A Texas Democrat judge faces harsh criticism for shutting down his courtroom for one day to protest the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, halting justice for more than 130 cases.
On Monday, October 8, Travis County County Court-at-Law No. 3 Judge John Lipscombe refused to hear any cases and, instead, protested Kavanaugh’s confirmation which took place two days earlier. In doing so, the judge halted justice for 137 cases scheduled to be heard in his courtroom. It also cost Travis County taxpayers $58,000, the daily cost to run a courtroom, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Lipscombe said he felt the need to do something, calling Kavanaugh’s confirmation a “big step backwards for the country.” KVUE tweeted that the judge also taped black funeral bunting over the exterior of the double doors to his closed courtroom.
County Court at Law 3 Judge, @JohnLipscombe, draped funeral bunting over his door and shut down his court today as a form of “silent protest.” He says he felt the need to something after Kavanaugh’s confirmation, calling it a big step backwards for the country. @kvue pic.twitter.com/96OnrtxsHI
— Jenni Lee (@JenniL_KVUE) October 8, 2018
Defense Attorney Sidney Williams said he received a text from Lipscombe on October 7. In it, Lipscombe said his courtroom would be closed on October 8, to honor “survivors.” Williams thought he meant breast cancer survivors since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Williams, the former president of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, told the Statesman, he immediately emailed other attorneys with hearings scheduled about Lipscombe’s plans to close the courtroom. According to Williams, the judge texted he would work in his chambers and was available if anyone needed him.
Still, Lipscombe’s courtroom shutdown came at the expense of 103 defendants. Of the 137 impacted cases, 135 were rescheduled.
The judge, who presides over misdemeanor cases, called his actions a “silent protest.” However, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt the county’s top elected official, criticized Lipscombe’s judgment, calling his personal protest inappropriate and costly to the taxpayers.
“We are public servants and I believe the best way to protest for public service at the federal level is to provide exemplary public service at the local level,” said Eckhardt. “I don’t believe Judge Lipscombe’s choice meets that standard.”
Attorney Charlie Baird, a former state district judge, had a client scheduled to appear in Lipscombe’s courtroom on October 8. He told the Austin newspaper that Lipscombe “did not show good judicial temperament,” a criticism he highlighted was one that Democrats directed at Kavanaugh when he raised his voice during the confirmation hearings after being accused of purported sex crimes more than 30 years ago.
“I guess closing the courtroom to protest might also indicate Judge Lipscombe was lacking the appropriate judicial temperament,” said Baird.
Not all lawyers saw Williams’ email before they came to court that day, which created hardships for many defendants. Defense attorney Deniz Kadirhan told the Austin newspaper her client arrived at Lipscombe’s courtroom after receiving a ride from her mother who had to take time off from work to be there.
Others, like lawyer Mark Sampson, who shared Lipscombe’s anti-Kavanaugh stance said: “I just don’t get the connection to closing a courtroom.”
Lipscombe, who was elected to his judicial role in 2011, will run unopposed in the November midterm election. He did not respond to the Statesman for comment. A member of his staff said the judge was gone all week.
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