positive thing in helping people not engage in criminal activity," said Kent. "I've known Judge Rogers for a long time, and I've known him to be thoughtful and hardworking."
Sam Grover, a Wisconsin attorney with the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) who filed the complaint against Rogers in August, disagrees.
"Judges are government actors and they need to keep their personal religious bias out of the courtroom," said Grover. "What we found is that Rogers ordered a man to write out Proverbs 26:27 twenty-five times a day, and get married to avoid going to jail."
Grover said a marriage order is not permissible and the the Bible verses homework violates the separation of church and state.
"This is one issue where the Freedom from Religion Foundation actually finds itself aligned with a lot of religious groups," Grover said. "They see marriage as a sacred thing between two people and they don't really want a judge or a government official, weighing in on that."
The complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct(SCJC) is pending. Grover said it can take up to a year to get a decision from the SCJC. The commission, that investigates the complaints against Texas judges it receives, is made up of 13 members including East Texas judge Joel Baker of Smith County.
Despite the criticism from people across the nation, Kent said the incentive to marry through the courts is appropriate for the region.
"As the community attitude changes and shifts then sometimes the judges are a little behind that change and shift," said Kent. "I don't know that this issue is a real change and shift in our community – I still think this is a community where family and marriage commitment is very important."
Grover said judges are generally immune from being sued for decisions they make on the bench. The typical way to fight a disagreeable ruling from a judge that you don't agree with is to appeal it to a higher court, but that didn't happen in any of the reported cases.
"We're really just left with the judicial ethics commission as the only way to make sure that justice is served in this case," Grover said.
Rogers, who has been a judge for over 25 years ran unopposed for County Court at Law #2 judge in 2010 and 2014. He will be up for re-election in 2018.
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